1960s Feminist Activities

What Did Feminists Do During the 1960s?

edited and with new material by Jone Johnson Lewis

Many people know that during the 1960s, there was a resurgence of feminism across the United States. In local communities, in the media and in women’s personal situations, 1960s feminists inspired political action and changed many women’s lives. Perhaps you know that 1960s feminism was important, but you are wondering what 1960s feminists did. Here’s a look at a few of the feminist activities in the 1960s.

Betty Friedan
Barbara Alper / Getty Images

Betty Friedan’s 1963 book is often remembered as the beginning of the second wave of feminism in the United States. Of course, feminism did not happen overnight, but the success of The Feminine Mystique did get a lot of people to start paying attention. More »

Woman with feminist symbol
jpa1999 / iStock Vectors / Getty Images

Called the “backbone” of the feminist movement, consciousness-raising groups were widespread and had the aura of a grassroots revolution. More »

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Feminists protest Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, 1969
Woman or Object? Feminists protest Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, 1969. Getty Images

Feminists protested in the streets and at rallies, hearings, marches, sit-ins, legislative sessions, or even the Miss America Pageant… the opportunities were practically endless. More »

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Women's Liberation Groups

Marchers with Women's Liberation banner
Women's Liberation group marches in protest in support of Black Panther Party, New Haven, November, 1969. David Fenton/Getty Images

Groups sprang up across the United States. Two early groups on the East Coast were New York Radical Women and Redstockings.

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The National Organization for Women (NOW )

Pro-choice rally at Love Park November 13, 2003 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Pro-choice rally, 2003, Philadelphia. Getty Images / William Thomas Cain

Betty Friedan gathered feminists, liberals, Washington insiders and activists into a new organization to work for women’s equality. NOW became one of the most well-known feminist groups and is still in existence. The founders of NOW set up task forces to work on education, employment and other women's issues.

Birth Control Pills and Calendar
Birth Control. Stockbytes / Comstock / Getty Images

In 1965, the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut found a right to marital privacy that permitted married couples to legally use birth control. With new technologies for birth control, this soon led to many single women also using contraceptives, and a freedom from worrying about pregnancy changed the relationship of many young women to sex and sexuality.  In 1960, the federal government approved use of a birth control pill. By 1970, 80 percent of married women in their childbearing years were using contraceptives. 

Planned Parenthood, an organization that was founded in the 1920s when Margaret Sanger and others were fighting against the Comstock Law, became a key provider of contraceptive information, contraceptives themselves, and birth control information. More »

Feminists went to court to fight for equality, stand up against discrimination, and work on the legal aspects of women's rights.The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was instituted to enforce equal pay.  Stewardesses -- soon to be renamed flight attendants -- fought wage and age discrimination, and won in a 1968 ruling. More »

Abortion Protest March
Photograph from an abortion protest march in New York City, 1977. Peter Keegan / Getty Images

Feminist leaders and medical professionals - men and women - spoke out against restrictions on abortion. During the 1960s, cases such as Griswold v. Connecticut, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1965, helped paved the way for Roe v. Wade. More »

Feminists looked at how women were depicted or ignored in history, social science, literature and other academic fields, and by the end of the 1960s a new discipline was born: women's studies, as well as the formal study of women's history. More »

In 1960, 37.7 percent of American women were in the workforce, and in 1970, 43.3 percent were. The 1970s would see more growth in that percentage. Women had lower salaries and wages (60% that of men, on average, in 1960) and fewer chances for advancement compared to men. And many of the professions began to open a bit for women: in 1960, most women worked in "pink collar" jobs, with professional jobs as teachers, secretaries, and nurses. Only 6% of doctors were women, and 3% of lawyers; not even 1% of engineers were women.  Few women were accepted in the trades.

When the word "sex" was added to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it opened the way for many lawsuits against discrimination in employment. More »

For a more detailed list of what happened in the 1960s feminist movement, check out the 1960s feminist timeline.  And for some of the ideology and ideas of the so-called second wave of feminism, check out the 1960s and 1970s feminist beliefs. More »

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Napikoski, Linda. "1960s Feminist Activities." ThoughtCo, Mar. 1, 2017, thoughtco.com/1960s-feminist-activities-3529000. Napikoski, Linda. (2017, March 1). 1960s Feminist Activities. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/1960s-feminist-activities-3529000 Napikoski, Linda. "1960s Feminist Activities." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/1960s-feminist-activities-3529000 (accessed January 19, 2018).