The history of women’s rights in the U.S. and around the world is long and complicated. On March 8th of this year, we can all take the time to stop and acknowledge the struggles women have and continue to face during International Women’s Day.
While the U.S. and Oregon have some of the most equitable women’s rights laws globally, they took effort to achieve. Many of the rights women now take for granted were only instituted over the last few generations. In honor of International Women’s Day, here’s a timeline of just a few of the rights we have fought for and won over the last century.
1948-2010: No-Fault Divorces
The right to divorce is often ignored, but it shouldn’t be. The history of divorce is deeply tied to the history of women’s rights. If a woman is forced to remain with her husband because she has no right to end the marriage, then she can’t be said to have any rights in any meaningful sense of the word.
The history of divorce in the United States is tricky. For a long time, it was difficult for people of any gender to get a divorce. Most people were only permitted to get a divorce if they could prove a “cause,” such as adultery, abuse, or impotence. It wasn’t until 1948 when the first “no-fault” divorces came into being.
These laws were essential for ladies because they no longer had to prove their husband was harming them in some way to end their marriage. Since most judges at the time were men, women faced an uphill battle to get away from abusers if they didn’t have rock-solid proof of cruelty until no-fault divorce became the law.
There has been no Supreme Court case to codify no-fault divorce, but it has still made it to every state in the country. Oregon first passed a no-fault divorce law in 1972, and the state of New York finally made no-fault divorce legal in 2010.
1963: Equal Pay
The right to be paid a living wage for your work is still a struggle many ladies are fighting today. There’s a long history in the U.S. of underpaying females for their work. It wasn’t until the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that it became mandatory to pay men and women the same amount of money for the same amount of work.
The Equal Pay Act opened doors for tens of thousands of women. Instead of being forced to rely on their husbands for income, they could work on their own and receive reasonable wages. That offered married ladies who weren’t independently wealthy a chance to support themselves apart from their spouses.
1975: Serve on a Jury
Jury duty isn’t many people’s favorite pastime, but it’s an important obligation. Serving as a juror allows you to take part in the legal system and ensures that people on trial have access to a jury of their peers. Before 1975, many ladies were still barred from serving as jurors, which left any woman on trial facing an all-male jury.
In 1975, the case Taylor v. Louisiana was brought before the Supreme Court. The court judged that Taylor, who had been found guilty by an all-male jury pulled from an all-male juror pool, had had his right to an impartial trial violated. The judgment overturned prior precedent, which allowed females to opt-out of serving jury duty in several states. As a result, people nationwide received the right to a truly impartial jury of their peers, consisting of men and women alike.
1974: Get Credit
It was less than 50 years ago when ladies first won the right to apply for credit. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act made it illegal to discriminate against any protected class when applying for credit.
Prior to this, women were often discriminated against when applying for loans or credit cards. Many institutions required ladies to have a cosigner while men could apply for credit on their own. In particular, married women had to get their husband’s signature to be considered for any loan at all. This left them trapped in bad relationships and dangerous situations because their finances were inextricable from their spouses.
1981: Own Marital Property
The right to control your own property seems like a fundamental idea, but it was only in 1981 that women nationwide won this right. Historically, married ladies were considered their husband’s dependents as opposed to their own fully-formed adults. Legally, they had no separate existence from their spouses.
The road to legal independence was long. Between 1848 and 1981, many court cases were fought, and laws were passed to increase women’s property rights. Initially, many states passed laws allowing ladies to own but not control property that they brought into the marriage. New York’s Married Women’s Property Act of 1848 gave them ownership of gifts they received and the right to file lawsuits and conduct business. The following amendment gave them custody of their children.
The next step was the right to manage property while their husbands were incapacitated, which spread throughout the country through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many states that passed these laws proceeded to pass laws permitting females ownership and control over their property through the ’50s and ’60s.
However, it wasn’t until 1981 that the case Kirchberg v. Feenstrawas heard before the supreme court. This is when the court found laws giving husbands full control over the marital property to be unconstitutional. This was the case that opened the door for true equality between spouses since both partners were now deemed to have the right to control the marital property.
Exercise Your Rights
Women are still fighting for full equal rights today. However, there has never been a better time for females in the entire history of the U.S. Whether you just want to get a credit card in your own name or you want to get a divorce, your grandmothers fought for your right to make your own choices and stand on your own two feet. Never hesitate to exercise your hard-won rights – it’s what people have been working to achieve for centuries.