Detailed Timeline

Timeline of Legal History of Women in the United States

1701 The first sexually integrated jury hears cases in Albany, New York.

1769 American colonies based their laws on the English common law, which was summarized in the Blackstone Commentaries. It said, “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law? The very being and legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated into that of her husband under whose wing  and protection she performs everything.”

1777 All states pass laws which take away women’s right to vote.

1789 United States Constitution ratified. The terms “persons,” “people” and “electors” are used, allowing the interpretation of those beings to include men and women.

1839 The first state (Mississippi) grants women the right to hold property in their own name, with their husbands’ permission.

1848 At Seneca Falls, New York, 300 women and men sign the Declaration of Sentiments, a plea for the end of discrimination against women in all spheres of society.

1855 In Missouri v. Celia, a Slave, a Black woman is declared to be property without a right to defend herself against a master’s act of rape

1866 The 14th Amendment is passed by Congress (ratified by the states in 1868), saying “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective members, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. . . .But when the right to vote . . .is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State . . . the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in proportion.” It is the first time “citizens” and “voters” are defined as “male” in the Constitution.

1869 The first woman suffrage law in the U.S. is passed in the territory of Wyoming.

1870 The 15th Amendment receives final ratification, saying, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” By its text, women are not specifically excluded from the vote.

1870 The first sexually integrated grand jury hears cases in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The chief justice stops a motion to prohibit the integration of the jury, stating: “It seems to be eminently proper for women to sit upon Grand Juries, which will give them the best possible opportunities to aid in suppressing the dens of infamy which curse the country.”

1873 Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. 130 (1872): The U.S. Supreme Court rules that a state has the right to exclude a married woman (Myra Colby Bradwell) from practicing law.

1875 Minor v Happersett, 88 U.S. 162 (1875): The U.S. Supreme Court declares that despite the privileges and immunities clause, a state can prohibit a woman from voting. The court declares women as “persons,” but holds that they constitute a “special category of _nonvoting_ citizens.”

1879 Through special Congressional legislation, Belva Lockwood becomes first woman admitted to try a case before the Supreme Court.

1890 The first state (Wyoming) grants women the right to vote in all elections.

1900 By now, every state has passed legislation modeled after New York’s Married Women’s Property Act (1848), granting married women some control over their property and earnings.

1908 Muller v State of Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908): The U.S. Supreme Court upholds Oregon’s 10-hour workday for women. The win is a two-edged sword: the protective legislation implies that women are physically weak.

1916 Margaret Sanger tests the validity of New York’s anti-contraception law by establishing a clinic in Brooklyn. The most well-known of birth control advocates, she is one of hundreds arrested over a 40-year period for working to establish women’s right to control their own bodies.

1918 New York v. Sanger, 222 NY 192, 118 N.E. 637 (Court of Appeals 1917), National Archives, Records of the U.S. Supreme Court, RG 267 (MSDME-CDS C 15:298). Margaret Sanger wins her suit in New York to allow doctors to advise their married patients about birth control for health purposes.

1920 The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified. It declares: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

1923 National Woman’s Party proposes Constitutional amendment: “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and in every place subject to its jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

1924 Radice v. New York, a New York state case, upholds a law that forbade waitresses from working the night shift but made an exception for entertainers and ladies’ room attendants.

1925 American Indian suffrage granted by act of Congress.

1932 The National Recovery Act forbids more than one family member from holding a government job, resulting in many women losing their jobs.

1936 United States v. One Package of Japanese Pessaries, 13 F. Supp.334 (E.D.N.Y 1936) aff’d 86 F 2d 737 (2nd Cir. 1936), won judicial approval of medicinal use of birth control.

1937 The U.S. Supreme Court upholds Washington state’s minimum wage laws for women.

1938 The Fair Labor Standards Act establishes minimum wage without regard to sex.

1947 Fay v. New York, 332 U.S. 261 (1947), the U.S. Supreme Court says women are equally qualified with men to serve on juries but are granted an exemption and may serve or not as women choose.

1961 In Hoyt v. Florida, 368 U.S. 57 (1961): The U.S. Supreme Court upholds rules adopted by the state of Florida that made it far less likely for women than men to be called for jury service on the grounds that a “woman is still regarded as the center of home and family life.”

1963 The Equal Pay Act is passed by Congress, promising equitable wages for the same work, regardless of the race, color, religion, national origin or sex of the worker.

1964 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act passes including a prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.

1965 Weeks v. Southern Bell, 408 F. 2d. 228 (5th Cir. 1969), marks a major triumph in the fight against restrictive labor laws and company regulations on the hours and conditions of women’s work, opening many previously male-only jobs to women.

1965 In Griswold v Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, the Supreme Court overturns one of the last state laws prohibiting the prescription or use of contraceptives by married couples.

1968 Executive Order 11246 prohibits sex discrimination by government contractors and requires affirmative action plans for hiring women.

1969 In Bowe v. Colgate-Palmolive Company, 416 F. 2d 711 (7th Cir.1969), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rules that women meeting the physical requirements can work in many jobs that had been for men only.

California adopts the nation’s first “no fault” divorce law, allowing divorce by mutual consent.

1971 Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corporation, 400 U.S. 542: The U.S. Supreme Court outlaws the practice of private employers refusing to hire women with pre-school children.

1971 Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71:  The U.S. Supreme Court holds unconstitutional a state law (Idaho) establishing automatic preference for males as administrators of wills. This is the first time the court strikes down a law treating men and women differently. The Court finally declares women as “persons,” but uses a “reasonableness” test rather than making sex a “suspect classification,” analogous to race, under the Fourteenth Amendment.

1972 Title IX (Public Law 92-318) of the Education Amendments prohibits sex discrimination in all aspects of education programs that receive federal support.

1972: In Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438, the Supreme Court rules that the right to privacy encompasses an unmarried person’s right to use contraceptives.

1973 Pittsburgh Press v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, 413 U.S. 376 (1973): The U.S. Supreme Court bans sex-segregated “help wanted” advertising as a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended.

1973 Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 and Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179:  The U.S. Supreme Court declares that the Constitution protects women’s right to terminate an early pregnancy, thus making abortion legal in the U.S.

1974 Housing discrimination on the basis of sex and credit discrimination against women are outlawed by Congress.

1974 Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, 414 U.S. 632 (1974), determines it is illegal to force pregnant women to take maternity leave on the assumption they are incapable of working in their physical condition.

The Women’s Educational Equity Act, drafted by Arlene Horowitz and introduced by Representative Patsy Mink (D-HI), funds the development of nonsexist teaching materials and model programs that encourage full educational opportunities for girls and women.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Justice and Labor Departments, and AT&T sign a consent decree banning AT&T’s discriminatory practices against women and minorities.

1975 Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522 (1975), denies states the right to exclude women from juries.

1976 General Elec. Co v. Gilbert, 429 U. S. 125 (1976), the Supreme Court upholds women’s right to unemployment benefits during the last three months of pregnancy.

1976 Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190: The U.S. Supreme Court declares unconstitutional a state law permitting 18 to 20-year-old females to drink beer while denying the rights to men of the same age. The Court establishes new set of standards for reviewing laws that treat men and women differently—an “intermediate” test stricter than the “reasonableness” test for constitutionality in sex discrimination cases.

1978 The Pregnancy Discrimination Act bans employment discrimination against pregnant women.

1981 The U.S. Supreme Court rules that excluding women from the draft is constitutional.

1981 Kirchberg v. Feenstra, 450 U.S. 455, 459-60, overturns state laws designating a husband “head and master” with unilateral control of property owned jointly with his wife.

1981 Sandra Day O’Connor is appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve as the first woman on the Supreme Court.

1984 In Roberts v. U.S. Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609 (1984), sex discrimination in membership policies of organizations, such as the Jaycees, is forbidden by the Supreme Court, opening many previously all-male organizations (Jaycees, Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions) to women.

The state of Mississippi belatedly ratifies the 19th Amendment, granting women the vote.

1984 Hishon v. King and Spaulding, 467 U.S. 69 (1984): The U.S. Supreme Court rules that law firms may not discriminate on the basis of sex in promoting lawyers to partnership positions.

1986 In Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a hostile or abusive work environment can prove discrimination based on sex.

1987 Johnson v. Santa Clara County, 480 U.S. 616 (1987): The U.S. Supreme Court rules that it is permissible to take sex and race into account in employment decisions even where there is no proven history of discrimination but when evidence of a manifest imbalance exists in the number of women or minorities holding the position in question.

1989 In Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S. 490 (1989), the Supreme Court affirms the right of states to deny public funding for abortions and to prohibit public hospitals from performing abortions.

1993 Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17 (1993) The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the victim did not need to show that she suffered physical or serious psychological injury as a result of sexual harassment.

The Family and Medical Leave Act goes into effect.

1994 Congress adopts the Gender Equity in Education Act to train teachers in gender equity, promote math and science learning by girls, counsel pregnant teens, and prevent sexual harassment.

1994 The Violence Against Women Act funds services for victims of rape and domestic violence, allows women to seek civil rights remedies for gender-related crimes, provides training to increase police and court officials’ sensitivity and a national 24-hour hotline for battered women.

1996 United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996), affirms that the male-only admissions policy of the state-supported Virginia Military Institute violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

1997 Elaborating on Title IX, the Supreme Court rules that college athletics programs must actively involve roughly equal numbers of men and women to qualify for federal support.

1998 Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America agrees to pay $34 million to settle an E.E.O.C. lawsuit contending that hundreds of women were sexually harassed.

1998 Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998) and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 742 (1998): The Supreme Court balances employee and employer rights. It rules that employers are liable for sexual harassment even in instances when a supervisor’s threats are not carried out. But the employer can defend itself by showing that it took steps to prevent or promptly correct any sexually harassing behavior and the employee did not take advantage of available opportunities to stop the behavior or complain of the behavior.

2000 CBS Broadcasting agrees to pay $8 million to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit by the E.E.O.C. on behalf of 200 women.

2000 United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000). The U.S. Supreme Court invalidates those portions of the Violence Against Women Act permitting victims of rape, domestic violence, etc. to sue their attackers in federal court.

2003 Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs  538 U.S. 721 (2003). The Supreme Court rules that states can be sued in federal court for violations of the Family Leave Medical Act.

2005 Hillary Clinton becomes the first First Lady to be elected to public office as a U.S. Senator from New York. Condoleezza Rice becomes the first black female Secretary of State.

2005 Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education 544 U.S. 167. The Supreme Court rules that Title IX prohibits punishing someone for complaining about sex-based discrimination.

2006 The Supreme Court upholds a ban on the “partial-birth” abortion procedure.  The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, a federal law passed in 2003, was the first to ban a specific abortion procedure.

2005 Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The 2005 reauthorization  allocates  federal funds to aid victims, provides housing to prevent victims from becoming homeless, ensures victims have access to the justice system, and created intervention programs to assist children who witnessed domestic violence and to those at risk of domestic violence.

2007 Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female speaker of the House.

2008 Hillary Clinton is the only First Lady to run for president.

2009 Sonia Sotomayor is nominated as the 111th U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Sotomayor becomes the first Hispanic American and the third woman to serve.

2009 Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act allows victims, usually women, of pay discrimination to file a complaint with the government against their employer within 180 days of their last paycheck.

2009 Hillary Clinton becomes Secretary of State on January 21, 2009. She is the third woman in U.S. history to hold this position.  After four years, she stepped down.

2010 The Affordable Health Care Act is signed into law. Under this law, private health insurance companies must provide birth control without co-pays or deductibles. The law requires private insurance companies to cover preventive services.

2010 Elena Kagan is confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States; Kagan is the fourth female to serve on the Supreme Court.

2013 The ban against women in military combat positions is removed; this overturned a 1994 Pentagon decision restricting women from combat roles.

2013 Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The new bill extends coverage to women of Native American tribal lands who are attacked by non-tribal residents, as well as lesbians and immigrants.

2013 United States v. Windsor 570 U.S. Supreme Court decides that a key part of DOMA, the law that restricts federal recognition of same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection clause of the constitution.