Second-wave feminism is a period of feminist activity that first began in the early 1960s in the United States, and eventually spread throughout the Western world. In the United States the movement was initially called the Women’s Liberation Movement and lasted through the early 1980s. It later became a worldwide movement that was strong in Europe and parts of Asia, such as Turkey and Israel, where it began in the 1980s, and it began at other times in other countries.
Whereas first-wave feminism focused mainly on suffrage and overturning legal obstacles to gender equality (i.e. voting rights, property rights), second-wave feminism broadened the debate to a wide range of issues: sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto inequalities, and official legal inequalities. At a time when mainstream women were making job gains in the professions, the military, the media, and sports in large part because of second-wave feminist advocacy, second-wave feminism also focused on a battle against violence with proposals for marital rape laws, establishment of rape crisis and battered women’s shelters, and changes in custody and divorce law. Its major effort was passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the United States Constitution, in which they were defeated by anti-feminists led by Phyllis Schlafly, who argued as an anti-ERA view that the ERA meant women would be drafted into the military.
Many historians view the second-wave feminist era in America as ending in the early 1980s with the intra-feminism disputes of the Feminist Sex Wars over issues such as sexuality and pornography, which ushered in the era of third-wave feminism in the early 1990s.
The second wave of feminism in North America came as a delayed reaction against the renewed domesticity of women after World War II: the late 1940s post-war boom, which was an era characterized by an unprecedented economic growth, a baby boom, a move to family-oriented suburbs, and the ideal of companionate marriages. This life was clearly illustrated by the media of the time; for example television shows such as Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver idealized domesticity.
Before the second wave there were some important events which laid the groundwork for it. French writer Simone de Beauvoir had in the 1940s examined the notion of women being perceived as “other” in the patriarchal society. She went on to conclude that male-centered ideology was being accepted as a norm and enforced by the ongoing development of myths, and that the fact that women are capable of getting pregnant, lactating, and menstruating is in no way a valid cause or explanation to place them as the “second sex”.This book was translated from French to English (with some of its text excised) and published in America in 1953. In 1960 the Food and Drug Administration approved thecombined oral contraceptive pill, which was made available in 1961. This made it easier for women to have careers without having to leave due to unexpectedly becoming pregnant. The administration of President Kennedy made women’s rights a key issue of the New Frontier, and named women (such as Esther Peterson) to many high-ranking posts in his administration. Kennedy also established a Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt and comprising cabinet officials (including Peterson and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy), senators, representatives, businesspeople, psychologists, sociologists, professors, activists, and public servants. There were also notable actions by women in wider society, presaging their wider engagement in politics which would come with the second wave. In 1961, 50,000 women in 60 cities, mobilized by Women Strike for Peace, protested above ground testing of nuclear bombs and tainted milk.
In 1963 Betty Friedan, influenced by The Second Sex, wrote the bestselling book The Feminine Mystique in which she explicitly objected to the mainstream media image of women, stating that placing women at home limited their possibilities, and wasted talent and potential. The perfect nuclear family image depicted and strongly marketed at the time, she wrote, did not reflect happiness and was rather degrading for women. This book is widely credited with having begun second-wave feminism.
Though it is widely accepted that the movement lasted from the 1960s into the early 1980s, the exact years of the movement are more difficult to pinpoint and are often disputed. The movement is usually believed to have begun in 1963, when “Mother of the Movement” Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, and President John F. Kennedy‘sPresidential Commission on the Status of Women released its report on gender inequality. The report, which revealed great discrimination against women in American life, along with Friedan’s book, which spoke to the discontent of many women (especially housewives), led to the formation of many local, state, and federal government women’s groups as well as many independent women’s liberation organizations. Friedan was referencing a “movement” as early as 1964.
The movement grew with legal victories such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court ruling of 1965; in 1966 Friedan joined other women and men to found the National Organization for Women.
Amongst the most significant legal victories of the movement after the formation of NOW were a 1967 Executive Order extending full Affirmative Action rights to women, Title IX and the Women’s Educational Equity Act (1972 and 1974, respectively, educational equality), Title X (1970, health and family planning), the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (1974), thePregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, the illegalization of marital rape (although not illegalized in all states until 1993 ), the legalization of no-fault divorce (although not allowed in all states until 2010), a 1975 law requiring the U.S. Military Academies to admit women, and many Supreme Court cases, perhaps most notably Reed v. Reed of 1971 andRoe v. Wade of 1973. However, the changing of social attitudes towards women is usually considered the greatest success of the women’s movement.
By the early 1980s, it was largely perceived that women had met their goals and succeeded in changing social attitudes towards gender roles, repealing oppressive laws that were based on sex, integrating the “boys’ clubs” such as Military academies, the United States armed forces, NASA, single-sex colleges, men’s clubs, and the Supreme Court, and illegalizing gender discrimination. However, in 1982 adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution failed, three states short of ratification.
Second-wave feminism was largely successful, with the failure of the ratification of the ERA the only major legislative defeat. Efforts to ratify it have continued, and twenty-one states now have ERAs in their state constitutions. Furthermore, many women’s groups are still active and are major political forces. As of 2011, more women earn bachelor’s degrees than men, half of the Ivy League presidents are women, the numbers of women in government and traditionally male-dominated fields have dramatically increased, and in 2009 the percentage of women in the American workforce temporarily surpassed that of men. The salary of the average American woman has also increased over time, although as of 2008 it is only 77% of the average man’s salary, a phenomenon often referred to as the Gender Pay Gap. Whether this is due to discrimination is very hotly disputed, however economists and sociologists have provided evidence to that effect.
View on popular culture
Second-wave feminists viewed popular culture as sexist, and created pop culture of their own to counteract this. Australian artist Helen Reddy’s song “I Am Woman” played a large role in popular culture and became a feminist anthem; Reddy came to be known as a “feminist poster girl” or a “feminist icon”. “One project of second wave feminism was to create ‘positive’ images of women, to act as a counterweight to the dominant images circulating in popular culture and to raise women’s consciousness of their oppressions.” (Arrow, Michelle. 2007).
Timeline of second-wave feminism worldwide
- The report of the [American] Presidential Commission on the Status of Women found discrimination against women in every aspect of American life and outlined plans to achieve equality. Specific recommendations for women in the workplace included fair hiring practices, paid maternity leave, and affordable childcare.
- Twenty years after it was first proposed, the Equal Pay Act became law in the U.S., and it established equality of pay for men and women performing equal work. However, it did not originally cover executives, administrators, outside salespeople, or professionals. In 1972, Congress enacted the Educational Amendments of 1972, which (among other things) amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to expand the coverage of the Equal Pay Act to these employees, by excluding the Equal Pay Act from the professional workers exemption of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
- Betty Friedan‘s The Feminine Mystique was published, became a best-seller, and laid the groundwork for the second-wave feminist movement in the U.S.
- Alice S. Rossi presented “Equality Between the Sexes: An Immodest Proposal” at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences conference.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law in the U.S., and it barred employment discrimination on account of sex, race, etc. by private employers, employment agencies, and unions.
- The [U.S.] Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established; in its first five years, 50,000 complaints of gender discrimination were received.
- Haven House, the first “modern” women’s shelter in the world, opened in California.
- Casey Hayden and Mary King circulated a memo about sexism in the American civil rights movement.
- The U.S. Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut struck down the only remaining state law banning the use of contraceptives by married couples.
- The case Weeks v. Southern Bell marked a major triumph in the fight against restrictive labor laws and company regulations on the hours and conditions of women’s work in the U.S., opening many previously male-only jobs to women.
- The “Woman Question” was raised for the first time at a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) conference.
- EEOC commissioners were appointed to enforce the Civil Rights Act. Among them there was only one woman, Aileen Hernandez, a future president of the National Organization for Women.
- Twenty-eight women, among them Betty Friedan, founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) to function as a civil rights organization for women. Betty Friedan became its first president. The group is now one of the largest women’s groups in the U.S. and pursues its goals through extensive legislative lobbying, litigation, and public demonstrations.
- Due to a new law, abortion in Britain was made legal under certain criteria and with medical supervision. 
- American feminist Valerie Solanas wrote and published “SCUM Manifesto“.
- Executive Order 11375 expanded President Johnson‘s 1965 affirmative action policy to cover discrimination based on sex, resulting in federal agencies and contractors taking active measures to ensure that all women as well as minorities have access to educational and employment opportunities equal to white males.
- Women’s liberation groups sprang up all over America.
- NOW began petitioning the EEOC to end sex-segregated want ads and adopted a Bill of Rights for Women.
- Senator Eugene McCarthy introduced the Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. Senate.
- New York Radical Women was formed by Shulamith Firestone and Pam Allen.
- Anne Koedt organized American “consciousness raising” groups.
- The [American] National Welfare Rights Organization was formed.
- Robin Morgan led members of New York Radical Women to protest the Miss America Pageant of 1968, which they decried as sexist and racist.
- The first American national gathering of women’s liberation activists was held in Lake Villa, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois.
- Coretta Scott King assumed leadership of the African-American Civil Rights Movement following the death of her husband, and expanded the movement’s platform to include women’s rights.
- The EEOC issued revised guidelines on sex discrimination, making it clear that the widespread practice of publishing “help wanted” advertisements that use “male” and “female” column headings violates Title VII.
- New York feminists buried a dummy of “Traditional Womanhood” at the all-women’s Jeanette Rankin Brigade demonstration against the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C.
- For the first time, feminists used the slogan “Sisterhood is Powerful.”
- The first public speakout against abortion laws was held in New York City.
- Notes from the First Year, a women’s liberation theoretical journal, was published by New York Radical Women.
- NOW celebrated Mother’s Day with the slogan “Rights, Not Roses”.
- Mary Daly, professor of theology at Boston College, published a scathing criticism of the Catholic Church‘s view and treatment of women entitled “The Church and the Second Sex.”
- 850 sewing machinists at Ford in Dagenham, which is in Britain, went on strike for equal pay and against sex discrimination. This ultimately led to the passing of the Equal Pay Act 1970, the first legislation in the United Kingdom aimed at ending pay discrimination between men and women. 
- The American radical organization Redstockings organized.
- Members of Redstockings disrupted a hearing on abortion laws of the New York Legislature when the panel of witnesses turned out to be 14 men and a nun. The group demanded repeal, not reform, of laws restricting abortion.
- NARAL Pro-Choice America, then called The National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), was founded.
- California adopted a “no fault” divorce law,allowing couples to divorce by mutual consent. It was the first state to do so; by 2010 every state had adopted a similar law. Legislation was also passed regarding equal division of common property.
- American feminist Kate Millett published her book, Sexual Politics.
- Australian feminist Germaine Greer published her book, The Female Eunuch.
- In Schultz v. Wheaton Glass Co., a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled jobs held by men and women must be “substantially equal” but not “identical” to fall under the protection of the Equal Pay Act, and that it is therefore illegal for employers to change the job titles of women workers in order to pay them less than men.
- Sisterhood Is Powerful, An Anthology of Writings from the Women’s Liberation Movement edited by the American feminist Robin Morgan, is published.
- The American women’s health book Our Bodies was first published as a newsprint booklet for 35 cents.
- A Ladies’ Home Journal sit-in protested “women’s magazines” as sexist.
- The North American Indian Women’s Association was founded.
- Chicana feminists founded Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional.
- American feminist Toni Cade Bambara published The Black Woman.
- On August 26, the 50th anniversary of woman suffrage in the U.S., tens of thousands of women across the nation participated in the Women’s Strike for Equality, organized by Betty Friedan, to demand equal rights.
- Feminist leader Bella Abzug was elected to the U.S. Congress, famously declaring “A woman’s place is in the House“.
- President Richard Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act, which would have established federally funded childcare centers throughout the U.S.
- The AFL-CIO met to discuss the status of women in unions. It endorsed the ERA and opposed state protective legislation.
- The Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church allowed women to be ordained.
- The U.S. Congress enacted Title X of the Public Health Service Act, the only American federal program — then and now — devoted solely to the provision of family planning services nationwide.
- The first national meeting of the women’s liberation movement in Britain took place at Ruskin College. 
- The Equal Pay Act 1970 became law in the United Kingdom, although it did not take effect until 1975. 
- The Miss World contest in London was disrupted by women’s liberation protesters armed with flour bombs, stink bombs, and water pistols. 
- Switzerland allowed women to vote in national elections. However, some cantons did not allow women to vote in local elections until 1994. 
- The first women’s liberation march in London occurred. 
- In the U.S. Supreme Court Case Reed v Reed, for the first time since the Fourteenth Amendment went into effect in 1868, the Court struck down a state law on the ground that it discriminated against women in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of that amendment. The law in question-enacted in Idaho in 1864—required that when the father and mother of a deceased person both sought appointment as administrator of the estate, the man had to be preferred over the woman.
- The Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective was founded in New York. It was one of the first feminist theater groups formed to write and produce plays about women’s issues and to provide work experience in theatrical professions which had been dominated by men.
- The song “I Am Woman” was published. It was a popular song performed by Australian singer Helen Reddy, which became an enduring anthem for the women’s liberation movement.
- Women’s Equality Day has been August 26 in America since 1971. This resolution was passed in 1971 designating August 26 of each year as Women’s Equality Day:
- The full text of the resolution reads:
- Joint Resolution of Congress, 1971 Designating August 26 of each year as Women’s Equality Day
- WHEREAS, the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States; and
- WHEREAS, the women of the United States have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex; and
- WHEREAS, the women of the United States have designated August 26, the anniversary date of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, as symbol of the continued fight for equal rights: and
- WHEREAS, the women of United States are to be commended and supported in their organizations and activities,
- NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that August 26 of each year is designated as “Women’s Equality Day,” and the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote, and that day in 1970, on which a nationwide demonstration for women’s rights took place. 
- Britain’s first feminist magazine, Spare Rib, was launched by Marsha Rowe and Rosie Boycott.
- Egyptian feminist Nawal El-Saadawi published her book Women and Sex. 
- Five formerly all-male colleges at Oxford University opened to women. 
- American feminists Gloria Steinem and Letty Cottin Pogrebin co-founded Ms. magazine.
- The Equal Rights Amendment was sent to the U.S. states for ratification. The amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” 
- In Eisenstadt v. Baird the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that unmarried couples have a right to use contraception.
- Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, became law. It is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. The Educational Amendments of 1972 also amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to expand the coverage of the Equal Pay Act to executives, administrators, outside salespeople and professionals, by excluding the Equal Pay Act from the professional workers exemption of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
- The [American] National Women’s Political Caucus was founded.
- Gloria Steinem delivered her Address to the Women of America.
- The American feminist magazine Ms. magazine was launched.
- New York Radical Feminists held a series of speakouts and a conference on rape and women’s treatment by the criminal justice system.
- The Feminist Women’s Health Center was founded in Los Angeles by Carol Downer and Lorraine Rothman.
- In San Francisco, California, Margo St. James organized Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (COYOTE) to improve the working conditions of prostitutes.
- Women are allowed on the floor of the London Stock Exchange for the first time. 
- American tennis player Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match in 1973. This match is remembered for its effect on society and its contribution to the women’s movement.
- The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Roe v. Wade that laws prohibiting abortion are unconstitutional. States are constitutionally allowed to place regulations on abortion which fall short of prohibition after the first trimester.
- The U.S. Supreme Court held that sex-segregated help wanted ads are illegal in Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, 413 U.S. 376.
- AT&T agreed to end discrimination in women’s salaries and to pay retroactive compensation to women employees.
- The [American] National Black Feminist Organization was formed.
- Contraception became free for women in the United Kingdom. 
- Virago Press, a British feminist press, was set up by the publisher Carmen Callil. Its first title, Life As We Have Known It, was published in 1975.
- The Women’s Aid Federation was set up to unite battered women’s shelters in Britain. 
- The Equal Credit Opportunity Act became law in the U.S. It prohibits discrimination in consumer credit practices on the basis of sex, race, marital status, religion, national origin, age, or receipt of public assistance.
- In Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers cannot justify paying women lower wages because that is what they traditionally received under the “going market rate.” A wage differential occurring “simply because men would not work at the low rates paid women” is unacceptable.
- The U.S. First Lady Betty Ford was pro-choice. A moderate Republican, Ford lobbied to ratify the ERA, earning the ire of conservatives, who dub her “No Lady”.
- The Mexican-American Women’s National Association was founded.
- The American Coalition of Labor Union Women was founded.
- The Women’s Educational Equity Act (WEEA) of 1974 was enacted in 1974 to promote educational equity for American girls and women, including those who suffer multiple discrimination based on gender and on race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, or age, and to provide funds to help education agencies and institutions meet the requirements of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
- The Equal Pay Act 1970 took effect in the UK. 
- The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 became law in the UK, making it illegal to discriminate against women in education, recruitment, and advertising. 
- The Employment Protection Act 1975 became law in the UK, introducing statutory maternity provision and making it illegal to fire a woman because she is pregnant. 
- In Taylor v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court held that women could not be excluded from a venire, or jury pool, on the basis of having to register for jury duty, thus overturningHoyt v. Florida, the 1961 case that had allowed such a practice.
- The U.N. sponsored the First International Conference on Women in Mexico City.
- U.S. federal employees’ salaries could be garnished for child support and alimony.
- Tish Sommers, chairwoman of NOW’s Older Women Task Force, coined the phrase “displaced homemaker”.
- American feminist Susan Brownmiller published the landmark book Against Our Will, about rape. She later became one of TIME‘s “Women of the Year” (see below).
- NOW sponsored “Alice Doesn’t” Day, asking women across the country to go on strike for one day.
- Joan Little, who was raped by a guard while in jail, was acquitted of murdering her offender. The case established a precedent in America for killing as self-defense against rape.
- In New York City, the first women’s bank opened.
- The United States armed forces opened its military academies to women.
- Time declared: “[F]eminism has transcended the feminist movement. In 1975 the women’s drive penetrated every layer of society, matured beyond ideology to a new status of general — and sometimes unconscious — acceptance.” The Time Person of the Year award goes to American Women, celebrating the successes of the feminist movement.
- The Equal Opportunities Commission came into effect in the UK (besides Northern Ireland, where it came into effect in 1976) to oversee the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts. 
- The Equal Opportunities Commission came into effect in Northern Ireland to oversee the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts. 
- The Domestic Violence Act became law in Britain, enabling women to obtain a court order against their violent husband or partner. 
- The first marital rape law was enacted in Nebraska, making it illegal for a husband to rape his wife.
- Congresswoman Barbara Charline Jordan of Texas, the first African-American congresswoman to come from the Deep South and the first woman ever elected to the Texas Senate, who had received widespread recognition as a key member of the House Judiciary Committee during President Nixon‘s impeachment, delivered the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. She was the first black person and first woman to address the convention as a keynote speaker, declaring that “My presence here . . . is one additional bit of evidence that the American dream need not forever be deferred.” 
- The Organization of Pan Asian American Women was formed for women of Asian and Pacific American Islander descent.
- The Canadian Human Rights Act was passed, prohibiting discrimination based on characteristics including sex and sexual orientation, and requiring “equal pay for work of equal value.” 
- In the U.S., the first National Women’s Conference since the Seneca Falls Convention was held in Houston, Texas. Women from all over the country, 20,000 in all, gathered to pass a far-reaching National Plan of Action.
- The National Association of Cuban-American Women was established.
- The first women pilots of the United States Air Force graduated.
- International Women’s Day was formalized as an annual event by the U.N. General Assembly. 
- The first Rape Crisis Centre opened in London. 
- The Oregon v. Rideout decision led to many American states allowing prosecution for marital and cohabitation rape.
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act banned employment discrimination against pregnant women in the U.S., stating a woman cannot be fired or denied a job or a promotion because she is or may become pregnant, nor can she be forced to take a pregnancy leave if she is willing and able to work.
- The Equal Rights Amendment’s deadline arrived with the ERA still three states short of ratification; there was a successful bill to extend the ERA’s deadline to 1982, but it was still not ratified by then.
- Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
- The feminist art piece The Dinner Party, by American feminist artist Judy Chicago, was first put on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 
- In the U.S., the early 1980s were marked by the end of the second wave and the beginning of the feminist sex wars. Many historians view the second-wave feminist era in America as ending in the early 1980s with the intra-feminism disputes of the Feminist Sex Wars over issues such as sexuality and pornography, which ushered in the era ofthird-wave feminism in the early 1990s .
- The second wave began in the 1980s in Turkey  and in Israel.
- The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted by the Canada Act of 1982, and it declares (among other things), “15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. (2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability….28. Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.” 
- In 1983 in France the women’s minister, Yvette Roudy, passed a law obliging all companies with more than 50 employees to carry out a comparative salary survey between men and women.
- The Japanese Equal Employment Opportunity Law of 1985, effective in April 1986, prohibits gender discrimination with respect to recruitment, hiring, promotion, training, and job assignment.
One debate which developed in the United States during this time period revolved around the question of coeducation. Most men’s colleges in the United States adopted coeducation, often by merging with women’s colleges. In addition, some women’s colleges adopted coeducation, while others maintained a single-sex student body.
Seven Sisters Colleges
Two of the Seven Sister colleges made transitions during and after the 1960s. The first, Radcliffe College, merged with Harvard University. Beginning in 1963, students at Radcliffe received Harvard diplomas signed by the presidents of Radcliffe and Harvard and joint commencement exercises began in 1970. The same year, several Harvard and Radcliffe dormitories began swapping students experimentally and in 1972 full co-residence was instituted. The departments of athletics of both schools merged shortly thereafter. In 1977, Harvard and Radcliffe signed an agreement which put undergraduate women entirely in Harvard College. In 1999 Radcliffe College was dissolved and Harvard University assumed full responsibility over the affairs of female undergraduates. Radcliffe is now the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in Women’s Studies at Harvard University.
The remaining Seven Sisters decided against coeducation. Mount Holyoke College engaged in a lengthy debate under the presidency of David Truman over the issue of coeducation. On November 6, 1971, “after reviewing an exhaustive study on coeducation, the board of trustees decided unanimously that Mount Holyoke should remain a women’s college, and a group of faculty was charged with recommending curricular changes that would support the decision.” Smith College also made a similar decision in 1971.
In 1969, Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College (then all male) developed a system of sharing residential colleges. When Haverford became coeducational in 1980, Bryn Mawr discussed the possibly of coeducation as well, but decided against it. In 1983, Columbia University began admitting women after a decade of failed negotiations with Barnard College for a merger along the lines of Harvard and Radcliffe (Barnard has been affiliated with Columbia since 1900, but it continues to be independently governed). Wellesley College also decided against coeducation during this time.
Mississippi University for Women
In 1982, in a 5–4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan that the Mississippi University for Women would be in violation of theFourteenth Amendment‘s Equal Protection Clause if it denied admission to its nursing program on the basis of gender. Mississippi University for Women, the first public or government institution for women in the United States, changed its admissions policies and became coeducational after the ruling.
In what was her first opinion written for the Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor stated, “In limited circumstances, a gender-based classification favoring one sex can be justified if it intentionally and directly assists members of the sex that is disproportionately burdened.” She went on to point out that there are a disproportionate number of women who are nurses, and that denying admission to men “lends credibility to the old view that women, not men, should become nurses, and makes the assumption that nursing is a field for women a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
In the dissenting opinions, Justices Harry A. Blackmun, Warren E. Burger, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., and William H. Rehnquist suggested that the result of this ruling would be the elimination of publicly supported single-sex educational opportunities. This suggestion has proven to be accurate as there are no public women’s colleges in the United States today and, as a result of United States v. Virginia, the last all-male public university in the United States, Virginia Military Institute, was required to admit women. The ruling did not require the university to change its name to reflect its coeducational status and it continues a tradition of academic and leadership development for women by providing liberal arts and professional education to women and men.
On May 3, 1990, the Trustees of Mills College announced that they had voted to admit male students. This decision led to a two-week student and staff strike, accompanied by numerous displays of non-violent protests by the students. At one point, nearly 300 students blockaded the administrative offices and boycotted classes. On May 18, the Trustees met again to reconsider the decision, leading finally to a reversal of the vote.
Pembroke College merged with Brown University. Sarah Lawrence College declined an offer to merge with Princeton University, becoming coeducational in 1969.Connecticut College also adopted coeducation during the late 1960s. Wells College, previously with a student body of women only, became co-educational in 2005. Douglass College, part of Rutgers University was the last publicly funded women’s only college until 2007 when it became coed.