I t would be difficult to overestimate how much American women’s lives have changed between 1945 and today. In the mid-twentieth century, several states had “head and master” laws that formally sub- jected women to their husbands. Women were legally obligated to raise children and perform domestic labor, but they had no right to any of their husband’s earnings or property. In many states, married women were le- gally required to change their last names and could be penalized if they did not. Professional and graduate schools regularly set quotas for how many women they would admit, often 5–10 percent or less of admitted students. It was perfectly legal to pay women less for doing the same job as a man or to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote someone for being a woman. Sexual harassment, rape, and domestic violence were “private” issues that women had to endure, with authorities like courts and the police often unwilling to provide recourse. Nowhere in the United States was marital rape recognized as a crime. Abortion was illegal in most cases (and often deadly), and though the first birth control pill was approved in 1960, access to it was not legally guaranteed. But such conditions and restrictions were not immutable. Through the concerted action of several generations of activists, many women’s lives improved. Those women ac- tivists and their work are the subjects of this volume. Traditionally, feminist scholarship has divided the feminist move- ment into three “waves”: first-wave feminism, which dated from the mid- nineteenth century through 1920 and concerned itself primarily with women’s property and citizenship rights, especially the right to vote second-wave feminism, which lasted from the mid-1960s through the Introduction
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