The year 2017 has not been without its challenges when it comes to women’s rights. Federal defunding of Planned Parenthood and government mandates threatening birth control coverage benefits have spurred women’s marches all over the country. And while these demonstrations have certainly been enough to prompt concern about women’s equality in our country, it’s also important to remember just how far we’ve come.
It’s hard to believe that in the 1960s, which doesn’t even seem that long ago, women weren’t allowed many things that we take for granted today. Here are some crazy things women were unable to do just 50 years ago.
Get their own credit card
With the current number of banks out there, you don’t have to look far these days to find somebody who is willing to give you a credit card, even if your credit score is less than perfect. But ask a woman trying to get a credit card in the 1960s and she’ll probably have a very different story to tell.
According to an article in Smithsonian, just 40 years ago women applying for credit cards could be inundated with a slew of personal questions, including if she was married or single and whether or not she planned on having children. Many banks also required women to have a man co-sign their credit card applications.
Even Hillary Clinton recalls once being denied a credit card. “I got a letter back saying that I could not apply for my own credit card, I would have to use my husband’s. And so this is not like ancient history,” she said in an interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. “And I was making more money than he was and I actually was ready to have my own credit card.”
Serve on a jury
According to the Library of Congress, a female juror was practically fiction. Even after the passage of the 19th amendment, which qualified women as “electors,” it took some time before states passed legislature to have them included in jury selection. Until that happened in 1957, women were only called to serve on very rare occasions, typically involving female defendants. It wasn’t until 1973 that women were finally allowed to serve in juries across all 50 states.
Get birth control
The FDA approved birth control as a contraceptive in 1960 but, according to Planned Parenthood, many states, including Connecticut, didn’t actually allow doctors to prescribe it. It was then that Estelle Griswold, an activist for birth control access and then-executive director for Connecticut’s Planned Parenthood, opened a health center that provided birth control, which resulted in her immediate arrest. Her case went to the Supreme Court and in 1965, birth control became legal for married women. Griswold v. Connecticut set the momentum for other cases, including Roe v. Wade, which protects the private medical decisions of women, including the right to abortion.
Access the morning-after pill
Like birth control, emergency contraceptives, also known as the morning after pill, had their fair share of setbacks. According to CNN, the FDA approved the first emergency contraceptive kit in 1998. Since then, as many as 5.8 million women have reported using the morning after pill at least once to prevent pregnancy, according to USA Today.
Join the Ivy League
If you had the privilege of attending a school like Harvard or Yale, count your blessings because, unfortunately, women in the 1960s (and before that) weren’t quite as lucky. In fact, Yale didn’t become coeducational until the fall of 1969. Other institutions took even longer. Columbia University, for instance, recently celebrated 25 years of coeducation. According to Columbia’s community newspaper The Record, the university was an all-male institution until 1983.
And while Radcliffe College at Harvard was founded in 1879 “to furnish instruction and the opportunities of collegiate life to women and to promote their higher education,” women and men were still taught separately until most classes became coed in 1946 and then finally, in the 1960s, Harvard degrees were given to Radcliffe women (signed by both Harvard and Radcliffe presidents). Still, it wasn’t until 1999 that Radcliffe officially merged with Harvard.
Attend military academy
In the 1960s, getting into military academy was equally as impossible as attending an Ivy League university for women. The United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, probably the most well-known military training academy in the country, first welcomed women cadets in 1976 — that’s just 40 years ago!
“Of the 119 women entering that day, I suspect all of us, along with the men, can say those days were life-changing,” retired Col. Debra M. Lewis, said in an interview with the U.S. Army.
Keep their jobs while pregnant
Maternity leave policies in the U.S. are far from perfect, but can you believe that 50 years ago, you could actually be denied a job if you were pregnant? Even worse, a company could fire you for becoming pregnant. It wasn’t until the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 that pregnancy discrimination became illegal. Since then, companies have been forbidden by law to discriminate based on pregnancy when it comes to employment — including hiring, firing, pay, etc.
Complain about sexual harassment at work
The workplace was far from friendly for women 50 years ago. In addition worrying about losing your job if you became pregnant, you would have also had zero protection against sexual harassment in the office. According to Time, the term “sexual harassment” was first coined in 1975 by a group of women at Cornell University when Carmita Wood, a former employee at the university, filed a claim for unemployment benefits. Wood had quit her job after her unwelcome touching from her supervisor. By 1977, multiple courts ruled that it was legal for a woman to sue her employer on the basis of harassment.
Deny sex to their husbands
As if the possibility of being harassed without consequence isn’t scary enough, women weren’t always protected from being raped either. In fact, marital rape was not recognized as a crime until the 1970s. According to Time, the first spousal rape conviction is believed to have happened in Salem, Massachusetts, when a drunk bartender showed up at the home he once shared with his estranged wife and raped her.
Famous female lawyers like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonya Sotomayor, and Sandra Day O’Connor make it easy to forget that 50 years ago, having a law career was virtually impossible for a woman. According to a report published by Cornell University, in the 1960s, NYU reported that 90 percent of the law firms contacting its placement office refused even to interview women.
Box in the Olympics
In the past 50 years, women have continued to shatter glass ceilings across all industries and sports is no exception. In 2012, the Olympics made history when they officially added women’s boxing to its roster of competitions. “I am delighted that London 2012 will take its place in the Olympic tradition of advancing women in sport,” Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Organizing Committee, said in an interview with The New York Times.
We are delighted too, but just a little sad that it took until 2012.
Still a long way to go
Despite the many challenges women still face in the world today, there’s no doubt that we’ve made significant strides toward equality in the last 50 years. Every day, strong women continue to fight for equal pay, fair maternity leave policies, and the freedom to make decisions about our own bodies. As long as we continue to work together toward progress, we will reach our goals. If there’s one thing that history has taught us, it’s that a determined woman can change history.