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NOTE
: THE DEFINING GENERATION is a project begun by Doug and Pam Sterner in 2002 and completed in 2006. Initially is was prepared for publication as a book, however with their changing focus to development of a database of military awards, was postponed indefinitely so they could concentrate on that larger, more important work. The stories found herein however, need to be shared, and they have consented to make this compilation available in this format. While each story can stand alone, it is recommended that for continuity, readers will be best served by reading the chapters sequentially from first to last.

 

The Defining Generation

-

Defining the Role of the Sexes

Remember the Ladies

 

 

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams (March 31, 1776)

"I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.

"Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation."

 

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams (April 14, 1776)

"We have been told that our struggle has loosened the bonds of government everywhere; that children and apprentices were disobedient; that schools and colleges were grown turbulent; that Indians slighted their guardians, and Negroes grew insolent to their masters. But your letter was the first intimation that another tribe, more numerous and powerful than all the rest, were grown discontented."

 

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams (May 7, 1776)

"I cannot say that I think you are very generous to the ladies; for, whilst you are proclaiming peace and good-will to men, emancipating all nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over wives.

"But you must remember that arbitrary power is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken; and, notwithstanding all your wise laws and maxims, we have it in our power, not only to free ourselves, but to subdue our masters, and without violence, throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet." 

 

 

THERE can be little doubt that the American Dream was born at Plymouth Harbor , Massachusetts , in December 1620 when the Pilgrims arrived aboard the Mayflower. For the 101 sea-weary refugees seeking freedom from repression in England, and the right to build a new life in a free society, the vast expanse of the American continent promised unlimited opportunity.

Though in fact Jamestown, Virginia, had been settled some 13 years earlier, Plymouth Rock became the first truly American community. The adventurers who left England to establish Jamestown had been strictly male. Historian Dr. Alf J. Mapp Jr. believes that in 1607 "...it was thought that women had no place in the grim and often grisly business of subduing a continent."[1] Despite the harsh living conditions in the New World, the men of Jamestown soon recognized a need for what had become known as the "weaker sex" in traditional English society. One year after the founding of Jamestown, Thomas Forrest's wife arrived with her maid, Anne Burras. They were probably the first non-native women to make their homes in the New World.

Ten years later in 1619, the Virginia Company came to believe that without further efforts to build a co-ed community, Jamestown might not long continue to flourish. In response, 90 volunteer "spinsters" were shipped to the New World from England. All were free to marry the lonely adventurers at Jamestown, but only after her would-be husband paid a requisite 120 pounds of tobacco in order to defray the cost of his mail order bride.

In contrast, the 18 women who numbered among the 102 Pilgrims who settled at Plymouth Rock in 1620, came to the New World together with their husbands and children as contiguous families. Their sojourn to a new life in the Land of Opportunity was much like the journey their great-great granddaughters would make centuries later as they crossed the vast plains of the American west in covered wagons.

As any study of the rights and roles of women in world history will quickly reveal that out of sheer necessity, when times are tough, tradition bows to need. During crisis, women have been not only allowed but encouraged to step outside what would normally be considered an appropriate role.

Women arriving in the American colonies did find freedoms and rights not accorded them in Britain where, until 1851 a woman could not even be the legal guardian of her own children and could not retain her own property after marriage. While an unmarried woman (spinster) or widow could own property, enter into a contract, sue or be sued, under the common law of England, when she married both she and all she possessed came under her husband's control.

As early as 1619 with regard to the Jamestown settlement, the Virginia Assembly petitioned that in addition to the "male children…and of all others begotten in Virginia," land grants be issued to women as well because "…in a new plantation it is not known whether man or woman be more necessary." Similar new rights were extended at Plymouth Rock where women had the right to buy, own and sell property. A widow could not be legally written out of her husband's will, and she was guaranteed a full third of the family's property upon his death.

This, and many other rights and privileges enjoyed by women in the New World should not be misinterpreted to indicate that in the settlement of the United States, the cause of women's rights had taken a leap forward. The Reverend John Robinson, a leader among the original Pilgrims believed what while women were equal under God, their roles were defined by nature and scripture as subservient to men. He referred to women as "weaker vessels" and taught women to "be subject to their husbands." Husbands were admonished to discipline their wives like they did their children.

In June 1776 Thomas Jefferson penned the words "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…." Quite obviously however, the 56 men who signed their names at the bottom of that Declaration interpreted the word "men" literally and not figuratively. Equal rights under God applied ONLY to WHITE men; men of color were seen as inferior and women were deemed as "weaker vessels." Quite obviously John Adams, one of the 5 men assigned by the Continental Congress to draft and refine a Declaration of Independence, had failed to heed the admonition from his own wife on March 31, 1776, that: "If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies (in the formation of a new government), we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation."

The "rebellion" of which Abigail Adams spoke was in fact, forestalled by the much larger rebellion that became the American Revolution. During that 4-year period of crisis, as throughout history, a male-oriented society welcomed the needed help of women, Blacks, Indians, mercenaries, and just about anyone else who could contribute. During the war Mrs. Mary Ludwig Hays became one of our country's first female combat heroes. While not expected to fight in combat, women commonly served as water bearers to carry water to sate the thirst of men who fired cannons and occasionally to cool the hot cannons themselves. When Mrs. Hays husband was wounded she bravely stepped into a man's combat role, continuing to fire the cannon.

While Mary Hays is perhaps the best known of the women heroes of the American Revolution, her own action was preceded more than a year by the actions of Margaret Cochran Corbin. Mrs. Corbin was living with her husband John at Fort Washington, New York, when the post was attacked by British and Hessian troops on November 16, 1776. Margaret assisted her husband in operating a cannon and, when he was killed, she continued to load and fire the gun alone until she was herself severely wounded. Shrapnel wounds to her chest, shoulder and jaw left her with permanent disabilities, including the loss of the use of one arm. In 1779 the Continental Congress granted her "half the pay and allowances of a soldier in service," making her the first American woman to receive a pension from the U.S. Government as a disabled solider.

Following the successful American Revolution, the all-male leadership of the new United States established a Constitution, enhanced it with the Bill of Rights to specifically detail the liberties and rights afforded to Americans, while ignoring any specific provisions for the rights of either ethnic minorities or women. For the next two centuries the issue of Women's rights and the rights of minority races would be inexorably entwined.

At the turn of the century President John Adams and his wife Abigail became the first to inhabit the Presidential home in the new capitol of Washington, D.C. For her admonition 24 years earlier to "remember the ladies," First Lady Adams is often considered to be America's first feminist, identified as such by comments in her two letters of 1776. A more detailed study of her life fails to uncover any overt activism for women's rights, and the title "feminist" seems unrealistic. Abigail Adams was an Abolitionist who also believed in equal educational opportunities for both boys and girls. She capably tended to the Adams estate as "head of house" with authority during her husband's long absences to tend the affairs of state. Webster defines feminism as:

1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes

2: organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests

In light of the first precept Abigail Adams was certainly a feminist. When measured against the second, she certainly was not.  Historians may long continue the debate as to the personality of our second First Lady. What is not debatable is the prophetic nature of her May 7, 1776, reply to her husband's negative response to her earlier "remember the ladies" letter when she noted:

"We (women) have it in our power, not only to free ourselves, but to subdue our masters (men), and without violence, throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet."

 

The revolution Abigail Adams warned might come lasted well into the twentieth century. It ended with a partial victory in 1920 with the words "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." In the process of achieving that partial victory, American women proved themselves to be as determined, astute, and resourceful as any enemy the male-dominated United States of America was ever to face.

At the mid-point of the 19th Century the activism of American women who were disaffected by the glaring inequities between White men and both Blacks and women, morphed from an inconvenient nuisance to an unavoidable confrontation. An innocent-enough tea party among five New York women on the afternoon of July 13, 1848 , might well be remembered as the "Boston Tea Party of Women's Liberation." During the course of typical tea party conversation, at the urging of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a small group of ladies planned a convention for the following week at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls and published a small announcement about it in the Seneca County Courier.

Nearly 300 interested persons, including 40 men, gathered to the following week to consider a Declaration of Sentiments Stanton had written in much the same fashion as the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Where the U.S. Declaration of Independence listed 27 grievances against King George however, Stanton's Declaration of Sentiments listed only 15 grievances against a male-dominated American society and political system.

Following debate on these grievances, all but the point of allowing women to vote were approved and ratified by 68 women and 32 men.  Among the men who acknowledged the National injustice against women was the noted Black orator Frederick Douglass whose "North Star" newspaper published below its masthead the statement, "Right is of no sex, truth is of no color, God is the Father of us all--and all are brethren." When the more traditional preachers, press, and politicians began to ridicule the Seneca Falls Convention, Douglass wrote in his newspaper, "A discussion of the rights of animals would be regarded with far more complacency by many of what are called the wise and the good of our land, than would be a discussion of the rights of woman."

Over the next decade the issues of Slavery and Suffrage became the burning issues that stirred our nation. Both were vividly illustrated on June 23, 1855, when a 19-year old Black woman killed her owner, Robert Newsome, while resisting his sexual advances. That young slave, pregnant with her second child, had endured nearly 5 years of rape by her slave-master. Tried for murder in Missouri vs. Celia, the court  ruled that a Black slave was property without the right of self defense, even against her master's acts of rape. Celia was executed by hanging on December 18, 1855.

Although Slavery became the burning issue of the day, from 1948 until the start of the Civil War, women made subtle progress in their march towards equality in America.

In 1848 Elizabeth Blackwell was enrolled at Geneva Medical College of New York, though her acceptance was the result of a fluke. School administrators did not want to risk rejecting a woman applicant so they asked the medical students if THEY wanted to approve her application. The students thought that a rival school had submitted the application as a joke and voted to admit Blackwell. Graduating first in her class of 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in the United States to earn a medical degree, though she was subsequently barred from practicing in most hospitals.

Two years later a group of Quaker physicians and clergy established the world's first medical school for women at the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania. In 1855 the University of Iowa became the first state institution of higher learning to admit women. That same year a young woman named Mary Edwards Walker also graduated from medical school, the only woman in her class from Syracuse Medical College. Within a decade the medical skills of many of these women were greatly needed as our nation's struggle with the issue of slavery became a Civil War.

American women, both in the Union and the Confederacy, bore many of the burdens of the war between the states. Ladies Aid Societies did everything from knitting socks for soldiers to conducting drives to stockpile needed medical supplies. In hospitals as well as near the battlefields, civilian nurses were in much demand. Among the most famous was 30-year old Clarissa Harlowe Barton. Better known in history as Clara Barton, following the First Battle of Bull Run in April 1861, as a civilian nurse she put together an agency to collect and distribute supplies to wounded soldiers. Under a special dispensation from General William Hammond she was even authorized to ride in army ambulances to treat soldiers en route from battlefield to the hospital. By the summer of 1862 her admirable work resulted in her being authorized to take supplies and her nursing skills not only onto the battlefield, but even to travel behind the lines to minister to wounded men. By 1864 she was appointed by General Benjamin Butler to the title of "lady in charge" for all front-line hospitals for the Army of the James.[2]

In addition to civilian nurses like Clara Barton, women on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line also served in uniform in combat roles. As had done a few women during the American Revolution, these women combatants served while disguised as men and under assumed identities. Both the Union and the Confederate Armies forbade the enlistment of women into military service, but it is estimated that as many as 400 women donned male garb and assumed masculine names in order to enlist as soldiers. Among these was Sarah Emma Edmonds who served as a male nurse and also as a daring spy under the name Franklin Thompson. She was later the only woman ever admitted to membership in the Civil War Veterans' organization, the Grand Army of the Republic.

There can be little doubt however, that the most colorful of the women veterans of the Civil War was Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the 1855 graduate of Syracuse Medical College. Serving first as a nurse and later as a civilian contract surgeon after the Army refused to enlist her, Dr. Walker performed heeling deeds both in hospitals early in the war, and later on the fields of battle during some of the fiercest fighting.

After two years of volunteer service as a nurse, in September 1863 Dr. Walker was appointed assistant surgeon in the Army of the Cumberland, a position normally filled by a (male) commissioned medical officer. Dr. Walker fashioned for herself a modified officer's uniform with yellow trouser stripe and a green surgeon's sash, thereafter appearing for all practical purposes as an Army officer. Her one fashion concession to her gender was an unsightly straw hat topped off with a colorful ostrich feather.

Dr. Walker was later appointed as assistant surgeon of the 52nd Ohio Infantry and according to credible accounts, occasionally performed services as a spy behind Confederate lines. On April 10, 1964, while serving near the Georgia-Tennessee border she was captured in full uniform by soldiers of the Confederate Army. After more than five months as a Prisoner of War she was liberated in an exchange of prisoners on August 12. Her repatriation provided one of her proudest moments; for the rest of her life Dr. Walker would frequently recall the day she was traded man-for-man for a Confederate officer.

While historical accounts often refer to Dr. Mary Walker as having been nominated for the Medal of Honor, the subsequent award of that Medal was actually more of a slight than a compliment. Following the war and her own admirable and even valorous performance of duty, Dr. Walker requested to be commissioned as a U.S. Army major. Not only would such an act have been unprecedented however, it was illegal. By statute, no woman was allowed to be enlisted in any branch of U.S. Military service, much less commissioned as an officer. In hopes of pacifying the valiant woman veteran, President Andrew Johnson opted to award Dr. Walker the Medal of Honor under a citation that read:

 

"Whereas it appears from official reports that Dr. Mary E. Walker, a graduate of medicine, "has rendered valuable service to the Government and her efforts have been earnest and untiring in a variety of ways," and that she was assigned to duty and served as an assistant surgeon in charge of female prisoners at Louisville, Ky., upon the recommendation of Major Generals Sherman and Thomas, and faithfully served as contract surgeon in the service of the United States, and has devoted herself with much patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded soldiers, both in the field and hospitals, to the detriment of her own health, and has also endured hardships as a prisoner of war four months in a Southern prison while acting as contract surgeon; and

"Whereas by reason of her not being a commissioned officer in the military service, a brevet or honorary rank cannot, under existing laws, be conferred upon her; and

"Whereas in the opinion of the President an honorable recognition of her services and sufferings should be made:

"It is ordered, That a testimonial thereof shall be hereby made and given to the said Dr. Mary E. Walker, and that the usual medal of honor for meritorious services be given her."

 

Before her Civil War service Dr. Walker had always been something of an eccentric, and a woman ahead of her time who refused to be "boxed into" a male-dominated society. Beyond her precedent-setting graduation from medical school, as an ardent advocate in the Suffrage movement she objected to traditional women's garb and embraced Bloomers. When she married in 1856 she retained her maiden name.

Following her Civil War service Dr. Walker continued her advocacy for women's rights, dressed only in men's suits (complete with top-hat and gloves and adorned with her Medal of Honor.) The only concession she made to her gender was a red rose tucked into her vest. She was arrested on more than one occasion for "impersonating a man," and at one trial defended herself with the reminder that she had the right to "dress as I please in a free America whose tented fields I have served for four years in the cause of human freedom."

In 1917 an Army Board of Generals was tasked with reviewing all awards of the Medal of Honor, based upon reports some had been frivolously awarded. More than 800 medals had been granted to the members of one Civil War regiment as incentive to remain on duty for three days after their enlistment expired during the same period as the Gettysburg battle. (None of these volunteers saw combat, but were held in reserve.) A total of 911 Medals of Honor were revoked by the Board, including 905 deemed unwarranted. Among the remaining six revoked medals was Dr. Mary Walker's award. She and five civilian scouts including Buffalo Bill Cody were instructed to return their medals. As a military award, it had been decided that the Medal of Honor was not authorized to civilian volunteers.

Thereafter Dr. Walker dressed only in black, proclaiming she had been widowed by the country she had served. She refused to return her Medal of Honor and wore it daily during two-years of unsuccessful visits to the Capitol to lobby to have her award reinstated. During one of those visits she fell on the Capitol steps, sustaining injuries from which she never recovered. She died at age 86 on February 21, 1919. Not until 1977, nearly half-a-century after her death did Congress act to restore her Medal of Honor. In U.S. military history she remains to this day, the only woman ever awarded our country's highest military honor.

 

The Civil War DID at last settle the issue of slavery in America. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution specified that "Neither slavery or involuntary servitude…shall exist within the United States." That Amendment did NOT however, solve the problems of inequities in either rights or opportunities for ethnic minorities or for women.

The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, defined citizenship as "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof." This second of the Reconstruction Amendments established the rights of every American citizen to due process of law and to equal protection under the law. It was this "Equal Protection" clause that became the basis of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court Case that integrated America's schools and helped to launch the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

In 1870 the third Reconstruction Amendment was ratified when the 15th Amendment addressed the right of Blacks and other ethnic minorities to vote. That Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: "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 or servitude." Conspicuous by its absence in the 15th Amendment is any reference to the right of Americans to vote regardless of gender.

Throughout the Reconstruction and into the Industrial Revolution, American women encouraged by pre-Civil War successes, fought for equal rights in America with only limited success. One primary change was the welcoming of women into the industrial work force, the opportunity at last to work like a man. Most of these jobs however were not the positions that offered a meaningful career; they were low-paid, unskilled assembly-line or sweat-shop positions. Any woman attempting to step beyond those boundaries was promptly ushered back into a woman's "proper role in American society."

In 1869 Myra Bradwell applied for admission to the Illinois State Bar citing State Statute authorizing admittance of any "any adult of good character and with sufficient training to be admitted." Rejected on the basis of gender, when she sued in Illinois for proper admittance she was again denied. The court noted that:

·        Women should not be allowed to practice the law.

·        Bradwell's admission would open the flood gates and many more women would want to follow in her example.

·        Brutal cases would not be appropriate for a woman to handle.

·        Admitting women would have a negative impact on the administration office.

Undeterred, Bradwell appealed the Illinois decision to the U.S. Supreme court. In an 8-1 decision in 1873, the Supreme Court upheld the Illinois ruling in Bradwell v. Illinois, affirming the right of the state to exclude women from law practice. In concurring with the majority opinion Justice Bradley wrote: "The paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator."[3]

If in fact there existed any measure of equality for American women in the latter half of the 19th century it was on the frontier in the American West. There, due the sheer demand of the terrain and associated dangers, it was impractical to confine women to the traditional benign offices of wife and mother. Only a strong woman could survive the rugged wagon train odyssey into this untamed geographical area, where she would be expected to work with the men, endure the associated hardships of life on the frontier, and perhaps even take up a rifle to defend her home and family.

While in general men of the frontier West deferred to women with such Eastern courtesies as a "tip of the hat," and while the cowboy code demanded every effort to shelter and protect the "fairer sex", women were generally not viewed as the "weaker sex." Quickly men learned that the same lady who donned dress and bonnet on Sunday to take the family to a rural church, could return home to dress in pants and work the farm from sun-up to sun-down the rest of the week. As had the first Pilgrim women, and as had the daring women who served in America's wars, in the Wild West women again demonstrated that when they were needed and allowed to do so, they could rise to any demand and be equal to their male counterparts.

Perhaps this helps to account for the fact that as early as 1869 women were allowed to vote in Wyoming Territory, and the following year women were allowed to vote in the Territory of Utah. It would take fifty years and passage of the 19th Amendment to extend that right to most of the remaining women across America. Given an opportunity in the West, women demonstrated they were not only strong and capable to the challenge of settling the new land, but that they were capable leaders. Four years before the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. On January 5, 1925, a Wyoming woman became our first woman governor when Nellie T. Ross was elected to finish the term of her deceased husband.

The 72-year period from the Seneca Falls Convention until ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920, is often referred to as the First Wave of Feminism in America. The Amendment itself reads simply: "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." But for the word "sex" that replaced the words "race, color, or previous condition or servitude," it was identical to the 15th Amendment ratified fifty years earlier. It marked the first time the word "sex" appeared in any of our Nation's official documents. 

Evn as the abolition of slavery and passage of the Reconstruction Amendments failed to guarantee the civil rights of all Americans regardless of race for more than a century, passage of the 19th Amendment while a step forward, fell far short of the goals outlined at the Seneca Falls Convention. Both issues would resurface in the turbulent 60s. As the two inequities in a free society had been linked together historically, they would once again be redefined nearly simultaneously by a new generation. Regarding the rights of ethnic minorities, the Civil Rights movement would address the shortcomings of the earlier Abolitionist movement. Regarding the rights of women, there would arise a second rebellion, often called the Second Wave of Feminism in America .

 

When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was introduced in the United States Congress, it was the most sweeping effort in history to complete the work of the American Civil War. Despite its noble ideals of American equality, it faced considerable opposition, especially among Southern Democrats. After hearings in the House Judiciary Committee, the bill was reported out of committee in November 1963 and referred to the House Rules Committee. Virginia Democrat Howard W. Smith, who served as Chairman, gave every indication of keeping the sweeping Civil Rights Bill bottled up indefinitely. In 1957 Smith had responded to similar legislation with the comment, "The Southern people have never accepted the colored race as a race of people who had equal intelligence…as the white people of the South."

Within the month President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas and President Lyndon Johnson, who had long served in the U.S. House before becoming Vice President under Kennedy, personally put pressure on Congress to move the bill forward. Because of the House's "twenty-one day rule," Smith was forced to send the Civil Rights Bill to the floor for a vote.

Two days before that historic vote Congressman Smith rose to offer amendment to the wording of Title VII granting equal opportunity in employment regardless "of such individual's race, color, religion, or national origin." Smith offered to include the word "sex" among the protected classes, evoking immediate laughter in the chambers and an interesting and humorous discussion thereafter. Later the media would refer to that day as "Ladies Day in the House of Representatives."

History is divided on the motivation behind Congressman Smith's actions, of which no clear answer was ever forthcoming from the man himself. Some historians give Smith the benefit of the doubt, suggesting that his well-documented support of women's rights despite his opposition to integration and Civil Rights for Blacks, motivated him to include the word "sex" out of a sincere desire to include women among the classes of American citizens afforded new protections under the bill. Other historians, including many of Smith's political colleagues, saw the move as a shrewd, final attempt to scuttle the Civil Rights Act. These argue that by including "sex" in the language, Smith was offering an amendment that would raise considerable ridicule--which it did--and thereby make the Bill unattractive to the members of Congress. Whatever his motivation, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 290 to 130, the "ladies were remembered" at last in the U.S. Congress. Seven months later after passing the Senate by a vote of 73 to 27, President Johnson signed it into law on July 2, 1964.

 

Three years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 set forth that all Americans regardless of race or gender were entitled to equal opportunity in employment, a 14-year old Chicago girl who was enamored with American entry into the space race wrote to NASA asking how she might become an astronaut. The curt reply she received advised that "Girls are not being recruited by the nation's space program."

"It had never crossed my mind up until that point that there might be doors closed to me simply because I was a girl," she later said of that experience. Though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was intended to open those and other doors, not until 1977 was a woman admitted to the male-dominated NASA program other than jobs behind the scenes. That first woman astronaut was NOT the Chicago girl who had been rebuffed in a 1961 letter, for Hillary Rodham left behind her dreams of flying into space to pursue other career goals.

 

The slowness of this legislated change aside, young women graduating from high schools and colleges in the 1960s found themselves empowered by new laws that granted them increased opportunities. They in turn, refused to be limited by traditional roles in American society. Among a generation that was militantly vocal for Civil Rights and in opposition to the war in Vietnam, young women took up an anthem subsequently echoed in Helen Reddy's 1972 hit song that began: "I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore, and I know too much to go back an' pretend. 'Cause I've heard it all before, and I've been down there on the floor, no one's ever gonna keep me down again."

The rebellion of a new generation of American women throughout the Defining Generation was more than a battle against prejudice and inequity--it was the struggle against tradition and roles established not only in culture, but perceived to be reinforced by the Bible. Thus the so-called "feminist" young women and their older leadership were often portrayed as godless insurrectionists bent on destroying the fabric of the American family. While many of these women were sincere, many even loyal church-going young ladies, their cause was not always helped by the more militant and extreme among them.

In 1968 some of the more radical of the Women's Liberationists staged a demonstration during the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. They smuggled in a banner reading "WOMEN'S LIBERATION" and sat in the front row of the balcony, unfurling it even as Miss America made her farewell speech. They shouted "Freedom for Women," and "No More Miss America" while releasing stink bombs before security could hustle them out.

During that demonstration, women outside the hall had been encouraged to bring bras and girdles to discard into a large trash can. Such restrictive garments represented the repression many women felt and the discarding of them was something of a political expression. There is no evidence that women removed these articles of clothing during the demonstration; they were encouraged to bring them from home in a symbolic gesture. There is further no record of a single bra or girdle being ceremoniously burned, but the incident gave rise to a perception, believed to this day, that the feminists of the 1960s demonstrated against repression by removing and burning their bras.

The burning of draft cards during demonstrations against the Vietnam War was a common form of protest in the 1960s. The practice was looked upon with great concern and disdain not only by an older generation who had answered the call of duty in World War II, but by many patriotic young men and women still in school. By tying the activist women's movement to the radical anti-war movement, and by linking bra-burning and draft-card burning, it was easy to discredit a woman's movement that had many valid points. Despite the fact that there exists no credible evidence of ANY bra-burning crusades in the 1960s, the fabrication of such acts became a means of making the women's movement look radically un-American. One Illinois state legislator, Thomas Hanahan of rural McHenry, once referred to women of the era as "braless, brainless broads." In most cases, he was wrong on all counts.

In 1972 an Equal Rights Amendment (E.R.A.) to the Constitution passed the U.S. Congress and was remanded to the various states for the needed 3/4th plurality required for ratification. By 1980 thirty-five states ratified, and Illinois remained the only major industrial state not among the supporters. Pressure from proponents and opponents of the E.R.A. concentrated on applying political pressure in Chicago. At a large rally there, female E.R.A. opponents led by Phyllis Schlafly passed out home-baked bread to Illinois legislators symbolizing the wifely services they contended were threatened by the amendment. Meanwhile, supporters applied their own brand of pressure.

Lois Anne Rosen of Chicago confronted Robert Krska, who represented her Illinois District in the State Legislature, in the corridor. She asked, "How can you be an American and be against equality?"

In a weak attempt at humor Krska mumbled, "Maybe we shouldn't have given you (women) the vote," and then slipped away through the back hallways.[4]

Fifty years after the turbulent 60s there still is no Equal Rights Amendment to guarantee that: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." The United States remains one of the very few democracies in the world that has never elected a woman to its highest office (president or prime minister). Even so, centuries of tradition regarding the role of women in American society were rejected and redefined in the brief decade from mid-1960 to mid-1970, the period now called the Second Wave of American Feminism. When unleashed, it became a Tidal Wave for long needed change.



[1] Mapp, Alf Jr.. The Virginia Experiment: 1607-1781

[2] Clara Barton's Civil War experiences as a civilian in support of wounded soldiers laid a foundation for her life that propelled her on to additional efforts. In 1881 Clara Barton founded the American chapter of the Red Cross.

[3] Myra Bradwell was ultimately successful after nearly two decades, and was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1890 and two years later received her license to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.

[4] Time Magazine, "ERA Marches on to Another Loss," May. 26, 1980

 

 

The Defining Generation: Copyright © 2006 by Doug and Pam Sterner
All Rights Reserved

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Cover & Introduction
     Preface
Out With the Old
     The Defining Generation

I. - Defining the New
     John Fitzgerald Kennedy
     Roger H.C. Donlon
     Robert Robin Moore
     Barry Sadler
     The Green Beret

II. - Defining Equality
     When Worlds Collide
     Dr. Martin Luther King
     Jimmy Stanford & Vince Yrineo
     Milton Lee Olive, III
     Specialist Lawrence Joel
     Sammy Lee Davis
     Black MOH Recipients - Vietnam War

III. - Defining the Role of the Sexes
     Evolution of a Husband
     Remember the Ladies
     Rosie the Riveter
     Dr. Marguerite Guzman Bouvard
     Linda G. Alvarado
     Karen Irene Offutt
     Women in Military Service
     Lieutenant General Carol Mutter
     The Modern Woman in Combat
IV. - Defining Human Rights
     My Brother's Keeper
     Who is My Brother
     Christopher Dodd & Christopher Shays
     Peace Corps Politicians (Memories)
     Don Bendell
     Sir Edward Artis
     General Colin L. Powell

V. - Defining Entertainment
     Life Imitating Art
     Troubled Waters
     Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
     Brian's Song
     All in the Family
     Adrian Cronauer

VI. - Defining Dissent

     From Berkeley With Love
     The Pen and the Sword
     General David Shoup
     Muhammad Ali
     John Forbes Kerry

VII. - Defining the Future of Politics
     An Act of Congress
     All Politics is....Hereditary?
     Hillary Rodham Clinton
     Condoleezza Rice
     James Henry Webb
The next Section is scheduled for posting on May 20, 2011
VIII. - Defining Memories
     Jaime Pacheco
     The Glory of their Deeds
     Jan Scruggs
     Delbert Schmeling
     Peter C. Lemon

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
The authors extend our thanks to the following who granted personal interviews for this work
: Roger Donlon (MOH), Robin Moore, Don Bendell, Jimmy Stanford, Vince Yrineo, Sammy L. Davis (MOH), Linda Alvarado, Karen Offutt, Lieutenant General Carol Mutter, Sir Edward Artis, General Colin L. Powell, Katharine Houghton, Adrian Cronauer, Jan Scruggs, Delbert Schmeling, and Peter Lemon (MOH).
Our thanks to the staff of the following who either wrote or allowed reprint of their own works for this book: Dr. Marguerite Guzman Bouvard, Don Bendell, Congressman Sam Farr, Congressman Thomas Petri, Congressman Mike Honda, Congressman Jim Walsh, Governor Jim Doyle, and Scott Baron.
Our special thanks also to the staff of the following who provided information and fact-checked the chapters related to their subject: Staff of Senator John Kerry, Staff of (then) Senator Hillary Clinton, Staff of Senator Jim Webb
A SPECIAL THANKS also to Dr. Marguerite Guzman Bouvard for his assistance in writing and editing the entire section on the Role of the Sexes.

 

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