MOOC WHAW2.4x | 19.2 Strategies for Change: The 14th Amendment and Affirmative Action
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MOOC WHAW2.4x | 19.2 Strategies for Change: The 14th Amendment and Affirmative Action


– The logical strategy to many women as they awaited the passage of the ERA was to turn to the 14th Amendment. Ratified in 1867, the
14th Amendment provided that no person could be
denied equal protection and due process on account of race. Many Supreme Court
decisions over the years signaled the court’s
unwillingness to add sex to the persons protected by the amendment. But in the mid-60s Title VII had opened the door to its inclusion. Our friend Pauli Murray
then developed the argument that women’s functions
might bring them more fully under the amendment’s protective shadow. “If, after all, race could be protected “by the 14th Amendment,” she argued, “and people could be
guaranteed due process “because they were black, “then why not guarantee
mothers’ due process?” The argument took hold in the early 1970s when mothers became the majority of new female entrants
into the labor force. If in 1950 the wage labor force included barely one in 10 mothers with
children under school age, by 1970 it included three
of every 10 such mothers. Five years later they were
joined by four of every 10 mothers of children under the age of five. Today that figure has reached 60%. But in the 1970s, the
idea that mothers could be in the wage labor force
in an unprotected status without special considerations
was far more bothersome than the idea of including
them in the 14th Amendment. Copying strategies used by
the Civil Rights Movement to open jobs to minorities, feminists turned to
affirmative action legislation. Executive orders and court decrees demanding and implementing
affirmative action were used sporadically in the 60s in race-based agreements. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, for example, had issued a pathbreaking order in 1961 urging federal contractors
to take affirmative steps to correct racial disparities
in their workforces. By 1969, such plans received the imprimatur of the courts, creating targets for
hiring African Americans in trades where they were
insufficiently represented. These hiring targets quickly
spread to admissions policies at public universities. Beginning in the early 70s, women asked that sex be included in these affirmative action orders in accordance with the
Civil Rights Act of 1964. Mandating targets for women assumed that lack of female presence
in some job categories signaled discrimination, itself a controversial assertion. Because they often
applied to any institution or hiring place that
received federal money, affirmative action mandates
quickly moved women forward. They opened professional schools and elite colleges to women. And over the heated objections
of many trade unions, they opened jobs in male trades as well. Virtually no women had been
licensed plumbers in 1970. Their numbers crept up to 2% of the trade by 1975. Only 2% of carpenters had been female. Their proportion increased to 4%. Numbers in the professions
increased far more dramatically. Within a decade and a half, the percentage of women
architects increased from 3% to nearly 19% of the total. Women doctors more than doubled from 10% to 22% of all doctors. The percentage of women lawyers grew from 4% to 23% of the national total. The percentage of female engineers went from less than 1% to nearly 9%. The percentage of female college faculty, from 28% to 42% of all faculty. Women flooded into the Ivy League schools that had for so many years excluded them. Yale and Princeton in 1969. Brown and Dartmouth in 1972. Harvard merged with Radcliffe in 1977. The numbers may be boring, but the idea and practice
of affirmative action had astronomic significance
in changing notions about where women belonged and
what they might accomplish.

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