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As the Civil Rights movement brewed, women stepped out to legislate for change
Jessica Eastburn
JMC 315

In Bob Dylan’s 1964 hit “Times Are a Changing,” Dylan sang about the decade that transformed the United States of America, possibly more than any other: The decade of change, the decade of love, the decade of civil rights. The post-war baby boomers became teenagers and young adults sporting go-go boots, long hair and Afros. It was a time for revolutions, for people to fight for their rights. It was a time for the country to change. One group greatly affected by the cultural revolution was the female population of the country.

“Our job as females in the 1960s was to take care of our homes and raise our families. Most women were married by the time they were 22, and had their children by the time they were 29,” said Connie Geiser of Cozad, “Most of my married friends at that time were high school sweethearts.”

Geiser, who is a retired secretary, graduated from Arnold High School in May of 1966 and married her high school sweetheart, Gary, on Nov. 25, 1967. Together they had one son, who was born in 1969.

“Women faced prejudice with every job they chose to have,” Geiser said.  “Women were paid much less than men and typically had jobs as secretaries, teachers, airlines stewardesses, clerks, and nurses. We did not get jobs in certain areas, such a politics, which was considered ‘man’s domain’.”

In the 1960s, a women’s right movement led by middle class women began. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy created the “Commission on the Status of Women” to advise on issues regarding women in the United States.

Legislation started the passage to equality for women when in 1963 with the Equal Pay Act. The act prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women who are performing jobs that require equal skill, effort and responsibility under the same working conditions in the same establishment.

 “Women did have lesser jobs. They were subservient to men. They were paid less than men, but I never felt any prejudice as I was raised by a single mother who was very strong willed, business savvy, and quite intelligent,” said Margaret Ann Mills, a junior high English teacher at Arnold Public School.

“Most women up here (in the Sandhills) were stay-at-home moms, but some had daytime jobs in the tree nursery at the National Forest near Halsey.  A few worked in the grocery stores located in small towns nearby,” said Marilyn Shinn of Dunning.

On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion or national origin.

“The general culture of the 1960’s was quite different, since the U.S. experienced the death of our president, John F. Kennedy, due to assassination in 1963, the beginning of the non-violent movement of the African-American Civil Rights movement,” Shinn said.

During this time, young American females began to look up to female celebrities as icons. Women were finding a way to change and grow, like the rest of America was doing during the Civil Rights movement.

“Jacqueline Kennedy was the woman that most looked up to in the 60s. She was seen as supportive of her husband but still in the background.  Her role at the White House was more of a hostess than a champion of causes. Everyone wanted to look like her from the way she dressed to the way she wore her hair. Her views were more family oriented than political,” Geiser said.

The organization, “NOW” (National Organization of Women) was created in 1966 and focused on bringing equality to all women. Authors Betty Friedan and Rachel Carlson led the organization. Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystic” called the gender problem, “the problem without a name”.

The organization spent much time working toward equality for women, including working toward Title IX, the act passed in 1972 forbidding discrimination on the basis of sex. Females could not be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

“The movement gave women the opportunity to stand up for what they believed in. Before, if a woman went on to college, it was either to be a nurse, secretary or hair stylist. If you were married and your husband was drafted in the Vietnam War, that forced a lot of women to find jobs/careers to be able to support them while their husbands were gone,” said Deb Atkins, who was in elementary and junior high school in the 1960s. The organizations created in the 1960s for women helped create a more equal America. Today, men and women work the same jobs, women graduate from college, and sometimes, the man stays home with the kids.

“In my world, men and women alike work as hard now as they did in the 1960s,” Mills said.

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