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It’s interesting to note that, fifty-five years ago, Congress passed a piece of legislation, first brought about by President Kennedy and then completed by President Johnson, that called for Equal Pay in the Workplace.
Well . . .not exactly. The bill, passed in 1963 and enacted on June 11, 1964, called for Equal Pay for Equal Work, but it was in the context of Federal jobs and covered only those Women who were doing work that was of an “interstate” nature. It was, in effect an amendment to the Fair Labor Act which set the minimum and overtime wages and the Equal Pay Law which would affect some 7 million Women in the Federal workforce. It didn’t cover all Women in all parts of the workforce or any in the private sector. And even though it sounded good, it didn’t completely solve the issue; one that’s going on to this day.
But in 1964, and as a opening created by President Kennedy and succeeded by President Johnson, it was considered a first step towards Equal Pay and Equal Opportunity in the workplace. Mary Keyserling, an economist and conservative Feminist, was appointed head of the United States Women’s Bureau under LBJ and is interviewed over WOR-Radio in New York on June 22, 1964, shortly after enactment of the bill. It was hailed by many as a first step in what was to become the ERA movement, but the Federal nature of the bill didn’t necessarily mean it was an example to be followed throughout the Labor sector. During the course of this interview, done by Faye Henle, Keyserling confesses it doesn’t do everything it sounded like it did, and much of the promise of the legislation would fall on deaf ears when taken out of the Beltway and introduced around Main Street.
But starts were starts, and fifty-five years ago there was a lot of change in the air.
The interview is interesting on many levels – not the least being the nature of the issue and how it was being discussed at the time. This is not a conversation you’d be hearing today – but this is the kind of conversation you heard a lot in 1964.