August 26, 1970 – Women’s Strike For Equality – various reports and recap – Pacifica – ABC News – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
August 26, 1970 – This day was a significant moment in history – fifty years ago today, on August 26, 1970 a fifty year celebration and observance of the 50th anniversary of the passing of the 19th amendment; Women’s Right To Vote took place all over the U.S.
At the time of the protest, women still did not enjoy many of the same freedoms and rights as men. Despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibited pay discrimination between two people who performed the same job, women comparatively earned 59 cents for every dollar a man made for similar work. Women were also restricted in terms of their access to higher education. For example, Harvard University did not admit women until 1977. And regardless of education, women were generally channeled into one of four occupational choices: secretarial, nursing, teaching, or motherhood. Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, who graduated at the top of her class from Stanford Law School, was offered only secretarial jobs in Los Angeles law firms despite her prestigious degree. In 43 states, women were limited in the number of hours they could work and the amount of weight they could carry (generally no more than 25 pounds (11 kg), the size of a toddler, as some feminists noted). In many states, women were also unable to obtain credit cards, make wills, or own property without a husband. The right to serve on a jury was denied to women in some states.
The strike received extensive local and national attention, both positive and negative. In opposition, some women called for the “National Celebration of Womanhood”, a day dedicated to women dressing in “frilly”, feminine clothing, singing while doing the laundry, and cooking breakfast in bed for their husbands. Other women simply watched the protest, unsure of its implications or what exactly the protest was about. One woman in the crowd was quoted as saying, “I don’t know what these women are thinking of. I love the idea of looking delectable and having men whistle at me.”
Many media outlets questioned the validity of the protest. CBS news quoted a poll that found two-thirds of American women did not feel they were oppressed. News anchor Eric Sevareid compared the feminist movement to an infectious disease and ended his report claiming that the women of the movement were nothing more than “a band of braless bubbleheads”.
Many feminists were angry and dismayed by the language used by major media outlets to describe their movement, as many claimed the reporting was biased and condescending, focusing primarily on the rage of the women in the march and not the overall message. ABC continued to fuel the anger when reporter Howard K. Smith publicly spoke against the movement, denying its credibility and claiming a lack of evidence for the cause. The women’s movement subsequently engaged in a media backlash, boycotting the four major corporations whose advertising and broadcasting they found to be offensive and degrading. ABC eventually retracted Smith’s statement. Smith later clarified that he did not support women’s liberation because, in his view, women were already liberated. “Women dominate our elections; they probably own most of the nation’s capital wealth; any man who thinks he, and not his wife, runs his family is dreaming,” he said.
Not all media attention, however, was negative. President Richard Nixon issued a proclamation acknowledging the credibility of the movement and designated the anniversary of women’s suffrage as “Women’s Equality Day” at the behest of House Rep. Bella Abzug. Time Magazine also supported the cause and published a series of articles highlighting the issues of the movement.
The significance of the protest was vast for its supporters. Feminists and scholars claimed that the strike was a significant spark for second wave feminism, owing to the protest’s high profile in the media and the country.
As a reminder of that full day of protests, here is a recap and an hours worth of reports and observations from August 26, 1970 via ABC News and Pacifica, who broadcast the entire day as it was happenin.