Women's Rights

Women’s Rights and the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination based on race, religion, color, or national origin in public places, schools, and employment. However, discrimination based on sex was not initially included in the proposed bill, and was only added as an amendment in Title VII in an attempt to prevent its passage. 

Congressman Howard Smith (D-VA), Chairman of the Rules Committee and a staunch opponent of civil rights, had let the bill (H.R. 7152) go to the full House only under the threat of a discharge petition. During the floor debate, he offered an amendment that added sex to the four original categories, but only in Title VII (equal employment opportunity).  Although Smith had supported the idea of an Equal Rights Amendment for women for nearly 20 years at that point, his amendment to the civil rights bill was likely intended to kill the measure. His plan did not have the desired effect, however, and the bill was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964. 

After the bill was passed, the government began work on policies that would enforce the new laws. As a result, Executive Order 11246 was issued on September 24, 1965, to address compliance with civil rights regulations. However, it made no mention of discrimination based on sex. 

The omission of women’s rights did not go unnoticed. Many women and advocacy groups wrote to President Johnson, expressing the need to expand Executive Order 11246 to include enforcement of discrimination against women. Following are samples of letters sent to President Johnson. 

The president of the District of Columbia State Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs called the omission of sex in Executive Order 11246 to the White House’s attention several months later, as would other women’s advocates.  

The National Organization for Women (NOW), formed in October 1966, lost no time in pressing President Johnson to realize the promise of equal employment opportunity for women contained in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  While praising him for his efforts to promote the advancement of women as employees of the Federal government and of Federal contractors through his Executive Order 11246, the new organization’s leaders also pointed out the omission of sex in its wording, and expressed disappointment that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) did not seem willing or able to carry out that part of the law’s mandate.

Among the emphases in President Johnson’s omnibus 1967 Special Message to the Congress on Equal Justice was the need to continue to expand opportunity in the areas covered by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  His remarks about addressing employment discrimination were framed solely in racial terms, however, so the leaders of the National Organization for Women (NOW) took the opportunity to remind him that those concerns applied to sex discrimination as well.  They zeroed in again on the omission of sex from Executive Order 11246 and urged him to correct it.

The omission of sex in Executive Order 11246 was finally rectified in Executive Order 11357 on October 13, 1967.  In a letter to President Johnson, the leaders of the National Organization for Women (NOW) hailed the correction, but remained unsatisfied with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) performance in making the new order effective. The letter was signed by Kathryn Clarenbach, Betty Friedan, and Caroline Davis, officers of NOW from its inception, as well as Aileen Hernandez, who had announced her resignation from the EEOC over its lack of attention to women’s issues a year before Executive Order 11357 was issued.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) also applauded the belated inclusion of women in Executive Order 11357.

Praise for the inclusion of women as beneficiaries of the Federal government’s ban on employment discrimination also came from black women’s groups such as the National Association of Media Women. 

Frankie Freeman had been appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by President Johnson and expressed her appreciation as president of the black women’s service sorority Delta Sigma Theta for the explicit addition of women to those protected from bias in employment. 

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Allen Fisher, Archivist, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum

 

Featured Documents:

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Letter, Paul M. Popple to Mrs. Thelma R. Davenport, 5/17/66), with attached letter, Mrs. Thelma R. Davenport to the President, 5/7/66.

 

The president of the District of Columbia State Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs called the omission of sex in Executive Order 11246 to the White House’s attention several months later, as would other women’s advocates.  

 

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Letter, Betty Friedan to Marvin Watson, 12/5/66, with attached letters, Marvin Watson to Kathryn Clarenbach, Betty Friedan, Caroline Davis, 11/22/66, and Kathryn Clarenbach, Betty Friedan, Caroline Davis to the President, 11/11/66.

 

The National Organization for Women (NOW), formed in October 1966, lost no time in pressing President Johnson to realize the promise of equal employment opportunity for women contained in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  While praising him for his efforts to promote the advancement of women as employees of the Federal government and of Federal contractors through his Executive Order 11246, the new organization’s leaders also pointed out the omission of sex in its wording, and expressed disappointment that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) did not seem willing or able to carry out that part of the law’s mandate.

 

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Letter, Harry McPherson to Kathryn Clarenbach, 3/20/67, with attached letter, Betty Friedan, Kathryn Clarenbach, Caroline Davis to the President, 3/6/67.

Among the emphases in President Johnson’s omnibus 1967 Special Message to the Congress on Equal Justice, transmitted on February 15, was the need to continue to expand opportunity in the areas covered by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  His remarks about addressing employment discrimination were framed solely in racial terms, so the leaders of the National Organization for Women (NOW) took the opportunity to remind him that those concerns applied to sex discrimination as well.  They zeroed in again on the omission of sex from Executive Order 11246 and urged him to correct it.

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Memo, Marvin Watson to John Macy, 10/31/67, with attached letter, Kathryn Clarenbach, Betty Friedan, Aileen Hernandez, Caroline Davis to Marvin Watson, 10/27/67.

The omission of sex in Executive Order 11246 was rectified in Executive Order 11357 just over two years later (October 13, 1967).  The leaders of the National Organization for Women (NOW) hailed the correction, but remained unsatisfied with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) performance in making the new order effective.  In addition to Kathryn Clarenbach, Betty Friedan, and Caroline Davis, officers of NOW from its inception, this letter was signed by Aileen Hernandez, who had announced her resignation from the EEOC over its lack of attention to women’s issues a year before Executive Order 11357 was issued.

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Letter, Whitney Shoemaker to Dr. Francena L. Miller, 11/1/67, with attached: letter, Mrs. Francena L. Miller to the President, 10/19/67.

 

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) also applauded the belated inclusion of women, who had been overlooked in the drafting of Executive Order 11246, as beneficiaries of the Federal government’s ban on employment discrimination.

 

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White House Referral, Whitney Shoemaker to the Secretary of Labor, 10/24/67, with attached resolution, National Association of Media Women to the President, 10/14/67.

Praise for the inclusion of women as beneficiaries of the Federal government’s ban on employment discrimination also came from black women’s groups such as the National Association of Media Women. 

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Letter, Whitney Shoemaker to Miss Frankie Freeman, 10/26/67, with attached letter, Frankie Freeman to the President, 10/19/67.

Frankie Freeman had been appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by President Johnson and expressed her appreciation as president of the black women’s service sorority Delta Sigma Theta for the explicit addition of women to those protected from bias in employment. 

 

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