Legislation and Advocacy
Since the founding of our country, women have redefined their roles and carved out a place for themselves in society and government. From the decades-long campaign for voting rights to expanding social and economic equality through legislation, women and women’s rights advocates have worked to obtain the rights and privileges of citizenship promised to women today.
Explore photographs, textual, and other records related to politics and legislation of women’s rights in the National Archives Catalog.
During the weekly Presidential Radio Address, on November 17, 2001 from Crawford, TX, two months after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, Laura W. Bush made history while advocating for a world-wide effort to focus on the brutal treatment of Afghan women and children by the Taliban regime. Other First Ladies, such as Nancy Reagan, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Barbara Bush had participated in Presidential radio addresses previously, but she was the first First Lady to deliver the address in its entirety. In the address, she stated that Afghan girls were not allowed to go to school and women and children were denied access to doctors. She emphasized that oppression was not due to Islamic religious beliefs, but because of terrorists’ beliefs. For more than a decade she has served as Honorary Chair for the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council. As First Lady, she made 3 trips to Afghanistan and continues leading efforts to protect the hard-earned rights of women there, raising awareness about the importance of dignity and opportunity, education, healthcare, and human freedom.
-from the George W. Bush Presidential Library
The leaders of women’s, civil rights, labor, business, and religious organizations who were present at the signing acted as the organizing forces behind the Equal Pay Act. Women in attendance included: Assistant Secretary of Labor for Labor Standards, Esther Peterson; President of the National Council of Negro Women, Dorothy Height; Senator Maurine Neuberger (D-OR); Representative Edith Green (D-OR); Director of the United Automobile Workers Women’s Department, Caroline Davis; President of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Dr. Minnie Miles; Executive Director of the National Council of Catholic Women, Margaret Mealey; and President of the National Council of Jewish Women, Pearl Larner Willen.
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 1975 as International Women’s Year (IWY) and established its three purposes: to promote equality between women and men; to ensure the full integration of women into economic, cultural, and social development at national and international levels; and to recognize the importance of women’s contributions to the development of friendly international relations and world peace.
On January 9, 1975, President Ford signed an executive order creating a National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year, stating that the Commission’s activities would “reinforce our continuing national commitment to women’s rights.” The 35 members of the Commission were tasked with promoting the national observance of IWY and studying the “barriers to the full participation of women in our Nation’s life.” Betty Ford, a vocal advocate of women’s rights, actively lobbied her husband on women’s issues and stood beside him at the signing ceremony.
The U.S. sent a delegation to the first UN World Conference for International Women’s Year held in Mexico City. A few members of the delegation – Patricia Hutar, Jewel LaFontant, Jill Ruckelshuas, Patricia Lindh, and Karen Keesling – briefed President and Mrs. Ford on July 14, 1975, following the gathering. They discussed how the U.S. could implement items from the World Plan of Action on women’s issues that had been developed during the conference.
Numerous events were held around the country to mark International Women’s Year. Ohio’s Greater Cleveland Congress of IWY, one of the largest observances, included three days of exhibits, workshops, seminars, and other events examining the role of women in society. Betty Ford delivered remarks when the Congress convened on October 25, 1975. She spoke about her own support for the Equal Rights Amendment, as well as the importance for all people to work towards equal rights for women. “The long road to equality rests on achievements of women and men in altering how women are treated in every area of everyday life,” Mrs. Ford said. “The search for human freedom can never be complete without freedom for women.”
After a year of work, the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year submitted its recommendations in a report to President Ford in July 1976. The report, “‘...To Form a More Perfect Union…’: Justice for American Women,” presented 115 recommendations to help provide equal status and opportunities for women. The Commission’s work continued as it shifted its focus to planning and convening conferences at the state level as well as a National Women’s Conference, which was held in November 1977.
-from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum
From its establishment on December 14, 1961, the President’s Commission on the Status of Women examined discrimination against women in the United States and proposed ways to eliminate it. Chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, this bipartisan commission worked with the Civil Service Commission as well as the Departments of Labor, Agriculture, Commerce, and Health, Education, and Welfare, to gather its findings and submit a final report to President Kennedy.
View more materials here:
- Records of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women
- Audio interview with Eleanor Roosevelt on the Status of Women
- Papers relating to the Commission from the President’s Office Files
In April 1970, the President's Task Force on Women's Rights and Responsibilities issued their seminal report "A Matter of Simple Justice."
In response, President Nixon issued a directive to his administration officials to increase the number of women in federal service.
To that end Barbara Franklin was brought on board in 1971 as President Nixon's Staff Assistant to the President for Executive Manpower to recruit women to high-level positions. In addition, in 1973, Franklin became one of the first of five original commissioners of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), a post she held for seven years.
Among the women recruited to top-level positions during the Nixon administration:
- Virginia Knauer - became the highest-ranking woman in the government when President Nixon appointed her Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs
- Margita White - Assistant Director for Public Information at the U.S. Information Agency
- Jayne Spain - vice-chair of the President's Civil Service Commission
- Elizabeth Duncan Koontz - first African-American director of the Women's Bureau in the Department of Labor
- Patricia Reilly Hitt - Assistant Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare
- Anne Armstrong - first woman Counsel to the President
- Dr. Marina von Neumann Whitman - first woman member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers
- Romana Acosta Bañuelos - first Latino Treasurer of the United States and co-founder of co-founded the Pan American National Bank in Los Angeles
- Rita Hauser - United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights
- Sallyanne Payton - Domestic Council Staff Assistant the President
- Vicki Keller, Staff Assistant to the President
In addition, on August 8, 1969, President Nixon issues Executive Order 11478—Equal Employment Opportunity in the Federal Government prohibiting discrimination and mandating equal opportunity in federal service.
Furthermore, President Nixon signed the Education Amendments of 1972 (Public Law No. 92‑318, 86 Stat. 235) that include Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance on the basis of sex.
-from the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
Proclamation for Women’s Equality Day on the 75th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment
On August 26th, 1995, President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton commemorated the 75th anniversary of the 19th Amendment at an event in Jackson, Wyoming. Mrs. Clinton spoke first. She noted that Jackson, Wyoming was the perfect place to be on the 75th anniversary given that the state was the first in the union to allow women to vote. Mrs. Clinton remarked that the celebration provided an opportunity to “measure our progress and to reflect on the challenges that remain before us.” She then spoke about the upcoming “United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women” to be held in Beijing, China. Mrs. Clinton described the event as being “about giving a voice to women, whoever they are and wherever they are, so that they can be heard.” Following her remarks, she introduced President Clinton. His speech reiterated many of her points and announced that he planned “to establish an interagency council on women” following the conference. The President stated that he “declared this Women’s Equality Day because there is so much to celebrate and so much still to do.”
-from the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum
Hillary Rodham Clinton Remarks at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women
On September 5, 1995, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered remarks at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. She attended the conference as part of the delegation from the United States led by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Clinton gave an impassioned speech in which she declared that “if there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights . . . and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”
-from the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum
- DocsTeach: Progressive Era Reform Movements
- DocsTeach: Citizenship Rights
- DocsTeach: Reproductive Rights
- DocsTeach: Employment, Education & Consumer Rights
Research at the National Archives
While many resources are available online for research, there are many more records to discover in National Archives’ research rooms across the country. The following records have been described at the Series and File Unit level, but have not yet been digitized. This list is not exhaustive; please consult our Catalog to browse more records, and contact the Reference Unit listed in each description for more information.
- Records relating to International Women’s Year and the Houston conference were created and compiled by the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year and can be found in Record Group 220: Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions, and Boards.
- Film documents produced by the committee make up the series IWY: Motion Pictures and Video Recordings Relating to International Women’s Year, 1974-1977
- After the United Nations declared 1975 International Women’s Year, President Ford issued Executive Order 11832 creating a National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year to promote equality between men and women.
- House Resolution 5056 Prohibiting Discrimination in Pay on Account of Sex. Although not passed by Congress, this bill, introduced by Representative Winifred Stanley, was the first to propose that employers be required to pay women equal pay for equal work. This principle was later enacted in the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
- Department of Justice. Civil Rights Division. 12/9/1957-
The Civil Rights Division was established in the Department of Justice by the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The Division enforced the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, 1964, and 1968, as amended; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended; the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, as amended; the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988; Executive Order 12250 (inter alia, Title VI, Title IX and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended); and the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.
- An Act of June 23, 1972, Public Law 92-318, 86 STAT 235, to Amend the Higher Education Act of 1965, 6/23/1972. This Act includes Title IX which protects against gender discrimination.
- Sex Discrimination - Title IX (1): This file contains materials on the issuance of federal regulations by Health, Education and Welfare for the administration and enforcement of Title IX of the Education Act.
- Women's Rights Subject Authority Record, National Archives Catalog
Articles, Blog Posts, and Other Resources
- Congress and the Voting Rights Act of 1965
- National Women’s Conference of 1977: The Unwritten Record blog
- Their War Too: U.S. Women in the Military during WWII, Part I: The Unwritten Record blog
- Their War Too: U.S. Women in the Military during WWII, Part II: The Unwritten Record blog
- View digitized materials related to Women’s Rights from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum
- Title IX: Our Presidents Tumblr