Nine Things a Woman Couldn’t Do in 1971

As we barrel toward the centennial celebration of women’s suffrage in the United States, it’s not enough to bone up on the platforms of female primary candidates (though that’s an excellent start).

A Twitter user and self-described Old Crone named Robyn recently urged her fellow Americans to take a good long gander at a list of nine freedoms women in the United States were not universally granted in 1971, the year Helen Reddy released the soon-to-be anthem, “I Am Woman,” above.




Even those of us who remember singing along as children may experience some shock that these facts check out on Snopes.

  1. CREDIT CARDS: Prior to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, married women couldn’t get credit cards without their husbands’ signatures. Single women, divorcees, and widows were often required to have a man cosign. The double standard also meant female applicants were frequently issued card limits up to 50% lower than that of males who earned identical wages.
  2. PREGNANT WORKERS: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 protected pregnant women from being fired because of their impending maternity. But it came with a major loophole that’s still in need of closing. The language of the 41-year-old law stipulates that the employers must accommodate pregnant workers only if concessions are being made for other employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”
  3. JURY DUTY: In 1975, the Supreme Court declared it constitutionally unacceptable for states to deny women the opportunity to serve on juries. This is an arena where we’ve all come a long way, baby. It’s now completely normal for men to be excused from jury duty as the primary caregivers of their young children.
  4. MILITARY COMBAT: In 2013, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey announced that the Pentagon was rescinding the direct combat exclusion rule that barred women from serving in artillery, armor, infantry and other such battle roles. At the time of the announcement, the military had already seen more than 130 female soldiers killed, and 800 wounded on the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  5. IVY LEAGUE ADMISSIONS: Those who conceive of elite colleges as breeding grounds for sexual assault protests and Title IX activism would do well to remember that Columbia College didn’t admit women until 1983, following in the marginally deeper footsteps of others in the Ivy League—Harvard (1977), Dartmouth (1972), Brown (1971), Yale (1969), and Princeton (1969). These days, single sex higher education options for women far outnumber those for men, but the networking power and increased earning potential an Ivy League degree confers remains the same.
  6. WORKPLACE HARASSMENT: In 1977, women who’d been sexually harassed in the workplace received confirmation in three separate trials that they could sue their employers under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex harassment was also unlawful. In between was the television event of 1991, Anita Hill’s shocking testimony against her former boss, U.S. Supreme Court justice (then nominee) Clarence Thomas.
  7. SPOUSAL CONSENT: In 1993, spousal rape was officially outlawed in all 50 states. Not tonight honey, or you’ll have a headache in the form of your wife’s legal back up.
  8. HEALTH INSURANCE: In 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act decreed that any health insurance plan established after March of that year could not charge women higher premiums than men for identical benefits. This was bad news for women who got their health insurance through their jobs, and whose employers were grandfathered into discriminatory plans established prior to 2010. Of course, that’s all ancient history now.
  9. CONTRACEPTIVES: In 1972, the Supreme Court made it legal for all citizens to possess birth control, irrespective of marital status, stating “if the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.” (It’s worth noting, however, that in 1972, states could still constitutionally prohibit and punish sex outside of marriage.)

Feminism is NOT just for other women.

– Old Crone

Via Kottke

Related Content:

The Library of Congress Digitizes Over 16,000 Pages of Letters & Speeches from the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and You Can Help Transcribe Them

MAKERS Tells the Story of 50 Years of Progress for Women in the U.S.

Women’s Hidden Contributions to Modern Genetics Get Revealed by New Study: No Longer Will They Be Buried in the Footnotes

A Space of Their Own, a New Online Database, Will Feature Works by 600+ Overlooked Female Artists from the 15th-19th Centuries

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, October 7 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates the art of Aubrey Beardsley. Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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  • Cynthia Strickland says:

    My grandmother was in the first class of yale nursing graduates in the 30s so idk why you’re claiming yale didn’t admit women until 1969.

  • carolyn wiley says:

    Some of the items above are inaccurate.

  • Grace Loehr RN, CNM, NP says:

    Cynthia, the YSN is a graduate school, not undergraduate. When it began in the 1920s, it required a bachelor’s degree for admission; the students were graduates of colleges like Vassar and Radcliffe. Yale’s graduate schools are not part of the undergraduate colleges. Most of the reason why YSN was considered a graduate school from the first was because Yale would not admit women to its undergraduate. The degrees weren’t MSN like we have now, advanced practice RNs, but basic RN. YSN originated because Yale Medical School wanted to graduate nurses who were of the same social class as the medical graduates, they could marry, and become helpmeets to their doctor husbands. There were Friday afternoon ice cream socials held between the medical and nursing schools through the 1970s for this reason.

  • Carly says:

    Yale – November 1969. Yale Nursing School – 1923.

  • Wladyslaw Los says:

    The title should be “Nine Things a Woman Couldn’t Do in 1971 in the USA”.

  • Lanayre Liggera says:

    It’s not remembered that Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy during WW1, granted EQUAL PAY for women for Yeoman F (F for female!)

  • John says:

    I’d like a list of “9 things Women can’t in 2020”. I”m not being sarcastic, I’m actually seeking out things that men can do in 2020 that women can’t legally. I’m not saying they aren’t there… I just need some examples.. thx

  • Amy says:

    As a 1972 BA graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, I frequently try to correct this article, but I have given up. Apparently whoever wrote it didn’t know that Penn is an Ivy League school.

  • Stephen says:

    No official Roman Catholic churches ordain women priests although groups calling themselves Roman Catholic do. The LDS does not as well.

    Women do not have say over their own bodies as men enjoy in many states. And many states give men a 50% stake in women’s bodies when it comes to an abortion decision.
    Parents are sometimes required to be informed for a woman of age. Men do not suffer this forced disclosure as the father.

    This is just off the top of an altheizemic head…aka…i could be wrong.

  • Shelley Gilchrist says:

    I am a Roman Catholic Woman Priest within the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. We were fully ordained through Apostolic Succession beginning in 2002. The Bishops who presided were (one still is ) in communion with the Vatican. Women presided equally with men in the early church and the partriarchy strove to eliminate texts and frescos of women celebrating in catacombs. A good book which illuminates is, “When Women Were Priests.” It is dense but very scholarly and well worth the read. As women feel free to respond to the Spirit’s call, our numbers increase. We embrace an inclusive Catholic ministry.

  • Ruth says:

    Re: Discrimination against women
    Women, for many years, worked for less money then a man would be paid for the same job. Your retirement benefits and Social Security are based on your lifetime of earnings. Because I am a woman that worked for substandard wages my retirement is less than what a man of my age would be earning in retirement years.

    We women have made great strides, but there is still something’s that need to be leveled out.

  • Barbara Brown says:

    Absolutely Adjustments across the board for women /reparations should be; ncr as d monthly benefits by at least 33%.Also needs to be adjusted the years taken off, or reduced hours/opportunities for unpaid labor taking care of children and so sometimes the elderly benefiting the country as well as individual family .

  • Barbara Brown says:

    Absolutely Adjustments across the board for women /reparations should by at least 33%.Also needs to be adjusted for any years taken off, or reduced hours/opportunities for unpaid labor taking care of children and even sometimes the elderly.

  • John says:

    I’m going to say play major league games along with men? Will we ever see a woman play for the Yankees? Or a woman suiting up for quarterback for the NFL?

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