1963 October 11

President Kennedy’s Commission on Status of Women Releases Report


President John F. Kennedy established the President’s Commission on the Status of Women on December 14, 1961, and the Commission issued its report, American Women, on this day. The report (with one notable exception; see below) was a fairly moderate liberal one it its tone and agenda. It covered a wide range of issues, with an emphasis on ending historic restrictions on opportunities for women. Interestingly, however, it did not discuss either interracial marriage in the section on marriage or the subject of abortion. Released just six week before President Kennedy’s assassination, it was quickly overshadowed by that tragic event.

The moderate tone of the report was soon swept aside by the women’s movement; see the founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW) on June 30, 1966.

Perhaps most important, the Commission’s report called for lawsuits to determine if the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment covered women. That idea was contributed by Pauli Murray, then a student at Yale Law School, who was commissioned to write a paper on the subject. (For more on Pauli Murray, go to July 1, 1985.) The Supreme Court, in Reed v. Reed (November 22, 1971), ruled that the Equal Protection Clause did prohibit differential treatment based on sex.

Read the Report: Margaret Mead and Frances Bagley Kaplan, eds., American Women: The Report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women (1965)

Learn more: Stephanie Coontz, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (2011)

How much progress since then? Read the 2011 “Report Women in America”: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/Women_in_America.pdf

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