1964 February 8

House Debates Adding Sex Discrimination to Title VII of 1964 Civil Rights Act


The House of Representatives on this day debated whether to add sex discrimination to Title VII (employment discrimination) of the pending civil rights bill. This was the only Congressional debate on the issue of sex discrimination in employment. Most observers, including members of Congress, at the time regarded the idea as a ploy by Southern segregationists to sabotage the entire civil rights bill. The pattern of votes on the sex discrimination amendment — and then the amended Title VII itself — confirm this analysis (many who voted for adding sex discrimination then voted against Title VII).

President Lyndon Johnson, who vigorously supported the civil rights bill, said nothing publicly, but had the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor send a letter in opposition to adding sex discrimination to Title VII. Rep. Emanuel Celler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, warned of the “upheaval” if the ban on sex discrimination became law, citing unanswered questions about alimony, child custody, the crime of rape, and special legislation on working hours and wages for women — all the areas of life where, in fact, sex discrimination was pervasive and often embedded in the law.

The amendment to Title VII passed and became part of the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act (July 2, 1964).

Read: Cynthia Harrison, On Account of Sex: The Politics of Women’s Issues, 1945–1968 (1988)

Read Jo Freeman on How Sex Got Into Title VII: http://www.jofreeman.com/lawandpolicy/titlevii.htm

Read: Todd Purdom, An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (2014)

Learn more about the changing status of women in the 1950s and early 1960s: Stephanie Coontz, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (2011)

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