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Feminist Chronicles - 1961

Events

The Soviet Union won the race to put a man in space. (04/12/61)

The invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba by anti-Castro exiles supported by the United States was a fiasco. (04/25/61)

A wall dividing East and West Berlin was erected by East German soldiers to stop the flight of refugees-some 2,000 a day-from the Communist dominated sector. (08/20/61)

President Kennedy (at Eleanor Roosevelt's request) established the President's Commission on the Status of Women by Executive Order 10980. Its charge was to review women's progress and make recommendations for constructive action on employment, social insurance, tax laws, federal and state labor law and legal treatment. (12/14/60)


Lifestyles

The first oral contraceptive -"The Pill"-became available.

Wilma Rudolph set a women's record in the 100-meter dash of 0:11:2. (07/19/60)


Education

The University of Georgia, Athens, GA, was ordered to admit its first two Black students. One of them was Charlayne Hunter-Gault. After enduring a barrage of jeers, rocks and burning effigies, Hunter-Gault graduated in 1963 and became the first Black staffer at The New Yorker magazine. By the '90s she would be the acclaimed national correspondent for "The MacNeil/ Lehrer Newshour" on TV's Public Broadcasting Service. (1961)


Economic

A voluntary affirmative action program called "Federal Plans for Progress," for all contractors doing business with the federal government, was initiated. (1961)

Aviator Jerrie M. Cobb was the first woman to pass all the tests to become an astronaut. Jane Hart, later a NOW National Board member from 1966-1968 and the wife of Senator Philip Hart (D-MI), was also one of 13 women who passed the physical tests to become astronauts in the early days of the space program. NASA subsequently announced it would not send women into orbit and implied that there was medical data showing women were less tolerant of physical stress than men. (1961)

President Kennedy appointed Esther Peterson to head the Women's Bureau . As Assistant Secretary of the Department of Labor, Peterson also had charge of the Bureau of Labor Standards, the Bureau of Employees' Compensation and the Employees' Compensation Appeal Board. Her position meant she made policy decisions that affected male as well as female workers. With her labor union background Peterson sought to implement the long-standing agenda of union women: equal pay legislation, a national commission on women, and opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. (1961)

The Peace Corp was created by President Kennedy. Among the thousands of idealistic women and men sent to help underdeveloped countries was Ann Moore. As a result of her experiences during a West African tour, she invented the Snugli child carrier. Later she patented a personal carrier for portable oxygen supplies. (03/01/61)


Religion

The Roman Catholic Church decided to permit female religious (nuns) or school girls to read the epistle of the Mass, but only in a religious community, at a Mass where only women were present, or at a school Mass. (1961)


Media

Painter Grandma Moses, who had been a farm worker most of her life until her primitive paintings of rural America caught the public's fancy in the 1950s, died in Hoosick Falls, NY, at the age of 101. (12/13/61)


The Backlash

Women held 2.4% of all executive positions in the Kennedy Administration, the same percentage they held under the two previous presidents, Truman and Eisenhower. Kennedy was the first President since Herbert Hoover to have no women in his cabinet. Kennedy made only 10 appointments of women, requiring Senate confirmation, to policy-making executive and judicial positions. For the same time period Truman made 15 and Eisenhower made 14. Even Emmanuel Celler, the powerful chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who persistently blocked the Equal Rights Amendment, had urged Kennedy to make appointments of women as a way of elevating their status. Washington, DC reporter Nan Dickerson deemed Kennedy a "male chauvinist" who believed "it ridiculous to pay (women) the same as men." India Edwards, a prominent fundraiser for the Democratic Party, said Kennedy looked upon women as "nothing but sex objects." (09/21/61)

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