The status of women and the nature of cities have changed dramatically since World War II. In fact, the two phenomena are related. By pursuing greater rights, the contemporary women's movement created opportunities for women to claim urban space for daily use. The struggle for reproductive control took shape in women's health clinics. Establishing the right to personal safety in the home produced shelters for victims of domestic violence. And the quest for rights to an independent identity was expressed through women's centers, feminist bookstores, and banking facilities. These were voluntarily gendered spaces created by and for women, and new to American cities and suburbs. Despite schisms caused by internal arguments over organizational structure, goals, sexuality, class, and race, feminism had revolutionary consequences for the rights of all women, not the least of which was the opening up of the city. Using interviews and archival data for 1970s Boston, I expand our understanding of the Second Wave by exploring its spatial consequences.
WOMEN'S RIGHTS AND GENDERED SPACES: I97OS BOSTON
During the 1970s feminists in Boston declared their rights to their own bodies by establishing women's health clinics and domestic violence shelters. In doing so, they wrote a modern chapter in the distinguished history about how women have shaped the city.
Almost one hundred years earlier, in 1877, the Women's Educational and Industrial Union opened on Boylston Street as a center to promote women's intellectual and economic independence. (1) Elite and middle-class women of the era also sought a role in urban politics. They became "municipal housekeepers" who did more than clean up the city the way they cleaned their homes. By learning as much as they could about local government, these women influenced policies that improved air and water quality, public health, and children's welfare. Other women of privilege established settlement houses that became "neighborhood living rooms" where immigrants could take English and citizenship classes and escape filthy tenements. Settlement house residents also lobbied for housing reform that had a major impact on the regulation of tenement construction. Women often worked together through voluntary associations to provide places of respite in the urban landscape. Members of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) and the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) opened vocational schools and boardinghouses to educate and protect young women living in the city away from their families. According to historian Sarah Deutsch, women in the late nineteenth century "took a hand in altering the map of the city and defining its meaning." (2)
Women's successes in making themselves visible and viable in the urban realm were remarkable, given the general male intransigence to their presence. For example, wealthy male patrons of Chicago's I lull I louse cut off donations when Jane Addams backed Eugene Debs and the workers in the 1894 Pullman railroad strike. (3) Yet Hull House persevered for many more decades as a major site of Progressive reform. (4) Barkeepers vigorously opposed temperance, yet the Woman's Christian Temperance Union closed thousands of saloons in its battles for Prohibition. When women marched for suffrage, some men were so outraged that they attacked demonstrators. On March 3, 1913, the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration, more than five thousand suffragists took to the streets of Washington, DC, on behalf of their cause. Mobs heckled, tripped, and shoved the women, sending more than one hundred to the hospital and injuring hundreds more. (5) Yet women eventually won the vote in 1920.
Much had changed for women by the twentieth century, but much remained to be done. The women's movement of the 1970s, known as the Second Wave, continued the fight for women's rights." (6) Legalized abortion, personal safety, and equal pay and credit opportunities were the most important issues. In the process of pursuing gender equality, the feminist movement created new openings for women in the postwar city.
This article illustrates how women in the Boston metropolitan area established their place in the city during the height of the contemporary women's movement. Spaces created by and for women provided health care, shelter from domestic abuse, and validation of nontraditional identities. Such gendered spaces inscribed newly won rights on the built environment. (7)
WOMEN'S STATUS AND THE POSTWAR CITY: THE 1950S
The prototypical American woman reaching adulthood in the 1950s had a fairly predictable life. If she was white and middle-class, she would marry young, have three or more kids, and stay home to raise them. If African American she would also marry early, but be more likely to enter the labor force out of economic necessity and have a larger family than a white woman would. (8) Regardless of race, the absence of effective means of birth control made it difficult to predict the timing of pregnancies, and the lack of access to legal abortions made it almost certain that even unplanned pregnancies would be carried to term.
If a woman in the 1950s wanted or needed to enter the labor force, she would look for a job in the classified ads of the newspaper under "Help Wanted--Female." Moreover, since women's jobs paid less than men's, she would be a secondary earner; her economic security would depend on her husband's income, as did her ability to own a house. Married women's earnings were routinely discounted in mortgage applications because financial institutions assumed they would become pregnant and drop out of the labor force. Nor could wives establish credit separately from their husbands. In an era of low divorce rates, though, these barriers to economic independence raised few concerns among women. (9) Women could depend on staying married, just as men could depend on staying with the same job until retirement. Women were wives and mothers. Men were breadwinners.
Cities too were following predictable trajectories in the 1950s. Most had lost population due to extensive suburbanization. (10) Thanks to the GI Bill and Veterans Administration mortgages, the suburbs promised relief for families living in cramped city apartments. If they were white, couples could buy a spacious nine-hundred-square-foot home for a small down payment. By the mid-1950s commercial developers had caught up with the suburbanizing population and begun to build regional shopping centers. (11) Economic restructuring insured that the manufacturing city would evolve into the information-and service-driven metropolis as jobs also left the city for the suburbs.
Concerned by the suburban exodus, the federal government launched urban renewal to clear slums, build public housing, and save cities from population loss. Thousands of people, disproportionately African American, were displaced from their homes. Although originally intended to replace substandard housing and dilapidated shopping areas, urban renewal almost exclusively engaged in demolition and clearance for commercial redevelopment. When the private sector foiled to develop the cleared parcels, huge swaths of land were left vacant. (12) The blight caused by urban renewal and high-rise public housing often equaled or exceeded the very blight it was meant to eliminate. Far from revitalizing the city, urban renewal became another factor pushing families to the suburbs. Interstate highway construction made it easy to get there, and cheap fuel made car ownership affordable.
Numerous urban spaces in the 1950s and 1960s were identified by the gender of their primary occupants. During the 1970s one sociologist described the city as masculine, the suburbs as feminine. He proposed that the gender of the daytime suburban population, its domesticity, and its alienation from the "serious work which has always taken place within the masculine province of the city" symbolized femininity; the suburbs, like women, were "passive and intellectually void." (13)
While feminists would disagree with this characterization, de facto gender segregation did in fact exist; most jobs were still located in the central city, the majority of new homes were in the suburbs, and the two-thirds of women not in the labor force spent much of their time in the home. By contrast almost 90 percent of men were in the labor force. The abundance of men and the scarcity of employed women made the workplace predominantly male. (14) Corporate boardrooms and legislative bodies were decidedly masculine. Elite men met for leisure and to discuss business and politics at private clubs from which women were excluded. Working-class men could use neighborhood bars as a masculine retreat. Men had their hair cut at the barber shop, and women went to the beauty parlor. With few exceptions masculine spaces tended to reinforce men's privileges and rights. (15)
The women's movement desegregated some previously gendered spaces. The majority of women now are in the labor force, making the home a less feminine space and the workplace less masculine. Jobs have moved to the suburbs, reducing the dichotomy between masculine cities and feminine suburbs. Women have entered boardrooms and elective office, private clubs that discriminate on the basis of gender are rare, and bars serve both men and women. (16)
Desegregating old spaces was not enough, however. Feminists created new gendered spaces that enhanced rights for all women. To the extent that social relations are bound up in urban space, these places challenged traditional power hierarchies by asserting women's rights to control their own bodies and to choose nontraditional roles. These places qualified as both a perceived space of objective bricks and mortar and a conceived space of meaning and symbolism. (17) Women's health clinics, shelters for victims of domestic abuse, women's centers, feminist bookstores, and feminist credit unions were real places that publicly announced women's presence. (18) Regardless of location or size, gendered space gave tangible form to reproductive rights, rights to personal safety, and rights to an independent identity.
THE SECOND WAVE: RIGHTS AND LIBERATION
Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, is credited as the catalyst for the contemporary women's movement. When Friedan wrote about "the problem that has no name" among suburban women, she meant their frustration with their primary identities as wives and mothers. Friedan was a suburban wife and mother herself, but also a college-educated journalist who could articulate the deep discontent that eventually fueled significant changes in women's status. Friedan's book signaled the end of compulsory domesticity for women. (19)
Friedan and other feminists founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966 to lobby for legislation on behalf of women's rights. (20) Open …