Women and Workplace Discrimination: Overcoming Barriers to Gender Equality

By Raymond F. Gregory | Go to book overview

Three
Enactment of the Federal
Anti-Discrimination Laws

The exclusion of women from the workforce dates to the beginning of the industrial era in the early nineteenth century. For the next 150 years, women were openly discriminated against by employers, who either refused to hire them under any circumstances or who rejected them if they were married or had children. The exclusion of women from the labor market was reinforced by state statutes later held constitutional by the Supreme Court.

Illinois was one of many states that barred felons and women from becoming lawyers. In 1872, the Supreme Court affirmed Illinois's rejection of Myra Bradwell's application for a license to practice law in the state and took the opportunity to fix women's proper place in society:

The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. The constitution of the family organization, which is founded in the divine ordinance, as well as in the nature of things, indicates the domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood. The harmony, not to say identity, of interests and views which belong, or should belong, to the family institution is repugnant to the idea of a woman adopting a distinct and independent career from that of her husband.

To make certain that all citizens understood women's proper place, the Court added: “The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator.” 1

Other state laws restricted women to certain occupations and specified the

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