Public Rights: 1950-1985
Rationing public space and keeping subservient groups separate from dominant groups is one tactic for maintaining power in society. When a dominant group controls space, it can prevent members of subservient groups from banding together and it can insulate members of the dominant group from outside influences and ideas. Battles over the occupation of public space are, therefore, common in civil rights movements. In the early history of this country, as industrialization created more market jobs for men outside the home, women were relegated to the private sphere of home and family. Women who broke with tradition and claimed public space were shunned or, like Anne Hutchinson, condemned as heathen. Women entered the public sphere to protest slavery and later to demonstrate against drinking beer and whiskey. Some women even entered taverns and bars, places that were typically off-limits to women and where their mere presence challenged male customers and changed the political discourse over alcohol use. Other public arenas that were closed to women included wage-paying jobs, seats of government, voting booths, and juries. Feminist legal strategies and legal arguments challenged these exclusionary practices. But before the legal challenges occurred, feminist political action brought women together in spaces where they could meet safely. In the 1800s, those spaces were likely to be churches and schools. In the 1970s, women met in consciousness-raising sessions in private homes. Ultimately, women in both the first and second waves of feminism entered the public streets to demonstrate their solidarity and to announce that they would no longer be confined to the private sphere.