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History of women in the workplace

  • History of women in the workplace

    Mark the year 2059 on your calendar—that’s when data shows that women will finally achieve equal pay to their male counterparts. It’s hard to believe that closing the gender wage gap will take nearly a century after the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963. In 1960, women only earned about 61 cents for every $1 that a man took home, a number that ticked up to 82 cents by 2018—but that still leaves another 18 cents to go overall. The wage gap is worse for women of color: Among women working full-time jobs in the U.S., Black women are paid 62 cents, Native American women 57 cents, and Latinas 54 cents for every dollar paid to white men, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.

    Researchers blame the gender wage gap on a variety of reasons, ranging from differences in the industries women and men work in, racist hiring and discriminatory promotion practices, discrepancies in hours worked, job segregation, and years of experience. The government also does little to create policies making workplaces and institutions like schools more supportive of women. Systemic discrimination against working women in the U.S. has put them at a severe disadvantage since before the founding of the country. The colonies enacted laws that prevented women workers from maintaining control over their earnings as far back as 1769. A lack of suffrage prevented women from voting for politicians who could bring forth more equitable policies until 1920. Wage codes from the National Recovery Administration, established in 1933, set lower minimum wages for women than for men, even though they were performing the same work. To top it off, women continue to endure sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and take on the "second shift" of being both workers and mothers, just as they have throughout American history.

    Despite these struggles, women have managed to achieve plenty of success in their careers, becoming Fortune 500 CEOs and going to space. Stacker looked at research from news outlets (Time, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, Entrepreneur), think tanks (McKinsey, the Brookings Institution), government agencies (the U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, National Park Service), and organizations that focus on women’s rights (Time's Up, Planned Parenthood) to learn about the history of women in the workplace. The resulting timeline shows both the challenges and triumphs of women climbing the corporate ladder and fighting for equity along the way.

    Click through to learn more about American women in the workplace from 1765 to today.

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  • 1765: Women workers establish the Daughters of Liberty

    The Daughters of Liberty, the country’s earliest society of working women, was formed in 1765. They would go on to demonstrate against the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts.

  • 1769: Colonies ban women workers from keeping their earnings

    The 13 colonies adopted English laws that prevented female workers from keeping the income they earned in 1769. The system also banned women from owning property.

  • 1776: Abigail Adams promotes gender equality

    Abigail Adams brought issues of gender equality to the White House in 1797. She emphasized the importance of educating girls and appealed for equal rights for women and men.

  • 1809: U.S. woman earns patent for the first time

    Mary Kies of Connecticut became the first woman in the nation to be granted a patent in 1809, according to She received the patent for an innovative straw and silk braiding technique that advanced hat making.

  • 1824: Women stage first factory strike in U.S.

    More than 100 young women weavers blocked entry to a Rhode Island textile mill in 1824, protesting their employer’s plan to cut wages and increase the length of the workday for women between 15 and 30 years old, according to the New England Historical Society. The demonstration is considered the country’s first factory strike.

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  • 1825: Workers form first all-women union

    The United Tailoresses of New York was formed in 1825. It was the country’s first union comprised entirely of women.

  • 1831: United Tailoresses go on strike

    Around 1,600 members of the all-women union United Tailoresses went on strike in 1831 demanding fairer wages. After a bitter struggle, during which male trade unions refused to support their female counterparts, the women returned to work without higher wages. But they set the stage for future union work in the textile industry.

  • 1844: Workers form Lowell Female Labor Reform Association

    In response to an extension in the workday, women workers formed the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association in 1844. It is considered one of the first successful organizations of women workers in the country. The group would help reduce the workday at cotton mills to 10 hours (down from 12 or 13 hours) and make their mills safer and more sanitary.

  • 1847: Maria Mitchell opens doors for women in STEM

    Maria Mitchell was not only the country’s first professional female astronomer, but she was also the first American to discover a comet in 1847. She helped pave the way for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers.

    [Pictured: Astronomer Maria Mitchell with her astronomy class outside the observatory at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York.]

  • 1869: Women enter the legal field

    The year 1869 marked major advancements for women in the legal profession. That year, Arabella Mansfield became the first female lawyer, and Ada Kepley graduated from law school, making her the first woman to do so in the country.

    [Pictured: Belva Ann Lockwood, the first female lawyer to practice before the United States Supreme Court.]

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