10 Things American Women Could Not Do Before the 1970s

Written by Natasha Turner

In the 1970s, Irish women could not own their own home or even go to a pub. They could not sit on a jury or refuse to have sex with their husbands. We learned all this in Irish Central’s charming post, “How things have changed – ten things that Irish women could not do in 1970s.” And that made us wonder, what were things like for women in America before the ’70s?

So while we still have a long way to go to secure total equality for women, let’s take a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come. Before the 1970s, an American woman could not:

1. Keep her job if she was pregnant.

Until the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, women could be fired from their workplace for being pregnant.

2. Report cases of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The first time that a court recognized sexual harassment in the workplace was in 1977 and it wasn’t until 1980 that sexual harassment was officially defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

3. Be acknowledged in the Boston Marathon.

Women could not don their running shoes until 1972!

4. Get a credit card.

Until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974, women were not able to apply for credit. In 1975, the first women’s bank was opened.

5. Refuse to have sex with her husband.

The mid 70s saw most states recognize marital rape and in 1993 it became criminalized in all 50 states. Nevertheless, marital rape is still often treated differently to other forms of rape in some states even today.

6. Compete as a boxer in the Olympics.

It wasn’t until the 2012 London Olympics that women could compete in boxing in the Olympics. This was marked with the amazing victory by Britain’s Nicola Adams.

7. Get a divorce with some degree of ease.

Before the No Fault Divorce law in 1969, spouses had to show the faults of the other party, such as adultery, and could easily be overturned by recrimination.

8. Celebrate International Women’s Day.

In 1980 President Carter declared one week in March to be National Women’s History Week, including International Women’s Day on March 8th.

9. Have a legal abortion in most states.

The Roe v. Wade case in 1973 protected a woman’s right to abortion until viability.

10. Read Ms. Magazine!

Ms. was launched as a sample inset in New York Magazine in 1971.

This post was originally published by Ms. Magazine.


Photo: Black History Album/flickr


Teddy G.
Teddy G4 years ago

I was in grade school until 1971, high school until 1975. In grade school, girls were not permitted to wear pants or shorts; in high school, the only pants that were permitted were pantsuits. No jeans, no casual pants, no shorts. Public schools, people. So glad things have changed. I hate skirts.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

we are making progress, and will continue to do so. The religious right are losing their grip and control, paving the way for a much brighter future

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra4 years ago

Thank you Ms Magazine, for Sharing this!

Kimberlee W.
Kimberlee W4 years ago

I still remember in 1977, literally having to FIGHT to get a job as a pump jockey in NJ, where you still had to have someone else, by law, pump your gas (still is the Fire Marshall law there).

Crappy job as it was, it was a badge of honor for me. I was the first in that state (that I know of to this day) who was female and not part of a family that actually owned the station.

And that was the whole reason I wanted that job. Just because they said, "But you're a girl and girls don't work at gas stations.'

Later, in the mid-80's, I worked at A&P supermarkets. You really want to get pissed off?
I had been a cashier and stockperson for over 4 yrs. there. I found out from the brother of a friend that worked there, who had Down's syndrome, that he made over $1.25 more than I did because he brought in the carts!!! And when I applied for That position, I was REFUSED precisely because I was female! (and they told me so)
And that was in the so-called "progressive" area of northern NJ!

Elvira W.
Elvira W.4 years ago

9. Have a legal abortion in most states.

The Roe v. Wade case in 1973 protected a woman’s right to abortion until viability.

From what I have read on your site, this seems to be getting worse, not better in the USA...

Rainbow W.
.4 years ago

“They always had the lowest jobs of every kind and got the lowest pay!”

I know. My great grandma (who came to TX in a covered wagon) divorced her husband and raised my grandma on her own. My grandma’s first memory was sitting on a cotton sack her mama was filling being dragged through the rows of cotton in the hot TX sun. My great grandma had to wear all those “bussels” and bonnets. The women would faint in the heat. At the end of the day they would line up behind two wagons (later trucks) with a man in each handing out pay. Women on one side, men the other (regardless of race); she said you could hear them counting out money: a dollar and ten cents for the women and five fifty for the men. For the same amount of work, with kids hanging on them; if that doesn’t suck I don’t know what does.

Rainbow W.
.4 years ago

“#1 is wrong. My brother was born in 1960, Mama worked through her pregnancy.“

She probably did work thru her pregnancy, thanks to a nice boss. My oldest brother was born in the 50’s, I and my other older brother in the 60’s. My mom worked at the 1st national bank Ft. worth. When my older brothers were born her then boss (who was oddly a man and very nice) let her stay. When she got pregnant with me her boss was a woman (and a bitch), who let her go. That’s why they passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, so it wouldn’t be up to your boss.

Manuela C.
Manuela C4 years ago


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill4 years ago

#1 is wrong. My brother was born in 1960, Mama worked through her pregnancy.

Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaege4 years ago

Waw! Things have evolved since then!