Historians describe two waves of feminism in history: the first in the 19th century, growing out of the anti-slavery movement, and the second, in the 1960s and 1970s. Women have made great strides – and suffered some setbacks – throughout history, but many of their gains were made during the two eras of activism in favor of women's rights. Some notable events:
1769 – The colonies adopt the English system decreeing women cannot own property in their own name or keep their own earnings.
1777– All states pass laws which take away women's right to vote.
1809 – Mary Kies becomes the first woman to receive a patent, for a method of weaving straw with silk.
1839 – The first state (Mississippi) grants women the right to hold property in their own names – with permission from their husbands.
1848 – At Seneca Falls, New York, 300 women and men sign the Declaration of Sentiments, a plea for the end of discrimination against women.
1866 – The 14th Amendment is passed by Congress, with "citizens" and "voters" defined as "male" in the Constitution.
1869– Arabella Mansfield is granted admission to practice law in Iowa, making her the first woman lawyer. Ada H. Kepley becomes the first woman in the United States to graduate from law school.
1872– Victoria Claflin Woodhull becomes the first female presidential candidate in the United States, nominated by the National Radical Reformers.
Female federal employees (but not private sector workers) guaranteed equal pay for equal work under the law.
Susan B. Anthony casts her first vote to test whether the 14th Amendment would be interpreted broadly to guarantee women the right to vote. She is convicted of "unlawful voting."
1873– The Supreme Court rules that a state has the right to exclude a married woman from practicing law.
1887– Susanna Medora Salter becomes the first woman elected mayor of an American town, in Argonia, Kansas.
1890 – The first state (Wyoming) grants women the right to vote in all elections.
1900 – By this year, every state had passed legislation granting married women the right to keep their own wages and to own property in their own name.
1916 – Jeannette Rankin, of Montana, is the first woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives
1918 – Margaret Sanger, two years after opening a birth control clinic in Brooklyn, wins her suit in New York to allow doctors to advise their married patients about birth control for health purposes. The clinic, along with others, becomes Planned Parenthood in 1942.
1920 – The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, ensuring the right of women to vote.
1923 – The first version of an Equal Rights Amendment is introduced. It says, "Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction."
1932– Hattie Wyatt Caraway, of Arkansas, becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
1932 – The National Recovery Act forbids more than one family member from holding a government job, resulting in many women losing their jobs.
1933– Frances Perkins becomes the first female cabinet member, appointed secretary of labor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
1953 – Jerrie Cobb is the first U.S. woman to undergo astronaut testing. NASA, however, cancels the women's program in 1963. It is not until 1983 that an American woman gets sent into space.
1963 – The Equal Pay Act is passed by Congress, promising equitable wages for the same work, regardless of the race, color, religion, national origin or sex of the worker.
1964 – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act passes, prohibiting sex discrimination in employment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is created.
1965 – The Supreme Court establishes the right of married couples to use contraception.
1968 – President Lyndon B. Johnson signs an executive order prohibiting sex discrimination by government contractors and requiring affirmative action plans for hiring women.
1969 – California adopts the nation's first "no fault" divorce law, allowing divorce by mutual consent.
Wellesley College graduate Hillary Clinton becomes the first student to address the graduating class at commencement.
1972 – Title IX of the Education Amendments prohibits sex discrimination in all aspects of education programs that receive federal support.
The Supreme Court upholds the right to use birth control by unmarried couples.
Juanita Kreps becomes the first woman director of the New York Stock Exchange.
1973 – Landmark Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade makes abortion legal. The Supreme Court in a separate ruling bans sex-segregated "help wanted" advertising.
1974 – Housing discrimination on the basis of sex and credit discrimination against women are outlawed by Congress.
The Supreme Court rules it is illegal to force pregnant women to take maternity leave on the assumption they are incapable of working in their physical condition.
1975 – The Supreme Court denies states the right to exclude women from juries.
1978 – The Pregnancy Discrimination Act bans employment discrimination against pregnant women.
1980 – Paula Hawkins of Florida, a Republican, becomes the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate without following her husband or father in the job.
1981 – Sandra Day O'Connor becomes first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court rules that excluding women from the draft is constitutional. In a separate decision, the high court overturns state laws designating a husband "head and master" with unilateral control of property owned jointly with his wife.
In a break with tradition, Lady Diana Spencer deletes the vow to "obey" her husband as she marries Prince Charles.
1982 – The ERA falls short of ratification.
1983– Dr. Sally K. Ride becomes the first American woman to be sent into space.
1984 – Geraldine Ferraro becomes the first woman to be nominated to be vice president on a major party ticket.
U.S. Supreme Court bans sex discrimination in membership for onetime all-male groups like the Jaycees, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs.
The state of Mississippi belatedly ratifies the 19th Amendment, granting women the vote.
1985 – EMILY's List is founded, its mission to elect Democratic, pro-abortion rights women to office.
1986 – The U.S. Supreme Court held that a work environment can be declared hostile or abusive because of discrimination based on sex, an important tool in sexual harassment cases.
1989 – The Supreme Court affirms the right of states to deny public funding for abortions and to prohibit public hospitals from performing abortions.
1992 – The Year of the Woman: Following 1991 hearings in which lawyer Anita Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, record numbers of women are elected to Congress, with four women winning Senate elections and two dozen women elected to first terms in the House.
In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v Casey, the Supreme Court upholds Roe v Wade but allows states to impose restrictions such as a waiting period and parental consent for minors seeking abortions.
1994 – The Violence Against Women Act funds services for victims of rape and domestic violence and allows women to seek civil rights remedies for gender-related crimes. Six years later, the Supreme Court invalidates those portions of the law permitting victims of rape, domestic violence, etc. to sue their attackers in federal court.
1997 – Madeleine Albright become the first female secretary of state.
2005 – Congress passes the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the first law to ban a specific abortion procedure. The Supreme Court upholds the ban the following year.
2007– Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female speaker of the House.
2008– Alaska Governor Sarah Palin becomes the first woman to run for vice president on the Republican ticket. Hillary Clinton loses the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama.
2009– The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act allows victims, usually women, of pay discrimination to file a complaint with the government against their employer within 180 days of their last paycheck.
2012– The Paycheck Fairness Act, meant to fight gender discrimination in the workplace, fails in the Senate on a party-line vote. Two years later, Republicans filibuster the bill (twice).
2013– The ban against women in military combat positions is removed, overturning a 1994 Pentagon decision restricting women from combat roles.
2016– Hillary Rodham Clinton secures the Democratic presidential nomination, becoming the first U.S. woman to lead the ticket of a major party. She loses to Republican Donald Trump in the fall.
The Supreme Court strikes down onerous abortion clinic regulations that were forcing women's clinics to close.
2017– Congress has a record number of women, with 104 female House members and 21 female Senators, including the chamber's first Latina, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.
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