Category Archives: Timeline of Sexual History of Women 1940-1964

1890-current: Early Feminism in Europe


 Early feminist (1890) Florence Fenwick Miller (1854-1935) Midwife and English Journalist describes women as in legal slavery with man made laws having women endure sex, marriage and childbirth with no choice or voice in the matter.

Jenni Murray of BBC History describes the conditions in show,  The 20th Century in Britain: The Women’s Hour,  as neither rich nor poor women had the choice of mates, endured beatings and abuse with no voice in their predicaments. She refers to Millicent Fawcett and Elizabeth Garret as the feminists who advanced education and an opening in the medical profession for women through brave stands by a few women who risked their lives to take the stands that gave ground to other women. It was through the actions of the Women’s Social and Political Union 1903 and the work of Emmeline Pankhurst that the so called War by Women had more women take notice of and make demands for fair treatment and opportunity for education for women. In 1919, she notes, it was Nancy Astor who would be the first women in British Parliament, and in 1929 it was Margaret Bondfield who would be the first woman Cabinet Member. Just as in the US, the war called on the women to take the men’s jobs during the war.   But in 1944, the men returned and the women were sent back to their homes. In 1944,  the Education Act,  limited the number of girls who could be in school. It would be 1950 before girls were given equal access to education. In 1968, with the advent of Betty Friedan, the second wave of feminism came with it, the repeal of the Education Act in 1968.

Murray notes that Linda Grant, author of Sexing in the Millineum made note of the sexual revolution of the 60’s,  which she credited as providing women with the right to say yes.

Englishwoman Germaine Greer wrote The Female Eunich in 1970. Very much like the feminists of the United States, it provided the first aspect of sexuality as perceived by women, and not men. 1970 also was the time of the first British Conference at Oxford on The Women’s Liberation Movement. Parallel to the activities of feminists in the US, Barbara Casette, Secretary of State for Employment, was effective in rallying for the Equal Pay Bill.  It was enacted in 1975 together with the Sexual Discrimination Act.

Similar also is the path of feminism that showed up in England as it did in the United States. Murray comments on the discordant and changing relationships that showed up between women as well as with their men,  in their homes and at the workplace. She points to the position of many women after the 1980’s, even with the gains and the social change underway, being “I’m not a feminist, but…”

It is remarkable how the beginning of the new roles and aspirations for women at home, in their own personal choices and at work had that affect and that feminism took quite a hit as the gears begin to provide new ground for how women lived their lives, both in the United States and in England. In France, it would be the 1975 Veil Law that ended the ban on Birth Control of 1920. In 1994, only 5% of the women in France between the ages of 20-49 did not use contraceptives according to Wikipedia.

The correlation between access to birth control and termination of pregancy and political power and access to education and equal pay seems to correspond for women’s rights in Europe. In Germany, Anita Augspurg was the first university woman student to graduate from a university in 1919 in the Weimar period where equality in education became available to middle and upper class women-until the age of 15 where they then had education at home. The Advanced Women’s rights in making education available to women in Czechoslovakia, Ireland, Lithuania and the Soviet Union was in evidence prior to World War II, as it was in Germany. But the Nazi Era reverted those standards calling for German women to be restricted to their roles as supporters to their husbands and children, as well as their country. 500,000 volunteers made up of women took on the jobs of men and 400,000 women were nurses and aids in hospitals during the war Wikipedia reports.

But by 1987, Betty Friedan again introduced to a whole new generation of young German women feminism. The impact resulted in an antipatriarchy terrorist group Rote Zora of women from 1974-1995 who were responsible for 45 bombings and arson attacks. The strides back to increasing access to women to education and access to being employed, as well as their limited 10% representation in the work place leadership gave stronger ground to the Womens Rights effort. Alice Schwazer became in 1977 and remains a voice for issues of feminism today in the EMMA magazine. The Green Party was established in 1980 and serves to promote equality and human rights in Germany. It is notable that in 2013, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a woman in power and leadership, opposed the European Union proposal to introduce more representation of women in executive board positions, and roles of leadership for women in jobs.

It could be that Women’s Rights where education and equality represent  feminism, but it could also be the measure of access to birth control and women’s right to choose is the measure of the advance and practice of Women’s Rights. Nations and countries giving access to birth control and right to abortion correlate with those seeking equality in education, jobs and equal pay for equal work.   To give women the right to choose is to give them the power to determine their lives, it’s individualistic, solitary, personal. The current issues of the 1000 state bills in the United States attacking women’s right to choose to terminate their unwanted pregnancies, and to disempower Roe VS Wade is to reduce the power of women in the world. What is the continuum of women’s right to choose and their representation in roles of leadership and power in our government, in our universities and in our industries is a relevant question which is beyond this discussion, but surely to be considered.

The Atlantic Magazine, August 5, 2013 featured Emily Matchvar’s gives a comprehensive look at abortion policies in Western Europe and other countries. For women in Germany, the first trimester only is available to women to end their pregnancies. In the Netherlands, there is a 5 day waiting period for women with a 24 week limit. In Belgium, abortion was illegal until 1990, but now a state of extreme distress must be proven for a woman to gain an abortion. Finland, up to 13 weeks is necessary and with that proof that there are adverse conditions such as poverty or already have 4 children. In Denmark, there is a 12 week limitation. But in Israel, Matchvar points out in this article, that although  93% of the American Jews support abortion rights in all cases, the law is that it is illegal for a married woman 17-40 to have an abortion unless rape, incest or infant malfunction is proven. If unmarried, the woman may plead her case, have an ultrasound and take counseling. In Russia, Eukrane and Poland, there is a restriction to 12 weeks, but every attempt to make difficult if not impossible making the choice to abort is presented to a woman seeking an abortion.

Emily Matchvar in the Atlantic article takes the position that the governments that seek to increase their population and advance their nation seek to restrict choice to women and limit access if not directly prohibit it accordingly. Not personal, not up to the individual, but a national need to be answered by women giving birth to children.   Another perspective can be related to the result of silencing the voice of women, enforcing a limitation of choice by women and strengthening further the male voice and perspective as the director of women’s  and the country’s fate. Certainly any woman who has experienced pregnancy, childbirth, early infant care and the years up to school age is aware of the fact that the hormones, the perspective and the free range of movement is greatly inhibited during this vulnerable time. Further,  the years of child care, the significant first 3-5 years are the most vulnerable for the child, and most essential to their well being. The disadvantage of income loss, babysitter costs, and distraction of focus and energy are all costs endured that make for less time and energy to make other demands on life. Not to mention the 18-20 years of parenting that is the current requirement.

Feminism, like democracy, are messy propositions. The initial work of feminism to have recognition of the need for equal opportunity, access and reward required a revision still working itself out with outcomes that are still representing a challenge to societies engaged in the process. “I’m not a feminist, but…” the alternative is devastating and limiting to all the world.  I’m not a feminist is an apology for making noise, causing problems, speaking out and taking actions that disrupt the status quo.   Feminism is not an ideal to reach, it’s organic and in the past fifty years world wide has hugely impacted and altered the history of the world. Intricate and requiring the integrity of assimilation with costs that are not expected that come with the changes, such as role identity and the complexity of divisive and discordant views of the value of the changes as they occur.

Interesting throughout reviewing this level of investigation into how and what impacted women in Europe, Betty Freidan’s name appears over and over again. Her work translated in different countries resonated with women.   Individually, personally they experienced in her words a potential for how they wanted to live as human beings. The work is underway, it is uneven, and the future is uncertain.



Eleanor Roosevelt: Catalyst and Leader 1930-1960

Eleanor Roosevelt:  Catalyst and Leader 1930-1960 began to gather women to take their parts in taking care of the people she saw languishing on the streets of Washington:  women, children and the elderly were the most vulnerable people.  Mrs. Roosevelt is said to have taken a part in the Commission on the Status of Women begun by more than a few presidents that proceeded and represented the basis for the Woman’s Movement.  The New Deal that came through her husband’s work many attribute to the engagement of Mrs. Roosevelt who ventured from the White House and her Upper Class standing to come to see and understand the needs of the country at different points in time.  Rarely referred to as a feminist, she represents everything that is powerful about women coming together for social change.

PART I:  HISTORY 1930-1960

Ruth Rosen, University of California social historian describes most specifically the process of change that from the early Women’s Movement prior to 1963 throughout the backlash against feminism in the 80’s to the rise of global feminism in the 90’s.  She chronicles the rise of effectiveness of the women’s movement to unintentional consequences by President John Kennedy in 1961.  The women who had been a part of his successful run for President were invited to participate in the “Commission of the Status of Women.”  These women were particularly skilled and educated and once brought together came up with grievances toward women.   “Once women get together and talk, they identify the issues and from their ability to establish a language have the basis for social change,” is how Rosen describes this process then, now, here and globally.  She has interviewed the women on that commission, and met with the women who she feels were the “reason for the results that happened for the Women’s Movement.”  Eleanor Roosevelt was the Chairperson of the Commission and they were effective in what they presented to the public, but did not get the results they wanted from within the structure of the government.  In 1966, they formed an independent Women’s Movement to have their issues and grievances for women addressed and acted upon.

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was being presented for a vote and Rep. Howard K. Smith, chair of the House Rules did not want to see the Equal Rights Bill pass for racial or country of origin civil rights and so added, sex to the bill with the assumption that  would result in the bill failing to pass in congress.  Instead Title 7, Equal Rights Amendment in the Civil Rights Act passed changing the course of history.

Rosen stresses two significant accidental contributions by President Kennedy and Rep. Howard K. Smith that provided the playing field for real change to happen for women.  The other factor attributed to the social change underway was the fact that the women who participated in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Students for a Democratic Society created a “manifesto” in 1965 to 40 women active in civil rights, student and peace movements that produced “discussion and action toward the goals of feminism that would be debated over the next three decades.”

Rosen credits the middle class value of education for women that came up in the 50’s, the Feminine Mystique by Betty Frieden, as the source of the language, noise and productive political actions of the Women’s Movement.  She describes how women came to identity the “injuries of sex” and once identified and brought to language gave found for “the real genius of the Women’s Movement.”

It has to be said that the 1964 change of women having access to birth control pills correlates with the changes women brought to bear in social policy, and shows up in the fact that all changes of significance happened for women after 1964.

Part 2:  War against Women among other sources has a list of 65 state legislative proposed actions to limit Roe VS Wade.  Their statement is:  “When one group of people display inordinate animus and enmity toward an organization representing a majority of the nation’s population, it is either because of ideology or conditioning spanning centuries.  In American, over 200 years of slavery has left an indelible streak of racial bigotry that persists today despite a civil rights movement and election of an African American President.  Despite women’s suffrage and feminists movement in the last century, women are still regarded as second class citizens by a stubborn patriarchal element in government incited by evangelical Christians.  The evangelical element is so enraged over women gaining a semblance of equal rights and the right to choose their own reproductive health, they naturally extended their hatred of women to an organization that primarily serves women and their health issues.”

Relative to this interview with Ruth Rosen, my question was-given the current state of the GOP war on women-should the Women’s Movement be reignited, recharged, regrouped?

Dr. Rosen’s answer was a surprising – no,  Her position is that the Women’s Movement has created millions of women on their jobs, in their communities, in education, in their churches who are representing the need for action relative to the goals of the Women’s Movement.  “It was a brilliant success” because women themselves bring to their homes, communities and work places, their unions the integration of the work that needs to continue.  The need for childcare, was a current example Rosen gave that is significant for women today.  Googling women’s organizations, it is clear that there is evidence that backs up Dr. Rosen’s view.  She doesn’t see a gathering of one Women’s Movement even within states as effective as compared to the effectiveness of  how women are participating now, mainstream, everywhere.   A Women’s Movement now  would produce more “significant differences,  more conflict”  than collaboration in Rosen’s assessment.

So surely the internet is a means to connect, identify issues and form action that brings women together.  One such group that came to mind was  that I brought up to Dr. Rosen.    They have no central office, all are in their homes all across the country and address women’s and civil rights; their recent work had much to do with the success recently of paid family leave.  Bringing up concerns nationwide that effect all moms, all families is a source for  changing policies by their presence on the internet and at the White House.  Dr. Rosen does know this group and speaks highly of their work as representative of women creating social change for the better.

PART 3: Women coming out to vote for midterm election

Dr. Rosen expressed strongly that it is very important for women to get out the vote for the midterm elections.  It is a known fact that women generally do not get out to vote for the midterm, but getting more seats in the house is really important this election.  Here is where women can get together however they do their votes in,  and encourage each other to get their vote in and counted.  All women need to be concerned about the 700 bills in play in congress and in 40 states, designed to silence the women and throw away decades of progress in civil rights and equality that have deeply contributed to the current choices available to women.  Our daughters, their daughters may not know how it is they got to have the choices they have, the platform established by the Women’s Movement and the debt we all owe to those who brought equality as a practice into our lives.  Getting out the vote for the midterms was the recommendation of Dr. Rosen.  The women’s vote is critical and many speak about that on the various political analysis cable news shows.  This is an important year, and the huge difference can be made by the women who were identified as having been a large part in President Obama’s success in his election.

This is the year to take action and vote in response to what President Obama said recently at a Planned Parenthood conference, that the legislation in 42 states banning or severely limiting the right to choose  is an “assault on women’s rights, and an attempt to roll back the clock for women to 1950.”  Statistically the number of women who generally don’t vote at the midterm elections if they do vote can create the tipping point needed to have the number of  GOP seats reduced and the country to move on to future rather than attempting to return to the past..






1848:  Seneca  Falls Convention Elizabeth Cody Stanton and Lucretia Mott presented The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions identifying injuries and usurpations demanding right to vote

1913:   Susan B Anthony  Civil Rights Activist, suffragist, abolitionist in National American Association of Woman’s Suffragist Association.                  

1919:  Jeannette Rankin- Republican/pacifist and first woman elected to congress-two terms 1916 and 1940;  forceful leader in the National American Association of Woman’s Suffrage through support of President Woodrow Wilson and the congress resulted in passage of 19th Amendment ad women’s right to vote.

 1921:  Mabel Vernon, Quaker suffragist, pacifist and national leader in American Woman’s Suffrage Association Sarah Bard Fields prison and health reform.   Worked with Sara Bard Field, Poet and Woman’s Suffrage leader in Oregon and Nevada.  Lobbied for Equal Rights Amendment and led National Woman’s Party in 1930.

1932:  Frances Perkins,  FDR appoint as Secretary of Labor, 1st woman on cabinet

1937:  Emma Tenayuca, San Antonio Texas Workers World Labor leader brought Workers Alliance to workers;  Detroit Housewives’s League and Black Woman’s Housewives Association with Fannie Peck brought workers rights to 10,000 members and created 75,000 jobs for African Americans through protests of over 200,000 workers.

1940:   Margaret Chase Smith-distinction of being the first woman to serve both the House of Representatives for two full terms as well as elected into the Senate.  Republican Representative for Maine also first woman to have her name placed in  nomination for the Presidency.  

 1940:    Margaret Sanger: Advocate for Family Planning in 1920’s fostering healthcare for women;   Founder of  Planned Parenthood.

1942:   16 million men and women WWII;  996,242 casualties; 350,000 Women served in the war effort in uniform and as volunteers or in war industries to support the war. 

1944:  Clare  Boothe Luce, author, playwright The Women; first woman to be appointed ambassador for term in Rome.  Served two terms in House of Representatives.  1973, Presidential Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

1948:   28.6% women at work after war; women returned to home after the war ended. 

1947: COMMISSION ON United Nations produced first international law that recognized and protected the political rights of women for all the original 51 UN members determining Equal Voting rights for women equal to men.

1949:   Simone De Beauvoir:  women not born women, become women-begins national conversation on sexual roles and identities.

1952:   Virginia Apgar brought Apgar report for newborns

1953:  The Pill Project-Margaret Sanger brings Katharine McCormick to fund $40,000 for hormone birth control research by Dr. Gregory Pincus.

1954:  Kinsey Report 6000 women studied sexual behavior of females; Masters and  Johnson study of sexual dysfunctions of females and males.

 1955:  Alcoholism at its highest level

 1955:   Women allowed to serve on juries, lease apartments or get credit.

1961:   President John Kennedy establishes Commission on the Status of Women appointing 40 women to give constructive recommendations and action addressing employment, social insurance, tax laws, and federal labor laws as well as legal treatment of women; initially a government agency, the Commission on the Status of Women women who identify the “injuries of sex;” the Commission will leave the government and become a force and voice for women in the Women’s Movement-the 2nd Wave of Feminism of the 60’s.

1963:   Betty Frieden’s The Feminine Mystique best seller; women begin to talk to women about their sex lives.

 1960-77:   Bella Abzug, House of Representatives 1971-1877;  lawyer, liberal activist, woman and civil rights advocate. Formed National Women’s Political Caucus with Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem.  American Civil Liberties Union,  Women’s Strike for Peace in 1961.

1964:    Civil Rights Act:  sex, race or country of origin denied in anti discriminatory law defining equality as equal access and opportunity to all Americans.

1965:    Affirmative Action to women and minorities in education and employment empowered by President Lyndon Johnson in War on Poverty.

1965:  Abortion to save the life of the mother/or in case of rape legal

1968:    Shirley Chishom – 1st  African American representative NY

1968:     Gloria Steinem – National Organization of Women- women have the right to work.       

1972:     Equal Rights Amendment passes both houses of congress for equal rights for women received 35 of the needed 38 states agreement for ratification so adoption was not completed. 

1973:     Roe VS Wade; women’s right to choose becomes law of the land

               American Psychiatric Journal:  homosexuality defended

               Yvonne Brathwaite Burke-1st Maternity leave.

1975:     49% women working outside the home

                 First World Women’s Conference, San Francisco

1978:      First year that more women enter college then men

1980:     Elizabeth Dole Secretary of Labor

1980:   Ruth Ginsburg appointed to US Court of Appeals by President Jimmy Carter

1981:    Sandra Day O’Connor 1st woman as Supreme Court Justice

1984:       Geraldine Ferrara first woman Vice Presidential candidate

1992:      Janet Reno and Madeline Albright, President Bill Clinton appoints to cabinet        

1993:  President Bill Clinton appoints Ruth Ginsburg to Supreme Court-strong voice for gender equality and civil rights

1997:      Equal Rights Amendment

2008:     Lily Lidbetter Paycheck Fairness Act

                 Hillary Clinton Candidate for President of the United States

2012:  UN WOMEN in Commission of Status of Women dedicate global governmental body to the promotion of gender equality and elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against girls.


Sex in the 50’s


The roughness of Frank’s tweed jacket and the scent of my father’s cologne that he wore produced contradictory feelings, yet I buried my body into  his as the Four Freshmen filled the dark basement of the Sigma Pi fraternity house.  Bob-the smartest kid in the class always- came over and made a comment to Frank,  laughing and moving across the room away from us to spread his message elsewhere.  The pretty rose colored Slow Gin Fizz offered when the guests arrived had brought the level of excitement to the party.   Just 18, I was crossing a boundary, I was having a drink, my first,  in the Sigma Pi fraternity house.   I  felt my cheeks and  body warm and the familiar, stale beer smelling dark cavernous basement felt warmer as well.  The song ended and in the corner, a couple could be seen making out in the shadows.  At the table, a round of  drinking songs was enthusiastically being sung by the brothers of the fraternity.   A tradition  that  happened right around the time the party was winding down.  With the warmth I felt the release of me being more me, loosened not just by the alcohol but letting down the barrier of sobriety.

Frank opened the door Plymouth Sedan for me after we left the party.   I  sat in the chilly Plymouth with the beaten down leather icy cold seats that gave off the scent of something past.  Past its prime, past its value, old.  As Frank came in and put the key in the ignition, he  in one full swoop brought his body over to mine and pushed me against the seat with an intensity that  had me wonder what was going to happen next.  I knew the deal, it was to have him want me, kiss me, merge our bodies, but never, never  go all the way.  So week after week, we parked and  came to the boundaries of that and had long hot sessions with frosted windows resulting.  He undid my bra,  I didn’t resist but moaned slightly to encourage him and communicate I liked what he was doing.  His one hand cold and dry was on my breast over my dress, and his body was pushing me even  further onto the car seat as if he could fold himself into me.  Time went on in the silent October chill that had the car itself get even more cold.  But as he pulled  me over to him, I  felt the hardness of him against her leg.  I’d actually never seen that hardness, but he encouraged me gently as he had the week before to place my hand on him.  It felt foreign, brittle, even breakable.   He moved my hand up and down showing me how much he liked that by his moaning and body movements.  Then he pulled my head, pushing it down toward this area.

It felt to me like they were the only two people on the planet who would be doing what seemed like a peculair thing they were doing. The car radio was on and Bye Bye Love was in the background as the  session went on finally with him pushing her back to the passenger side of the seat, raising up my skirt, feeling my stockings and caressing  my leg as he placed himself on my leg beneath his body.  Pressing and moving on me now, my role was to not encourage or discourage what was happening, but at this point it  felt  out of control.  Now driving his body as I lay as still as I could and moaned in chorus with him not knowing exactly what would happen next.

And then he  stopped moving and buried his face in my neck and was motionless breathing deeply and more slowly.  In the next instant, the thought was-was that sex?  I immediately  felt bad;  I felt that I had failed some standard even fully clothed as I was,  and felt truly disappointed in myself.  Just last week I had confessed to the Father James about this type of incident in confession.   Father James looked very serious through the grill of the dark confessional booth, his head down and weary as he spoke about the “occasion” of sin.  Being in cars with boys was the occasion of sin because things could happen that were sinful.  My skin burned as I felt the shame of once again allowing this to happen and having again to go to the confessional.  My sinking emotions isolated me from Frank who said nothing, but walked me to the door getting me in at my curfew 12 midnight, then driving off in the squeaky paint starved Plymouth.

The next day on the way to school, like a wave, the regret about what I had done and what would happen if anyone knew what happened sent me to despair.   I endured my classes, and all the way home was convinced that Frank would never call me again and wouldn’t invite me to another fraternity party.  He spoke of girls that go all the way in a certain way and so did his friends.   Disdainfully.  It could be that I  would be all alone with nothing to do and nowhere to go on the Saturday night my parents let me go out.  All the while I was thinking what I would say in confession again to Father James.  I kept trying to figure out how I might get a confession from a different priest.  That was how Mondays had gotten to be.    But by Wednesday Frank would call making my world right again with an invitation to another fraternity party.   My despair would go to joy and for the rest of the week,   I would plan what  to wear.   By Saturday I was again in a state of anxiety about how the date would go.

From what I could tell from my girlfriends, sex was the issue that all the girls dealt with though we didn’t really talk about it directly with each other.  My closest friend Kay talked incessantly all the way to school about making out with her boyfriend, how crazy she was about him and their near misses, but even she gave few details.

This was how it was for girls in the 50’s.  ‘Peyton Place’ was the rage on television and the subject of girls going “all the way” was a huge and dreaded scandal.  The lucky girls were the ones whose mom took them to their family doctor and got pills that “regulated their period.”  Anyone who knew about that knew that these pills were used to help women get pregnant by controlling ovulation, but for some,  they were deliberately gotten by parents to keep their daughters from causing embarrassment to their families from unwanted pregnancies.  Most of us just knew we were not supposed to have sex and if we got pregnant our life would be ruined.  Plain and simple.  The shame of it was like a potential disaster waiting to happen.  We didn’t talk with our girlfriends, we didn’t talk with our teachers for sure and for sure we tried our best to convey to our parents we were beyond reproach in not letting a boy bring shame to us.  You never even heard the name of the boys who were involved if there was a  pregnancy scandal.  It was all framed in the context of the girl had not done as she should and now she was being punished with a pregnancy, would be out of school and far away perhaps never seen again in the case of Sally Jones, a classmate.

That was just how it was.  The shifts that occurred in 1964 would change all that, but none too soon would birth control reach into the behavior and morality of the sexual revolution and bring the light of day and the option of choice to girls and women.



Sexual liberation in the 60’s



Sexual Liberation in the 60’s came to people in all sorts of experiences.  The background of music was one.  “It Ain’t Me Babe” the nasally unfamiliar voice filled my room and filled my psyche.  Everything I thought I knew about love and sex were never to be the same as I absorbed a whole new way of looking at and feeling life around me through Bob Dylan.  It was June, 1969, and I had been deep in despair over the assault on how I had put together what I believed was life.  The disparity between what I thought my life was about and how it was left me devastated.  I had counted on the things I had seen in the movies, read about in books and heard from girlfriends and family.  Life was about getting married, having a family and being a good person.  You needed to be  pretty enough for someone to fall in love with you, be very interested in making out with you , and yet you maintained your virginity(check). Then they would give you an engagement ring (check) and on your wedding night give you that experience you saw in the movies called sex.  Well, that wasn’t what happened exactly.  But close enough, and I luxuriated in the orgasms I didn’t even know were part of the deal.

I had looked every time I babysat through the books of the people for whom I sat.  I looked for books that might tell me what sex was.  We had had the gym instructors show us the diagram of the body parts as we sat stoney and silent in a special gym class.  It was all deadly serious was what I gathered from that introduction to not getting pregnant.  I had heard the priests talk about the denigration of women by men somehow related to sex.  Sex in my family was something mom and dad did we knew but behind closed doors. Occasionally we would hear sounds coming from their room and both my sister and I were totally disdainful and didn’t see how they had sex, since they weren’t gloriously attractive people like in the movies.  We worried we were not going to be attractive enough. We knew there were expectations of girls that had to do with not being sexual, that message was everywhere in catechism, in english class, in the gym but at the same time we were supposed to be “sexy” and that that was of value. We also worried we would somehow give away ourselves in a situation that became sexual and out of control.  I once had a girlfriend who needed to go to the doctor to find out if she was pregnant.  She wasn’t, but she cried all the way home because the doctor she said had her feel so bad about herself.  It was a huge relief to be married and safely out of the range of such disasters.

So the bounty of sex and orgasm I enjoyed with my fighter pilot husband who came home after weeks and/or months to a feast of sexual activity that we both enjoyed a lot was unexpected joy.  There would be breaks.  In the last six weeks of pregnancy and first six weeks after birth, the doctor required you not to have sex.  But that somehow just added to the dance, to the jubilee which followed the birth of the babies.

Then when he came back from Viet Nam, our life blew up and he was gone.  Going back to college was an inspired move and opening my mind to a whole new world.  University of South Florida had a very active anti war movement, and I was exposed to the politics and upheaval of the late 60’s protests.  Mind altering ideas came from funny looking people with slashes of paint on their face like Jerry Rubin.  It was about the war, but then again it was about being free and I wasn’t sure what that meant but it seemed to be related to breaking down racial barriers in attitudes that included people different from ourselves, and also breaking down sexual barriers we’d acquired just by virtue of growing up in the culture of the 50’s.  It all seemed to go together.

I was also deep into my own personal upheaval and trauma with the loss of my marriage and the family I thought we were.  I was in psychotherapy and had moved from recognizing the source of pain unexpressed in my childhood that was not to be denied in the loss of my marriage.  This was all a time of finding the assumptions and beliefs I had challenged by the reality around me.  The door was open suddenly to seeing the world around me and myself in a wholly different way.  Sexuality then was also being challenged.

So if sex wasn’t about being with the  one,  your husband  for your lifetime, till death do you part, and having babies, then what was it to be for me.  I wanted no part of the “gay divorcee” image that I saw in the few examples around me.  Divorce was failure and scandalous.  But I was starting to feel good after my first term in college and managing the kids was working out pretty good.  I certainly lowered my standards in terms of things like reading to the kids every night after baths.  I felt guilty about what they weren’t getting every minute.  I was distracted, worried and absent to them I’m pretty sure even if my body was  there at that time.  I had extreme emotional responses whenever Tom was around.  He would drive his VW into the driveway at times I didn’t expect and leave whenever he did.  It didn’t seem like I had anything to do with what was happening there, and certainly no control over what he did.

I lived in the neighborhood of the faculty of University of South Florida in Tampa, and the friends who had been our friends were all aware and engaged with me and the kids in this big public spectacle our life had become.  The neighborhood was a gift.  It might have been a totally different story without the support and encouragement to keep moving forward from those friends.  But also, one by one, their husbands came to my door.  It was so ironic-the women feeling sorry for me in the daytime, their husbands showing up at my door at night.  It made my blood run cold, and just had me feel fearful and confused as I politely turned them away.  I think the polite was just because I was so scared about what it said about me that they were there.

I was  at a local college hangout-the Collage with my next door neighbors  when I met Bobbye.   Strobe lights were flashing, Bob Dylan was wailing, “How does it feee-el, to be on your own-with no direction home, a complete unknown…”  It was so my inside feeling that hearing Bob Dylan sing that was devastating in that moment.  And then there was Bobbye Generone.   He had wavy black long hair, and a beard, blue jeans and he made me laugh.  The things he said I didn’t quite understand, but it was about freedom, personal freedom-whatever that was.  I invited him to my house on Sunday when I was having my neighbors for dinner.  He came.  We made love.  I had never made love like we made love.  It wasn’t coming from anywhere else other than enjoyment of the moment and fun.  It wasn’t a courtship, it didn’t promise a tomorrow, it didn’t validate yesterday.  It just was.  And it was great.

That’s how come I was listening to Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones the week that followed, playing the records over and over again.  Listening to their words-words that didn’t fall easily into my realm of understanding.  But I just listened.  “It Ain’t me, babe.  No, no, no-it ain’t me, babe.”  It changed my life.  The words and soul of Bob Dylan changed my feelings about what was happening around me, it changed how I saw what was happening.  This tragedy that seemed so personal that I felt so helpless to manage actually wasn’t mine alone, but a human potential.  The edge of truth from a source I never would have encountered had my life continued as it had been before the fall of my life blowing up seemed miraculous.

Suddenly I had compassion for men and saw that the design I put around my desire was a package that I thought life was about.  Betrayed when it turned out as it did, this opening to seeing the predicament men were in a moment of clarity had the  anger and feeling of being a victim to a monster dissipate .  In the process of having my life fall apart, new ground and a new perspective on choices I had as a result were now clear.  I saw that-the hard cold resentment and hot anger of betrayals were no longer  serving me.  I  saw there was something else even if I didn’t have a handle on it, or know how to talk about it yet.

Turned out this perspective allowed for another  good decision as life moved forward,  and provided the basis for the move to  California.
And best of all, Berkeley.




1940 Margaret and Joe-a WWII story



World War II served as a social blender bringing together people from towns and communities into urban life.  The mid to late 30’s for most people was a recovery from the depression.  Communities, oriented around churches and ethnic communities were the source of support for young people who were beginning their lives fresh out of high school.  The growing concern for what was happening in Europe with Germany was a problem for England predominantly but it was a growing concern that our country would be at war again.

For the Irish Catholic community of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings,-most had made their way from Ireland and found jobs and homes.  Those who had the jobs and homes most often had a series of relatives who stayed with my family.  We had cousin Alan who smoked his pipe, read the paper, and was a fixture in the big brown chair always in my grandmother’s living room.  When we visited the cousins, they had Aunt Mary who never married, who helped her mother in the kitchen and went to Boston to get the produce for the family dinner.  A couple of generations shared the homes as they brought family members over from Ireland.  My grandfather first moved in with his sister in Chicago fresh from Ireland when he was 16, then came to Lynn to live with his brother John who worked for General Electric.  

Grammy and my mother’s mother Kathleen came over on the same boat from Galway Bay where they knew each other,  and they ended up working together at the Hitchcock House.   Grammy married Hugh Clancy and they settled in Lynn, Massachusetts where he worked for General Electric which was kind of the IBM of it’s time.

Many people worked for GE, and it was the  center of life in Lynn, Massachusetts, where people got a foothold into good jobs, and it was right before World War II when young men were being drafted into service.    GE gave a statewide exam to all graduating high school students, and recruited those with the highest test scores.  My mother, Margaret took the exam and  scored so well, she was offered a training internship job.   There were less than 4% working women before World War II, so General Electric was breaking a trend in hiring my mother and the other girl among the boys right out of high school.  Trouble was, Margaret lived in Worchester, and General Electric was in Lynn. A plan came about between the two women who came from Ireland together, Margaret’s mother Kathleen and Grammy.  The  two families-Clancy’s and Flynn’s came up with a plan to have Margaret stay with my grandmother Sarah and Hugh Clancy and their children Joe and Mary  during the week so she could go to work for General Electric.  Margaret could return home to Worchester and the Flynn home for the weekends.

Margaret, 19, with her flaming red hair, impish personality and now,  with the recognition working for GE presented, was in a brand new situation for a girl.  Girls didn’t leave their homes till they were married, and though she had a boyfriend, Bill-they had not started with the priests for the six months canon required to enter into the sacrament of marriage.

There was immediate strong reaction from my dad, Sarah’s son Joe, 19 and  daughter Mary, 16 and it was not favorable.  “She acts all high and mighty,” Mary said to her mother in a loud whisper in the kitchen.   Joe teased Margaret in such a way as to have her feel like he really disliked her.  Still she came on to Lynn and Grammy’s house and  went home on weekends  to Worchester to be with her own family, and see her friends.

MORE TO COME:  World War II enters everyone’s lives.

Everyone walked to work or took the trolley and soon Margaret found her route to her job and began her work there.  The day began early for Hugh Clancy who also worked at GE and before dawn, he and Margaret walked together to the trolley blocks away to get to work.  The tasks presented for her she managed well, but coming home after work was something she came to dread.  She was always glad when Friday came because she would be on her way to Worchester returning Sunday night.  She dreaded coming home after work whenever Joe was there, but as long as Grammy was there he toned it down considerably.  Margaret found ways to stay at work as long as she could on Tuesday after work because Grammy would be away on Tuesday early evening at mass every week.   Margaret came home on a Wednesday night and went to her room hearing the familiar sounds in the kitchen that Grammy made when she made dinner for the family.  Radio on, pot boiling.  Often Grammy would have dinner late so that when Grampy got home from GE by way of the pub, dinner was waiting.

When there was a knock on her door, Margaret opened the door wide expecting Grammy, but suddenly confronted  Joe.  His comment to her had her feel the sense of dread that had been there since her first night in the house, but she tried to brush it off expecting that to have him go away. Instead he pushed himself in and closed the door behind him.  The small bed and dresser in the small room was where she landed from his shove.   Because the room was chilly, she hadn’t even taken her coat off from coming in.   Joe pushed aside her coat as she felt his weight on her body.  The urge to scream was there which she resisted, instead she said in a loud voice for him to get up and get out of her room.  She spoke in a manner that Sarah would surely hear from the kitchen.  Surprised that Joe was not moved by her shout, she looked at his angry eyes.  Then she knew.  She knew that Grammy was not in the house after all, that Grampy was not in the house and not even Mary home from high school.  With one hand now over her mouth, Joe fiercely pulled at her underwear and pressed  roughly her arms down as she pushed at him.  She had fought with her brothers growing up, she knew what it was like to fight with her fists and arms, but it was the punch across the jaw that stunned her and had her feel the cold chill of the situation she was in.   She began to cry.  This did nothing but make him madder and he pressed him self into her as she sobbed. He left the room then without saying anything just leaving her as she cried.  She later heard Grammy come in with Hugh,   explaining to him that she had been called away to her sister’s who they took to the hospital.  The smell of the pots now scorching on the stove had both Grammy and Hugh upset, and they made nothing of Margaret not coming out of her room that night.

Margaret got up the next morning, got to her job and hoped the bad dream would be just that.  She spoke to no one of it but was now openly afraid to be alone in the house.  Even with her family or her boyfriend Bill, she mentioned nothing about the incident.  In confession Saturday night with her sisters, she gave an act of contrition and spoke of what happened to the priest.  She and her sisters every Saturday night came together for confession with the priests.  His dark profile in the confessional booth gave no indication of a response.   He spoke to her about the “occasion of sin” – how she might have avoided the incident.  Gave her three Hail Mary’s and one Our Father  as penance and slammed the confession door shut as he opened the one on the other side to the next confessor.

When weeks later, she was sure she had missed her period, she resisted knowing that that incident had anything to do with that.  She went to her mother who took her to the doctor, and then the family came down hard on her.  The thinking of the day was that girls needed to be above doubt, above circumstances that could lead to pregnancy, and so she was condemned from the  first knowledge the family had of this pregnancy.

The Flynn family then went to the Clancy family and Hugh Clancy gave a beating to his son Joe.  His fists were of  frequent  use in the bars and at home to deal with conflict in the Irish community.  Joe had prior to this time had only one beating more severe from his father,  and that was when he began to hang out with Pilino, his Italian friend:  Italians and Irish did not hang out was the message of that beating.  This beating was about the need for my father to marry my mother.  They were both taken to the priests with tear stained swollen faces and married because my mother was pregnant with me.  That was 1940.

My parents spent one weekend together after the marriage, and my mother left and went home with her parents after Joe beat her.  She had lost her job, lost her boyfriend but had her family to rely on through her pregnancy and birth.  After I was born, she went to work and got her own place, and I stayed with the neighbor next door when she was at work.  One day when I was 3 1/2, Joe came to where I was and took me to my grandmother’s.  I had never seen him before.  He had the court’s approval because my mother had a man living with her, the court considered a woman living with a man and not married as  an “unfit mother.”  It made the newspapers in Lynn.

My father had come to get a divorce, having gone AWOL from the Navy and in 7 days, had found out where Margaret lived.   There had been no contact with Margaret  since the weekend after their marriage, nor between the Clancy and Flynn families.   Joe had married a woman from South Carolina, also in the Navy, both stationed in Virginia.   They were expecting a baby.   He needed to get a divorce from Margaret or face being discovered as a bigamist so he had come home to take care of that.  That had been the source of the urgency and desperate measures in going AWOL.  So in 1944, he took me from the neighbor’s house, and in 1946,  I joined his new wife and baby in South Carolina where Dad was a student at Clemson College through his VA loan.

I never saw my mother again, and when as an adult I ventured into learning what happened to her, her sister said she never recovered from the loss of that part of her life,  and died in 1958.

The story of Margaret and Joe during World War II was not uncommon.  There are many variations on this story all indicating that women then in Massachusetts and  in areas in this country as well as in many places in the world today are victims to sexual violence and punished for their sexuality.  Powerless to determine their own fate  and a victim to their sexual roles.   The rules of society that adhere to the conviction of women in many places in the world where bride burning, stoning and abuse are the extreme, but they occur and are sanctioned by societies today.  The  lives of women due to social constraints that limit their choices are just a short while ago of  49  years with the availability of birth control.

Most alarm goes to the fact that today,  members of congress are supporting state legislate  to reduce the power of women to choose.   40 states in our country today are currently attempting to limit, diminish or outlaw Roe VS Wade, and even the use of birth control.

We are making headway with legal consequence to support  women here in this country, recently sexual abuse of women in the military has been recognized, but that can’t be said for many, many other countries.  What the story of Margaret and Joe contributes is that there are  many violent and non violent stories of people who experience  limited and constrained by social rules and expectation prior to 1964 and Roe VS Wade.  What we see, and why this story seems relevant to the progress of women is the distance we have come in the past few decades, the groundwork that has developed in fairly recent times that must be maintained.

All the characters in this story experienced little choice and all did what they considered to make the right response the situations they encountered.  The advance to equality and status of dignity afforded to all women, all people is our challenge, worth advancing on many levels here and throughout the world.


1970-new power to choose


Women choosing their own sexual lives was the process which engaged the generation of the 60’s produced the dynamic of some women who saw the opening to choose  their roles and behavior in what would be considered a new level of consciousness, a view of feminism and the potential for equality in the bedroom and in their world.  Not all women for sure, and there certainly was a significant difference in how women viewed themselves relative to the culture in which they lived, worked and raised their families.  But the thread of new views on who women were and what the basis for sexuality might be about for women was changing.

Clitoral or vaginal orgasm had been challenged by Freud and Masters and Johnson in their 10,000 research recordings found there was no difference, and in fact measured the fact that women were capable of achieving many orgasms in a sexual encounter.  But for most women this type of information if you got it at all came from your doctor when a problem in fertility was the case.    Most women didn’t even discuss with each other the experience of their sexuality, and there was little available in terms of information for the public about women’s sexuality.  The emotional content of women in their sexual experience was not considered scientific based and was discounted within the realm of study.

All the more reason for the social groundwork conditions which had Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963 become not only a best seller in this country but world wide has changed how women see themselves and their sexuality.  Women began talking with each other,  over the bridge tables, at the teas and church, found a vocabulary, found their voice around the rightness and validity of equality in the bedroom.  They were the choosers and not just the chosen and responsible for the choices they made, not without a few bruises and not without trial and error, but that was how women came through their ownership of their sexuality if that was the course they chose in the late 60’s, early ’70s and change the culture they did.


In 1973,  Roe vs Wade offered the choice for women to  take or not take pregnancy to full term.  That same year, unmarried women were officially allowed to get birth control pills from their doctors.  Talk to you grandmother or even your mother, your aunt or any of the women who have lived through the civil rights act to current times.    A woman in the 1930’s in Brooklyn found her way to one of the first Margaret Sanger’s clinic.  Some women went to Juarez, or to a doctor known to be compassionate towards women with unintended pregnancies that they did not want to take to term.  Roe VS Wade like a bridge provided a certainty of choice that never existed before for women, away from being victims to their biology to conscious and responsible choice.  For many women, this would never be a dilemma; for others, the option to terminate would never be what they would consider with or without the religious structure or mandate.   But this did contribute, there’s no question to an increase in the interest in sexuality. There is not mistake to viewing the 70’s-80’s as the time of social and sexual experimentation with new game rules.

A shift of focus then to the new question of value and desire for women:  what pleased them and why.   And Cheryl Hite presented  her woman researched book called The Hite Report in 1976 detailing the practices of women in their daily sexual lives.  Sex for women was no longer perceived as fulfilling the biological function and responsibility for procreation or being a sexual partner to their husbands, the issue of pleasure and orgasm had taken the conversation to a new ground.

The Hite Report in 1976 gave a view of the  intimate experiences of women relative to their reported pleasure and gratification of orgasm and specific sexual activity, including masterbation.  Women began to talk to each other about their experiences, their expectations and their desires.  It stirred up questions women had never before been willing to reveal about their sexual lives.

John Bancroft work at the Kinsey Institute in the 40’s was the tip of the iceberg in bringing up the scientific question of what lay behind the behavior of women relative to their sexuality, as reported by Julia Heiman, current director of the Kinsey Institute.  But it would be the impact of the national conversation among women about their sex lives that was stimulated by the Hite Report that had the topic gain ground among women in the 70’s.  The  ladies bridge club tables in the late 60’s, early ’70’s and other ladies’ gatherings often provided the place and time for those discussions by women about women, the topic of orgasm had come into the conversation.  Not all women identified with the strident voice and emerging presence of the National Organization of Women, in fact NOW seemed remote and alien to many women across the country, but women were talking to each other now more than ever.


Helen Singer Kaplan, a sexologist in the 70’s developed a study on the physical response of women measuring those responses in the release of serotonin, heart rate, dilation of the eyes and lubrication.  Her findings were that the emotional or cognizant awareness and the physiological response of women did not correspond .  That is, the biological physiological changes in the body that corresponded with desire for sex were apparent but were not detected or reported by the women as they occurred.  It was reported that the “split” -separation of feeling and physical response did not show up for men.  When there was biological physiological change in men, men were aware of the desire that came with those changes.  The obvious conclusion was that the evidence for physical response by men was observable and validated by erection.

But what could have been considered was the different standards about sexuality that are part of the education and experience of men and women as they enter puberty and adulthood.   Men have historically had more approval of overt expression of interest in sexuality than women.  Being aware of one’s own body and its desires for women is as recent as the social and political changes for women in the  past forty years of western society.

When you consider the amount of pressure on women up until the mid to late 1960’s to withhold themselves from sexual activity for a variety of reasons relative to their value and inclusion as “good women,”  their lack of recognition and experience of their sexual response makes sense.  The rules socially adhered to by the majority of men and women didn’t include women coming to know their own bodies, their own desires and responses.   The deal was to withhold their own pleasure and sexual activity until they married plain and simple.   The release of societal standards in the sexual revolution of the 60’s cannot be overstated.  The dramatic change from the mores that discouraged, limited women and even punished women relative to their expression of their sexual interest and appetite to expression to a NEW AGE;  fulfillment, orgasm and birth control ushered in a new age, political, economic and social perception would be transformed.

Around the world today, there are countries and nations that still punish women for any overt expression of their sexuality and  limit the women’s access to responsible care of themselves through the use of birth control.  So for women, it could be said, the late 60’s was the beginning of owning their own sexual lives and choices.  Today, incredulously,  in the halls of congress, there is an attempt to take women back to that societal and legal constraint limiting their choices.

But the evolvement of women to know their own desire and their own bodies is relatively new ground for women that brought on new studies.  Meridith Chivers of Queen’s University of Kingston, Ontario directed her research in 2009 to “Discovering What Ignites Desire for women,” in the Archives of Sexual Behavior Anthology.  Those studies and those of Lisa Diamond, a Sexologist at the University of Utah, also studied women’s desire in her sexuality study.  The Diamond  study revealed that women’s desire is more receptive to and dictated by need for intimacy and emotional connection.  She measured the oxytocin as a factor in asserting that female desire was reliant on estrogen- and the cause of desire for women.

Marta Meana, Professor at University of Nevada, also researched in her study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, and her findings were that it wasn’t the closeness or communication that created the oxytocin that released desire, but  that “being desired is the orgasm.”   Meana attributed that to narcissism.  Her study suggested that  sexual response was a “yearning for self love.”

Major studies would follow relevant to the measure  of how and under what conditions women experiencing their desire.  But what can be seen is that with the advent of the birth control pill, those questions were really new questions and they brought on new options and dilemmas.  That is, in the western world-while many countries continue to keep the conditions such that women are without the choice of birth control and are a victim to their sexuality.

There was considerable concern in the media and in society itself as women’s liberation and the choices to women about their sexuality became more accessible to women.  Life magazine did stories about what if women become just like men sexually, free to choose their sexual roles and desires. Newspaper articles about how women would be just like men if they didn’t have the concerns that had provided constraints on their sexual choices and behavior.  For some women, trying hard to achieve the a priori of what it was to be a successful woman, these choices to determine and manage fertility and sexuality, were considered by some as “unfeminine.”   For the women who did choose to use the new support of birth control, self determination and personal liberty and responsibility was their choice.  These women made their way thru  uncharted grounds in a life that looked entirely different from  their mothers, sometimes in opposition to their sisters, their colleagues and friends.  It was a risk some women took, and an individual one made by the women who led.

Change certainly did come as a result of the independence of women, and 2013 saw for the first time, the majority of women choosing not to marry to have a family.  Marriage,  as was predicted in the 1970’s, was impacted by the changes in sexual behavior.  The majority of Ph.D students are women, and women are primary breadwinners in 40% of the households with children.  It is the new world, and birth control availability seems to be the world women have chosen and will not allow to pass into the rough and tough political attacks on women’s rights that have been a large part of politics since 2011.


1950: Grandmother’s Kitchen



Ruthie’s  big country kitchen with mason jars of fig preserves was the center of fury this morning.  Elizabeth is telling Ruthie about some “people from the church,”- keys in hand on her way to the office in her turquoise Studebaker.  She has on a  scoop-necked powder blue dress, the color of her eyes, bright red lipstick which I love to watch her put on in the Studebaker mirror.  Elizabeth speaks in a high pitched voice to stress her meaning and begins a lot of sentences with “I donno why..” which is code for the fact that she doesn’t agree with whatever she is describing and would like it to be different.  She is mid sentence as her sister,  Carolyn comes thru the door, but the whining of the overhead fan is all that can be heard as the door swings back and forth a few times from the intensity of her entrance.

Ruthie has come downstairs to oversee lunch for Papa who will be coming in as he does each and every day from the office.   Ruthie is slightly impatient with the conversation which has drifted to Carolyn’s contribution.   It’s something about people I don’t know.  The Wilson girl has gone off with Emmett Brown’s son and you know, he drinks and their family never amounted to anything…” And on and on it goes.

Ruthie suddenly notices me at the table, and sees that the beans I’m snapping.

“Now, Peggieyanne, those beans won’t be good with strings,” she says exasperated which has Carolyn and Elizabeth stop talking to look my way.  Then they turn to resume their conversation as if I weren’t there-”You can’t get her to do anything,” Carolyn says shrugging her shoulders.

Elizabeth with her back to me “-I think it’s because she just doesn’t pay attention and no one pays attention to her” looking concerned at Ruthie now who is aggravated  and picking up speed as she moves around the kitchen.  Elizabeth turns to Ruthie “Now mama, there is no good in getting upset.” But from her expression, clearly she is irritated.

My face is down looking into the bowl of green beans now seeing for the first time the strings, feeling the heat on my face, embarrassed that everyone can see.

A tea whistle blows releasing the pressure for all as Elizabeth goes out the door, and Carolyn picks up the rolling pin and carefully glides it across the biscuit dough on the wooden slate.

“Rufie,” Carolyn always calls her mom this pet name “you better take a look at these tomatoes.  They came from Piggley Wiggley and not from Charlie’s vegetables.”  Ruthie is looking and feeling the tomatoes now, focused.

“Mrs. Thomas is going to have surgery and Miss Bennett they think had a stroke,”Carolyn goes on.   Running water over her hands at the sink and she has raised her voice to continue.

I slip down from the stool having measured in my mind how many steps it will take to be through the door.  Just then Papa comes in from the other door to Carolyn’s cheery “Hi Daddy.”  In one motion, I escape unnoticed shivering even in the middle of a South Carolina summer.



World War II-birth control and the New Deal

Against the State, AGainst the church, against the silence of the medical profession, against the machinery of dead institutions of the past, the woman of today arises.

 Margaret Sanger 1940 

WORLD WAR II-the New Deal and birth control

For the women born in 1940, sex was dangerous.  There was no support for choosing to be pregnant or not.  Sixteen million men and women were in World War II and 8 out of 10 high school graduates were in the military service.  Jobs needed at the shipyards, in the farms and the family businesses, such as my grandfather’s gas and oil business, were managed and run by  600,000 women until the war ended and the men returned.  The New Deal had not come about by President Roosevelt, and so the women and children depended on the extended kin and family and the church as support to them.  There was 4% divorce at that time, and mostly the husband, occasionally the wife left the family and disappeared and were never heard from again.

After the war, 28.6% women worked out of the home, and there was a mixture as people lef their families of origin during the war and then after with the use of the VA loan and the VA  bill for college.  Under FDR and the New Deal, the single family credit and social welfare gave a basis of support for the nuclear family that emerged post World War II.  In general, women did not go to college, drive or own property, serve on juries or lease apartments.  But for the women who did attend college, Home Economics was a major and a minor course considered appropriate.  Feminism, if identified or spoken of, was not a thread throughout the culture and its meaning to most was ambiguous, related to a few women and men who held a standard of equality as a social good, as well as an advance for women.   The pejorative word attributed to women at the time was to point out the lack of what was considered feminine graces and value.

Sexuality studies

It would be the case that Freud studied  the sexuality of women relative to their function in producing children and being a responsive partner to their husbands.  Kinsey and Masters and Johnson took the study of the function of sexuality in the lives of men and women, using scientific methods to measure effects of sexuality, function and dysfunction for both male and female.  But the topic of women’s desire and the  emotional content relative to women and their sexuality would be considered much after women had access to birth control in 1964, Civil Rights and Roe VS Wade in 1973.

The Mystique and the pill

The consciousness and the history of women’s sexuality evolved from the early days of Margaret Sanger raised the issue of comstockery.  Women being used to bare children to work on the farms providing their own free labor.  Then in 1951 at age 72, Margaret Sanger got a small grant for Gregory Pincus and the Worchester Foundation to research the process of ovulation with injections of progesterone that prohibited ovulation and pregnancy.   G. D. Searle also engaged in the process of the study of progesterone to address birth control.  However, it was Carl Djerassi in Mexico City who created the progesterone pill.  Again, the focus for women to be in control of their ovulation to manage their family size was a new idea whose time had come because of the relentless and passionate work of Margaret Sanger for over 40 years.  For most women, the issues around their sexuality were contained in the effort to be pregnant when unable to conceive, or the attempt to get help from their family doctors to monitor their cycles and pregnancies.

By 1961, birth control was still illegal in Connecticut but Dr. C. Lee Buxton, the Chairman of the Yale Medical School of Obstetrics and Gynecology, but finding a way to help women conceive was very much the effort of the medical community.  In the process of identifying the means to enhance potential pregnancy through progesterone, the unintentional consequence was the established knowledge that ovulation could be monitored and managed.   Women talked to their doctors to get the news of the availability of birth control pills.    By 1963, 1.2 million American women used the pill.  By 1967 12.5 million women world wide would use the pill for birth control.  It would be in 1972, that the federal government ruled that the states could not prohibit unmarried women from the use of the pill for birth control.

But what did women want in the bedroom and out of the bedroom was the question that now came up in the conversation.  In 1963, the best seller book written by Betty Friedan, “The Feminine Mystique” began a conversation among women, in pairs, in groups and ultimately in a movement about this intimate part of their lives  and how it connected to their personal liberty.  Cheryl Hite and the Hite Report, Erica Jung and Fear of Flying also created a new awareness for women about themselves.  They talked with each other and validated experiences about their own sexuality, their desires, their feelings about their sexuality.  They did not take this conversation to  authorities such as doctors and experts.  Even in the realm of sexuality, the communication between women about their lives has been a basis for changes in the identity and behavior chosen by some.  Always woman to woman there has been the igniting and inspiration to fulfill their commitment to liberty, deepened by their exposure to each other  from the days of the Suffragettes to the world we live in today.

This shift in culture, in knowledge and practice of  women determining their choices in their area of their sexuality was not entirely welcome by all women and a great deal of society considered the consequences of this social change.   Newspapers and magazines featured articles about the threats to the family in giving women more choices about their sex lives. The perceived threat was that women would be like men with this new freedom and would in their freedom challenge current morality and standards.

The New Deal also changed the family structure. Prior to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s social security, aid to children, and social services, family and only family and church were responsive to concerns, difficulties and finances of how people took care of themselves. With the New Deal, and World War II’s Veteran’s Loans, a new middle class would result with new homes and the ability to gain access to middle class through the VA educational benefit. The individual could function outside of the group, and mobilize toward a new concept of the single family unit.


While concern for a new society that might result from freeing women of the constraints prior to birth control,  a deep divide  among women who didn’t identify with the strident provocative tone of the Women’s Movement in the late 60’s provoked a schism, and had the women’s movement ultimately lost impact over time.   The polarities among the women, in families, in social groups, in colleges drove the national conversation further into conflict.   1973 would widen the gap even further with the Roe VS Wade decision.  Just as today in the current political atmosphere, there is challenge and conflict over the value of Planned Parenthood over 40 years later, and women choosing their destiny.  Further, the freedom of women and their choices are being challenged in over 40 states within the nation who are attempting to go back in time and bring back the constraints, restrictions to women’s ability to choose to bear children.

The new family, the new woman and the new social consciousness resulting from the 1970’s has 41% of women being the breadwinner in their families. Women are now able to conceive with a donor rather than a partner. The choice to marry is not a necessity for survival, parenting or sustaining a livelihood or being part of a community. Clusters of communities based on interests are a common core to many lives, not at the exclusion of family, but in addition. 2013 was reported by PEW research to be the first year that the majority of the population held the status of not married.   A new group identified are individuals who live with one or more unrelated people. The future has taken power not just to women in life choices, but clearly to men and women of all ages. The New Deal and birth control opened these doors to individual choice and destiny.