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The 1960s is the beginning of the second wave of the feminist movement. This new wave of feminism inspired women to not only address political inequality but to also question and challenge social and cultural oppression.


1960s: Text


Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley 

  • Born as Vera Buchtal in Dortmund, Germany - however, was forced to leave at age 5 due to growing hostility towards Jewish people

  • At 18, Shirley got a job at the prestigious Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill, which is known for its contributions to research during the second world war. It is there that she worked as a mathematical clerk. While working at Dollis Hill, Shirley’s knowledge and love for mathematics, inspired her interest in computers and programming.

  • After working at Dollis Hill for 8 years, Shirley never received a promotion and resigned due to sexism and workplace discrimination. Upon her resignation, Shirley applied to English Electric ICT (or the ICL), a computer company. There, Shirley worked on a small software team and began to write software and design computers,  notably working on the first ICT 1301, among other special computers like the Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment, or the ERNIE for short. 

  • Shirley spent 18 months working at English Electric ICT, but still endured sexism and workplace discrimination.

  • In 1962, after taking night classes for six years, Shirley finally graduated with an honors degree in mathematics. During that same year, fed up with the sexism and workplace discrimination she and other woman in the computing industy faced, Shirley began her own software company, in which she named Freelance Programmers. 

  • Shirley only employed women, and did so by reaching out through women’s networks and radio. In doing this, Shirley was able to hire women that wanted to work as programmers and computer operators, but couldn’t because they had families to take care of. Thus providing a flexible working environment that gave women the option to work remotely, part-time, or full-time.

  • Shirley had successfully created a safe working environment for women, but still endured sexism in the industry. Shirley’s business proposals were often ignored and laughed at because she signed with a female name, so she began to sign her name as Steve instead. 

  • Now, Shirley’s company, now known as Xansa, has sold software in banking, transport, and telecommunications; the company is now estimated to be worth 3 billion dollars

Mary Wilkes

  • In 1959, Wilkes graduated with a degree in philosophy from Wellesley College. However, instead of getting a job in law like she planned to do, Wilkes instead applied for a job in computer programming at M.I.T, even though she had no prior work experience in computer programming.

  • Wilkes first worked on the IBM 704, in which she was required to work on assembly language. 

  • Wilkes would also work on other early computers like the IBM 709 and the TX-2

  • In 1961, Wilkes was appointed to work on the software of the LINC, the first interactive personal computer that could fit in single offices and labs

  • In 1965, Wilkes was able to continue her work on the LINC from her parents home in Baltimore, being one of the first people to have a personal computer in a home

1960s: Text


Betty Friedan 

  • Friedan’s book “The Feminine Mystique” (1963) talks about the myth of ‘the feminine mystique”. In it, Friedan argues against the ideals of the 1950s about what a woman should be: a caretaker, and raises the fact that these ideals are sexist in nature and reduce women to second class citizens. Friedan acknowledges that women no longer feel satisfied with this position they’ve been forced to assume.

  • Friedan’s book was viewed as radical and serves as a catalyst and starting point for the second wave of feminism, as it spoke to and helped the everyday women make sense of the sexism and social and cultural issues rampant at the time, making feminism more mainstream and popularized

  • Although Friedan is mostly known for her book, she was also the founder and first president of The National Organization for Women (NOW), founded in 1966. 

  • Along with cofounding NOW, Friedan helped create the National Women’s Political Caucus and National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws

Esther Peterson

  • In 1961, Peterson worked under President John F Kennedy after being appointed the role of Director of the Women’s Bureau, making Peterson responsible for dealing with and regulating labor laws that pertained to gender. Peterson is also instrumental in the creation of the President’s Commission of the Status of Women (PCSW), in which she served as Vice President.  

  • In 1963, while working as the Director of the Women’s Bureau, Peterson was successful in her campaign to pass the Equal Pay Act, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work regardless of gender 

  • While working on John F Kennedy’s administration, Peterson was the highest ranking women 

Gloria Steinem

  • Began her career as a professional freelance journalist during the late 1950s and early 1960s, a time in which women in the profession were subjected to clerical work as secretaries and researchers. Thus making it difficult for Steinem, who was passionate about writing political pieces, to be taken seriously in the male dominated field.

  • In 1963, Steinem was approached by Show magazine and accepted the job offer to go undercover as a Playboy Bunny for 10 days, to uncover the truth about work conditions in the Playboy Club. Although Steinem received national attention for her piece, “ I Was A Playboy Bunny”, she still was met with criticism and continued to struggle as a journalist

  • In 1968, Steinem helped found New York magazine, which gave her creative license to become an editor and become the writer she always sought out to be, political writer. In which she wrote about political campaigns and social issues, like the growing feminist movement 

  • In 1969, Steinem attended an event to legalize abortion in New York, and also gave a public speech in which she shared her story of having an abortion at the age of 22. This event, propelled Steinem into the public eye, making her one of the most recognizable and well known feminist activists of the 20th and 21st century

1960s: Text


  • 1960: The FDA approves the sale of Enovid as a oral contraceptive

  • 1965: Planned Parenthood clinic in Connecticut won the Supreme Court case of of Griswold v Connecticut, which decriminalized state and local laws that made it hard for married couples to buy and use contraceptives, state bans on contraception was deemed unconstitutional, and married couples were seen as having a right to make decisions about childbearing privately 

  • 1965: 1 out of every 4 women in the US under 45 had used birth control

  • 1967: 13 million women were actively using contraception

The approval of birth control allowed women to take ownership of their body and gave them the liberty to make their own decisions about childbearing and family planning.

1960s: Text


“Sex and the Single Girl”

  • Authored by Helen Gurley Brown, controversial devout feminist, was published in 1962, and sold 2 million in less than 4 weeks. In it, Gurley Brown details her own sexual life experiences, while also advising women on how to be single, encouraged sexual promisciouty both in and out of a relationship or marriage, and promoted the importance of financial independence. Gurley Brown’s book, raised up very controverisal takes at the time, but began statewide discussions on sexual relationships and sexual liberation for women

  • In 1964, Gurley Brown’s book was the inspiration for a film adaptation for a movie of the same name. The film was a success in the box office and is recognized as one of the highest grossing films of 1964

Lesley Gore’s song about powerlessness

  • In 1963, at 17 years old, Gore wrote her most famous song “You Don't Own Me”, originally Gore didn’t think the song was particularly about being a women, but reception of the song by feminists throughout the years has given Gore’s hit an entirely new meaning. “You Don’t Own Me” is recognized and respected as a feminist anthem, that encouraged women of the 60s and encourages women of today to remain steadfast in the fight agaisnt patriarchial oppression and sexism. 

1968 Miss America Pageant 

  • In 1968, a group of radical feminists travelled to Atlantic City, New Jersey to protest the Miss America Pageant. These protestors were not mad at the women participating in the pageant, but rather unhappy with what they viewed the pageant to represent in relation to women and their role in society: victims of being objectified resulting in harmful ideas that perpetuate a beauty standard and limited roles in society . The protest at the pageant didn’t change the Miss America Pageant operations, as it still continues today, but instead highlights the beginning of sexism becoming a mainstream issue and feminism becoming a mainstream topic 

1960s: Text


  • Developments in contraception and budding ideas on what it meant to be a woman, encouraged more women to step out of their roles as caretakers and stay at home mothers and into looking for jobs in the public sphere. The 1960s saw a gradual rise in women taking up jobs in clerical, service, or professional industries. Between the 1950s and 1960s, employment of women rose to 35%, with participation of 6 million women entering the workforce.

1960s: Text
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