Archive for the ‘All News’ Category
The medium of television dominated the American cultural landscape for half of the twentieth century. Its portrayal of women shaped perceptions of the feminine ideal even as attitudes about women and their roles in society changed. A few early stars achieved critical and financial success in shows that were for and about women. But television as an industry resisted including women on the business side and behind the scenes. It was not until women entered the general workforce in large numbers and demonstrated their power as consumers that women began to find a more welcoming climate.
It’s a numbers game
Television’s advantage over other forms of entertainment was the sheer number of people it reached. Radio, in its heyday, was massively popular. But within a decade of the first television network forming in 1948, radio quickly gave up scripted shows, reinventing itself as a destination for news, sports, talk, and music. Radio faded as a shared source of entertainment for the whole family when Rock and Roll took over the airways, and parents and teens discovered that neither could stomach the other’s musical choices.
Television learned most of its tricks from radio, particularly since the first TV networks were started and owned by radio networks. Their objective was to reach the most people with disposable income who would dispose of it on the sponsors’ products. The strategy was to divide listeners into audience categories and develop programs based on their perceived common interests. Serialized, romantic dramas were served to appeal to housewives during the day. Adventure stories starring comic book heroes came on in the afternoon as legions of boys arrived home from school. A mix of family entertainment, news, and cultural programs aired after dinner, when the family could watch together.
Advertisers underwrote programs targeted to their customer demographics. Toy, candy, and food companies underwrote children’s programs. Household goods—from appliances to cleaning supplies—were advertised on game shows and soap operas. A wider variety of commercials playing in the Prime Time after dinner included advertisement for cars, cigarettes, razers, and other “male” products. In exchange for expensive advertising, sponsors demanded data to back up the networks’ audience assumptions. A.C. Nielsen, an innovator in measuring radio audience size and demographics, introduced its television ratings index in 1952. Shows would live and die by the numbers.
Gertrude Berg created the character of Molly Goldberg—a Bronx housewife—for radio in 1929 and portrayed her on radio, television, film, and stage for more than 30 years. The Goldbergs debuted on CBS television in 1949, and A.C. Nielsen’s ratings placed it among the season’s top ten programs. Berg won an Emmy in 1951, the first year that acting awards were divided into male and female categories, prevailing over Betty White, Judith Anderson, Imogene Coca, and Helen Hayes.
The Goldbergs depicted an immigrant family adjusting to American society, with a strong thread of patriotism and upward mobility. Recognized as the forerunner of the situation comedy, the show today is lauded for its nuanced portrayal of American Jewish culture at a time when “ethnic” humor was often stereotypical if not outright racist. Berg exercised total control over her program through the production company she ran with her son Charney Berg.
Berg’s show would fall unexpected victim to the 1950’s changing political landscape. Berg’s television husband, co-star Philip Loeb, was accused of being a Communist sympathizer during the Hollywood red scare. Blacklisted as a result, sponsors and CBS demanded that Berg fire Loeb. She fought vigorously to keep him, but sponsor General Mills dropped its support and CBS cancelled the program. Berg worked for a year and a half to secure another sponsor who would keep Loeb in the cast. Finally, in 1952, having exhausted all her options she replaced Loeb and accepted a deal with NBC. The Goldbergs revival was short lived. Berg’s defense of Loeb and her hardline stance against the black list had damaged her with both the television industry and viewers. Whispers that she was a communist sympathizer, coupled with her liberal political leanings, dogged her attempts to revive her television career. The Goldbergs moved to NBC and then Dumont before being cancelled in 1954.
Help Wanted: Female Movie Stars Over 40
It wasn’t only radio stars who flocked to television. Female movie stars found a welcoming landing pad in the small screen. A generation of actresses who had risen to stardom in the 1930s and 1940s found themselves sidelined in the 1950s. Male film stars from the pre-television era continued to enjoy vibrant careers, and they assiduously avoided television. But aging female stars encountered a limited range of opportunities. Not only did film roles go to younger actresses, the roles themselves were not the same caliber of independent, strong characters that dominated before World War II.
Loretta Young was the first A-list movie star to headline a television series. Her friend David O. Selznick counseled her against joining the television “enemy” whose existence threatened the entire motion picture industry. Once she appeared on television, he warned, she would no longer be cast in films. Young, however, reasoned that, as a woman over 40, few movie scripts were coming her way as it was. Television represented a new medium in which to make an impact.
NBC, the smallest network, courted Young, seeing in her not only a name to attract audiences but also someone to raise television’s status. Young won an Academy Award in 1947 for her role in The Farmer’s Daughter. Audiences who had watched her in theaters since her film debut in 1917 happily invited her into their living rooms.
Young brought a singular, creative vision to her new program self-titled The Loretta Young Show. Young and her husband Tom Lewis formed the Lewislor production company, which exercised full creative and production control. Though Young technically held the title of associate producer, staff recollected afterwards there was no doubt about who was really in charge. Young’s creative goal was to dramatize ideas to integrate them into mainstream, popular culture. The anthology show featured different characters and stories each week, with Young starring in about half of the 30-minute programs. The storylines conveyed strong moral and religious messages that reflected Young’s deep, Catholic faith.
Though groundbreaking in many ways, including its sympathetic treatment of contemporary women’s issues, The Loretta Young Show found itself out of step with the times as the 1950s morphed into the 1960s. The Television Academy nominated Young for acting awards in each of her program’s seasons, and she won three times: in 1955, 1957, and 1959. However, her show never reached the heights of popularly. Its highest ratings came in 1954-55 when it was rated #28 and 1957-58 when it reached #30. Citing viewer mail that complained about Young’s conservative point of view, Proctor and Gamble dropped its sponsorship after the 1959-60 season. The company complained that the show was too focused on a narrow, conservative Catholic audience. Young later claimed the rift came over political differences. The show returned in 1960-61 with new sponsor Listerine, lasting for one more season before being cancelled by NBC.
Second Wave Feminism Meets the Second Wave of TV Stars
By the 1960s, television had become adept at creating programs that responded to social trends. The 1950’s television families reinforced a traditional view of the American family as white, middle-class, and suburban with mom and dad occupying their defined gender roles of breadwinner and homemaker. Westerns, with storylines that celebrated American individualism and the establishment of order on the chaos of the frontier, dominated the ratings in the late 1950s. As Cold War tensions escalated, spy shows proliferated across the television landscape.
As the leading edge of Baby Boomer women entered college in the 1960s, new television programs tentatively reflected an evolving social climate for women. The new generation of television women in the 1960s included That Girl Marlo Thomas. Thomas—daughter of television super star Danny Thomas and goddaughter of the incomparable Loretta Young— had enjoyed success on the stage and in minor television roles. Network executives, at the urging of sponsor Clairol shampoo, were eager to find a starring vehicle for Thomas. Clairol identified up-and-comer Thomas as the ideal messenger to their target market of young women. Thomas rejected several concepts as too boring and conventional before developing her own.
Thomas had read and was strongly influenced by Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963. She suggested using Friedan’s book as the foundation of the new show’s plot. She proposed a show chronicling the adventures of a young actress, newly arrived in New York, who takes on a series of jobs while working towards her big break. Thomas’ character was feisty and independent, and her attitudes mirrored the beginnings of the women’s movement. That Girl debuted in 1966. After five seasons on the air, producers urged that Thomas’ character marry her long-time boyfriend. Thomas refused, pointing out that her character was single and that marrying her off would make it appear as if marriage had been her character’s goal all along. Never breaking the top 30 in ratings and having run its course, the show ended in 1971. Thomas was nominated four times for acting Emmys for That Girl. She won the Golden Globe in 1967.
Programming for women and programming by women
That Girl was a role model for programs for and about women that would come later in the 1970s and 1980s. As increasing numbers of women entered paid employment, television advertisers in the 1970s discovered the purchasing power of a desirable, new demographic. In response, A.C. Nielsen added the category of “working women” to its demographics in 1976. Advertisers that had previously aimed their marketing efforts to women around household cleaning products and convenience foods, demanded that the networks develop shows to reach this new category of consumers.
Producers responded with programs that mirrored the target audience and their perceived values. Shows featured younger, liberal, and more urban characters. Their experiences as working women were depicted as normal rather than exceptional. Eve Arden’s school teacher character in Our Miss Brooks spent the run of the 1950s show pursuing a husband so that she could quit her job. But Mary Richards in the The Mary Tyler Moore Show focused on her career rather than her love life in the 1970s. In general, women’s roles in the 1970s represented a broader range of the female experience with women appearing as police officers, lawyers, doctors, journalists, and more.
The entrance of a new group of women producers and television executives helped move the development of empowered women characters. Women had been excluded from behind-the-scenes positions as producers, directors, and writers throughout television’s early years. A decision by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the early 1970s to investigate network hiring policies for women shifted the legal landscape. Legal pressure as well as changing audience demographics, created opportunities for a generation of women who would go on to produce more women-centric shows depicting women in a wider variety of situations.
The advent of cable television and niche programing encouraged producers to slice audiences into ever smaller demographic segments. Today, programming segments are no longer confined to hours of the day but rather to entire channels that produce shows that mirror their target audience’s lives, experiences, and aspirations. Programs do not need mass audiences to survive; they need a minimum number of the right audiences. The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film’s annual report on women in television, Women On Screen and Behind the Scenes in Television, points out that though women are a desirable demographic, they remain underrepresented in the business. 79% of the shows they studied featured more male than female cast members. Women made up only 26% of creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography. When women run the show, as a producer or creator, they cast more female characters and hire more women in production positions. But while today’s landscape is far from perfect, women’s presence both in front of and behind the camera is in striking contrast to television’s early days.
Want to learn more? Read “Women in Television: Promoting and Advocating for Change.”
Elizabeth L. Maurer
Director of Program
ABC News. “Chat Transcript: Loretta Young Biographer Joan Wester Anderson.” ABC News. 2016. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=124146.
Alley, Robert S., and Irby B. Brown. 2001. Women television producers: transformation of the male medium. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.
“Research.” Center for the Study of Women in Television Film. Accessed September 20, 2016. http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/research/.
Fishman Orlins, Susan. “Before Lucy And Oprah, There Was Gertrude” Jewish Journal News. July 2, 2009. Accessed September 20, 2016. http://www.jewishjournal.com/film/article/before_lucy_and_oprahthere_was_gertrude_20090701/.
Gregory, Mollie. 2002. Women who run the show: how a brilliant and creative new generation of women stormed Hollywood. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
“Nielsen Ratings.” Wikipedia. Accessed September 19, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nielsen_ratings.
Roman, James W. 2005. From daytime to primetime: the history of American television programs. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.
Smith, Glenn D. 2007. “Something on my own”: Gertrude Berg and American broadcasting, 1929-1956. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press.
“History of the Television Academy.” Television Academy. Accessed September 21, 2016. http://www.emmys.com/academy/about/history.
“It defies culture in so many ways. It affects the way we see ourselves and the way we are seen by others. It gets into the DNA of how we treat each other, the policies we make, what we’re able to say and do to each other. For there only to be one dominant voice determining what’s said and saying it is something that all like-minded people who believe in the dignity of everyone should be concerned about.” – Ava DuVernay
By Melissa Hougton
The narrative of women working behind the camera in television is one that begins with pioneering women directors like Joan Darling (the first female director nominated for an Emmy Award), Joan Tewkesbury, Lesli Linka Glatter, Randa Haines, Martha Cooley, Elaine May, and Ida Lupino. It continues with powerhouses Shonda Rhimes, Ava DuVernay, Mindy Kaling, Elizabeth Meriwether, Courtney Kemp Agboh, Lena Dunham, Jenni Konner, Tina Fey, Jenji Kohan, and Julie Plec.
Historically, women have been underrepresented behind the camera, and often left out of television roles that are complex and powerful. The 2016 Boxed In study from the San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film reports that these trends continue today: 9 percent of male characters were portrayed as leaders, compared to only 5 percent of female characters. Ninety-one percent of shows across screen-based platforms employed no women directors, 76 percent had no women creators, and 71 percent no female writers (Lauzen; Boxed In).
Changing the Ecosystem
It is possible to change these dismal statistics. As more women fill above-the-line roles in television, they can employ other women and write more diverse and relatable roles for women. Director/screenwriter Ava DuVernay recently hired only women as directors for OWN’s new TV series, QUEEN SUGAR. These directors, So Yong Kim, Neema Barnette (the first black woman to direct an episode of sitcom television), Kat Candler, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Victoria Mahoney, and Tanya Hamilton have all booked other gigs because of this opportunity. ()
Geena Davis, who was the first woman to depict the U.S. President on TV and founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, reasons that the answer to shaking up the gender divide in film and in television roles is to simply write more women into scripts, as lead and minor characters (Davis; Make Hollywood Less Sexist). This idea is being explored more explicitly by actress Rose McGowan, whose production company, Damage Inc., is partnering with Series Fest to help sponsor emerging female writers who are writing episodic content about, for, and featuring women. “Society is in dire need of voices that are not from within the Hollywood ecosystem” (Sandberg; Rose McGowan and Series Fest).
Along with representation disparities, women suffer from pay disparity. In 1979, a group of crusaders known as “The Original Six” called Hollywood studio’s to task when they formed the Women’s Steering Committee at the Directors Guild of America.
The original committee founders, Susan Bay Nimoy, Nell Cox, Joelle Dobrow, Dolores Ferraro, Victoria Hochberg, and Lynne Littman, started their activism when only 0.5 percent of all films and TV shows were directed by women. Their research led to a gender discrimination suit against Warner Brothers and Columbia Pictures in 1983 that was dismissed on a technicality in 1985. That dismissal continues to have economic ramifications for women. The Directors Guild rewards “points” to directors who work on films; this determines the amount of their pensions and health benefits upon retirement. If you don’t have an equal opportunity to work, you don’t have an equal opportunity for a well-pensioned retirement (Syme, The Original Six).
Gillian Anderson was shocked to realize that pay disparity was still an issue when she revealed in The Hollywood Reporter recently that she was offered half of her co-star’s pay to reprise her role as “Scully” on the X-FILES revival. While Anderson eventually received equal pay for the series, she has become more of an activist for equal compensation (Rich; Gillan Anderson Fought Inequality).
What About the News?
Non-fiction media doesn’t have a better record when it comes to equal opportunity. The Women’s Media Center reported in 2014 that 63 percent of men receive byline credits, and while some broadcast television outlets have women as primary anchors, the news is still reported by men 60 percent of the time. One should wonder if this influences the news we receive.
With the explosion of on-screen content and new distributors such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, there should be more opportunities for women working in television, and for audiences clamoring to see more inclusiveness in media.
Currently, women have renewed their protest for equal opportunities on both sides of the camera, but it may be up to audiences and consumers to vote with their eyes and pocketbooks and support the programs and depictions that represent their experiences.
Why should we be content when the stories of half the population are disregarded or told by people with little actual experience of those stories?
Want to learn more? Read “Tuning in to Women on Television.”
Melissa Hougton is executive director of Women in Film and Video DC office. Special thanks to Gabrielle Mitchell (George Mason University) and Read Masino (Georgetown University) for their research for this article.
Gertz, Matt. Stagnant American Newsroom Diversity In Charts. N.p., 2013. Web. 15 Sept. 2016. < A census done by ASNE reveals that women in newsrooms have never exceeded 38% (Stagnant American Newsrooms).>.
Davis, Geena. Geena Davis Two Easy Steps to Make Hollywood Less Sexist. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/geena-davis-two-easy-steps-664573>.
Desta, Yohana. Ava DuVernay and Queen Sugar Look Like the Future of Television. Vanity Fair, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2016. <http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/09/ava-duvernay-queen-sugar-interview>.
Lauzen, Martha M. Boxed In 2015-16: Women On Screen and Behind the Scenes in Television. N.p., 2016. Web. 15 Sept. 2016. <http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/files/2015-16-Boxed-In-Report.pdf>.
Rich, Katey. How Gillian Anderson Fought Inequality on The X-Files Twice, and Won. Vanity Fair, n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2016. <http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/01/gillian-anderson-x-files-equal-pay>.
Sandberg, Elise. Rose McGowan and SeriesFest Partner on Women’s Script Competition. The Hollywood Reporter, n.d. Web. 2016. <http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/rose-mcgowan-seriesfest-partner-womens-915514>.
Syme, Rachel. The Original Six: The Story of Hollywood’s Forgotten Feminist Crusaders. Pacific Standard, 2016. Web. Sept. 2016.<https://psmag.com/the-original-six-the-story-of-hollywood-s-forgotten-feminist-crusaders-54002cf57d0e#.vo2j2s4gt>.
 See IMDB for more information about the directors of Queen Sugar – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4419214/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast
Organization Enhances Strategic Leadership with Public, Private and Nonprofit Expertise
Washington, D.C. – The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) is pleased to announce the addition of six new members to its board of directors: Molly Bordonaro, Jon Bouker, Mari Snyder Johnson, Cheri Kaufman, Julie Smolyansky and Joan Walker. The board provides leadership for delivering on NWHM’s mission to build a world-class museum on the National Mall that educates, inspires, empowers and shapes the future by integrating women’s distinctive stories into the culture and history of the United States.
“NWHM is pleased to have these accomplished members join our board at this exciting time in our evolution,” said NWHM Board Chair Susan Whiting. “These new board members bring their valuable expertise from the worlds of government relations, communications and marketing, community engagement, nonprofit strategy and business, as well as a firm commitment to ensuring women’s contributions to American history are included in our national narrative.”
About NWHM’s New Board Members
Molly Bordonaro served as the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Malta from 2005-2009, becoming the first American diplomat to receive Malta’s highest award, the Medal of Honor or Gieh ir Reublicka, for significant contributions to Malta and the Mediterranean region. She has also served as a member of the U.S. Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women in Science and Technology, a board member of Portland State University’s Center for Real Estate, and as a member of the board of directors of the Fannie Mae Corporation.
Jon Bouker is a long-time government relations leader with extensive experience in the U.S. Congress, who brings his expertise in legislation, business relations and economic development. As co-practice group leader of Arent Fox’s government relations practice, he represents clients before Congress, The White House and federal agencies, particularly the General Services Administration. Jon also served as chief counsel and legislative director to Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and minority counsel to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
Mari Snyder Johnson is a business executive and CEO specializing in diverse entrepreneurial opportunities, an executive producer for both feature and documentary films and a passionate activist for socially conscious causes. She brings media and business management experience as well as legislative relationships and acumen. Prior to joining NWHM’s board, Mari served as an advisor to the organization’s president, Joan Wages, where she helped advance passage of the legislation that established the commission to study the feasibility of a National Women’s History Museum on the National Mall.
As a business executive, Cheri Kaufman raised funds for non-profit organizations such as PS1, American Cancer Society and New York Partnership Association. As one of the founding partners of Kaufman Astoria Studios, she played a crucial role in starting the studio on the successful path to its prominent place today in the New York film and television industry. Cheri raised significant funds for financing and was in charge of construction cost and design, leading the campaign to restore the historic facility, which today encompasses an 18-acre campus, and is a recognized leader in New York film production. She headed the studio’s advertising and public relations and participated in leasing studio space to major corporate clients (i.e. Lifetime Cable, Paramount, Universal Pictures). Under her initiative, all the studio’s sound stages are named after women who filmed there, including Diana Ross, Claudette Colbert and Helen Hayes. Kaufman currently serves as Vice President of Lifeline Organization of New York, and is also a member of the UN Women for Peace Committee and is a board member of the MoMA. She is also Founder and CEO of CiGive.
Julie Smolyansky became the youngest female CEO of a publicly held firm when she assumed that role at Lifeway Foods at age 27, and brings a successful track record in business and social advocacy to the Museum’s board. Julie bolstered Lifeway’s growth trajectory with innovative product development and marketing strategies, boosting annual revenues to more than $130 million by 2015 and expanded distribution throughout the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. She is a member of the United Nations Foundation Global Entrepreneurs Council and part of the 2015 class of Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum.
Joan Walker brings more than 25 years of experience in major corporations, leading world-class communications and marketing functions, building reputation leadership and brand strength to drive corporate performance. She combines research, marketing and strategic communications expertise and insights to support companies and their leadership teams through times of change, including M&A transactions, CEO transitions and corporate crisis. Most recently, Joan served as EVP Corporate Relations and Interim CMO for The Allstate Corporation. There she developed and led the company’s Reputation Leader- ship Strategy and Consumer-Focused Reinvention — initiatives that transformed the company into four distinct customer segments, each with a unique value proposition that achieved successful market outcomes. Prior to Allstate, Joan served as EVP at both Monsanto and Qwest Communications, where she helped her former Ameritech CEO lead the firm through a time of acute crisis.
“We could not be prouder of the board we have assembled and are confident that their experience and skills will be a great asset to the Museum,” said NWHM President and CEO Joan Wages. “They bring a variety of experiences and backgrounds that strengthen our strategic leadership and will help us achieve our vision of a world-class museum dedicated to incorporating women’s stories into American history.”
Team USA’s 2016 Rio Summer Olympic roster includes 292 women among its 555 members, the largest number to have ever competed for any country. This is a tremendous evolution from the very first modern Olympics in 1896, which excluded women. The Olympics’ founding organizer, Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, envisioned a festival celebrating men’s sporting achievements. Popular culture promoted sports competitions as an outlet for men’s aggression that also encouraged moral fortitude. Because women were supposed to be neither aggressive nor competitive, Coubertin and his fellow organizers intended that women’s Olympic participation be limited to spectator.
Women Enter Olympic Competition
While women missed the first games in 1896, they appeared in the second and third. The 1900 Olympic games were held concurrently with the Paris World’s Fair. While women were not specifically included, they were not explicitly excluded. Seven American women competed in tennis and golf. Margaret Abbott won the women’s golf contest, becoming the first American woman to win first place in an Olympic event.
The third Olympics was held in St. Louis in 1904, also during a World’s Fair. The United States provided the vast majority of athletes. Six American women—the only female athletes to attend—competed in archery, the only event open to women. Medals were first awarded in 1904, and Lida Scott Howell won three gold.
Making it Official
The London games in 1908 were the first to officially sanction women’s participation. National sports governing bodies and federations sanction athletic competitions and select Olympic national teams. While the American Olympic Committee refused to send women athletes in 1908, European women competed in tennis, archery, and figure skating.
The International Swimming Federation (ISF) first sanctioned women’s competitive swimming events in 1910, opening the door to women’s participation at the 1912 Stockholm games. America’s female swimmers did not compete in Stockholm because their sports governing body, the American Athletic Union (AAU), did not sanction women’s competitive swimming until 1914. No U.S. women competed at the 1912 games.
The 1916 games were cancelled during World War I making the 1920 games in Belgium the first to host American women since 1904. American women competed in swimming, diving, and figure skating. Aileen Riggin, the youngest athlete on the U.S. team at age 14, won a gold medal in diving. Ethelda Bleibtrey became the first American woman to win an Olympic swimming title.
Competitive Women Meet Resistance
Women’s athletics enjoyed immense popularity in the U.S. during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By 1920, 22% of colleges and universities offered women’s athletic programs, and secondary school physical education was compulsory in nearly every state. A growing number of club teams and company-sponsored teams widened women’s sports opportunities.
As women’s competitive opportunities expanded, women athletes met an unanticipated source of resistance. In 1922 the National Women’s Track Athletic Association petitioned the AAU to sanction women’s events. The AAU voted to become the governing body for women’s track and field; however, the women who ran girls and women’s physical education programs in schools and colleges strongly protested.
Women physical education teachers, who predominantly taught girls and women, deeply objected to women’s competitive sports. Their philosophy of women’s athletics emphasized physical fitness and mass participation. Competition, they argued, was counterproductive. It funneled resources to a small number of elite athletes at the expense of scores of girls and women who would reap health benefits from participation. Moreover, competition made games less fun, discouraging girls. Starting in the 1930s, women’s competitive sports were gradually all but eliminated at the collegiate level to be replaced with game days and exercise classes.
Falling Behind in the Medal Count
The dearth of women’s collegiate athletic programs narrowed the U.S. Olympic team’s pool of potential athletes even as the IOC increased the number of women’s sports. Women turned to club and company-sponsored teams as outlets. However, the lack of access to skilled coaching and higher level training adversely affected women’s results in international competitions, including the Olympics.
Sports governing bodies grew increasingly concerned through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s over U.S. women’s weak showing against Eastern bloc countries. The Olympics had become a Cold War battlefield, and the East was winning. While Eastern bloc countries doped athletes to improve conditioning, they also created state-run training programs designed to produce winners. U.S. women, lacking an organized system of training and support, were simply out-matched in many events.
Title IX Evens the Playing Field
The year 1972 marked a turning point in women’s athletics. Title IX mandated that girls have equal opportunity as boys for sports participation. It immediately expanded the number of competitive slots for girls and women, facilitating their development into elite athletes. Before Title IX, fewer than 30,000 women were collegiate athletes, rising to 190,000 in 2012. Many of them, like star soccer forward Abby Wambach (University of Florida) and swimmer Natalie Coughlin (University of California, Berkeley), distinguished themselves and their alma maters in international competition.
Female Olympic athletes continue to make strides. The 2012 U.S. team in London was the first to include more women than men. U.S. women brought home 58 medals, to the men’s 45. Getting in the game is the first step to winning.
Interested in learning more? Visit the Olympic Timeline.
Elizabeth L. Maurer
Director of Program
- Barra, Allen. “Before and After Title IX: Women in Sports.” Accessed August 4, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/06/17/opinion/sunday/sundayreview-titleix-timeline.html?_r=0#/#time12_264.
- Fuller, Linda K. (1987). Olympics access for women: athletes, organizers and sport journalists. In, Jackson, R. and T. McPhail, (Eds.), The Olympic movement and the mass media: past, present and future issues, Calgary: Hurford Enterprises, 4/9 – 4/18
- “Olympic Games | Britannica.com.” Accessed August 5, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/sports/Olympic-Games.
- Smith, Lissa. Nike Is a Goddess: The History of Women in Sports. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999.
- Waldron, Travis. “Title IX And The Success Of Women At The Olympics.” ThinkProgress, August 10, 2012. http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2012/08/10/674531/title-ix-and-the-success-of-women-at-the-olympics/.
- Woolum, Janet. Outstanding Women Athletes: Who They Are and How They Influenced Sports in America. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998.
By Bonnie Morris, Ph.D.
Reprinted from A Different Point of View Winter 2012
Nineteenth century America idealized white woman’s modesty, frowning on sports as a threat to elite females’ fertility. This double standard persisted long after slavery was abolished: elite women did not exert themselves; their [female] servants did. Yet there were few sporting outlets for poor women who had athletic gifts and aspirations. Instead, the elite women’s colleges and the country clubs associated with the wealth and leisure of the Gilded Age made certain sports acceptable for aristocratic ladies: tennis, croquet, archery, and bathing-beauty swimming at racially restricted lakes or beaches.
In Coming on Strong, historian Susan Cahn notes that these endeavors were also more socially acceptable because they required elaborate outfits, stamping an assurance of femininity onto competitors in costume. Healthful beauty, not aggression or the personal/political desire to triumph over competitors, remained the watchword for active women–with the interesting exception of field hockey, an often bruising sport legitimized as girlish because of its association with boarding schools for daughters of the elite.
The Scientific Reason
Medical authorities dating back to Aristotle declared that women were basically ruled by their reproductive systems, with a limited amount of “energy” flowing through the body that monthly hormonal expenditure used up in dangerous quantities to begin with. Too much study or, heaven forbid, bicycle riding and other unladylike sports would render nice women infertile; nineteenth-century campaigns against higher education for women sounded very much like campaigns to prevent women from taking part in active sports.
Anti-college campaigns also had clear racial and class overtones: women who graduated from the Seven Sisters colleges were indeed less likely to reproduce, but this had more to do with the lure of professional service careers [such as teaching and nursing] which required women to remain unmarried. Still, the popular connection between higher education and spinsterhood led to notions that learning, like sport, “desexed” women; even President Theodore Roosevelt [not incidentally an advocate of sports and warfare-based manliness] believed that America’s oldest white families were conspiring to commit “race suicide” by sending their next generation of daughters to college.
As nineteenth-century America honed white masculinity through warfare and capitalism, baseball and basketball, it also restricted women’s competition in public spheres of sports and politics by retaining inconsistent ideals about females’ innate ability to endure pain, injury, and manual labor. In textile mills and factories, women and children worked unregulated hours in life-threatening conditions; the sacred role of “mother” was violated every time a female slave suffered the sale of her children for someone else’s profit; in 1885 the “age of consent” for a girl child to be pushed into sexual union with an adult male was ten years old in 36 states, and seven years old in Delaware. It was legally permissible for any man to beat his wife and kids. Clearly, socially sanctioned ideals of protecting women and children from harm have always had some gaps.
Most women had to be tough to survive–to survive as mothers, child brides, farm wives, sharecroppers, factory girls, millhands, pioneers. But where physical endurance was a highly sought-after quality in farmwives, strength on the home front was separate from an athletic identity. No one denied the muscular effort involved in carrying a child and giving birth; it was public athletic performance by women and girls that was condemned as immodest, selfish, and attention-seeking, the trinity of bad-girl behaviors. And athletic risks undertaken in prime childbearing years were seen as foolhardy.
Physical stress was common for rural homemakers who ran a household or family farm with few labor-saving devices or hired hands. Their daily workload rivaled the bricklaying or haybaling assigned to the strongest men; but rural and small-town wives rarely had their femininity impugned, as long as their “athletic” chores entailed proper domestic duties: scrubbing floors, wringing laundry, ironing, lifting children, tending animals, hauling water, gardening, canning, even splitting wood and dressing freshly slaughtered game. From this Midwestern demographic of bulging female arm muscles came the first female softball players and, ultimately, the All-American Girls Baseball League of World War II. Our collective national memory is slowly erasing images of those American women, black and white, who grew up farming or going out to work at age six. (My grandmother Mia could split an apple in two with her bare hands, a casual act of kitchen athletic power that delighted me as a kid.)
First Female Athletes
Who were the first female athletes embraced by Americans? What allowed them to break through restrictive cautions and conditions? When the modern Olympics were brought back in 1896, women were not allowed to compete until 1920 [with a special "Women's Olympics" convening in 1922 and well into the 1930s.]
Scholar Susan Cahn suggests that country club sports like tennis and swimming, with their leisure-class and feminine-fashion associations, allowed white heroines like Helen Wills and Gertrude Ederle to capitalize on the flapper era’s love affair with sophisticated outdoorswomen: “They helped fashion a new ideal of womanhood by modeling an athletic, energetic femininity with an undertone of explicit, joyful sexuality.”
With American racism at extraordinary levels–despite the Harlem Renaissance, the 1920s saw the century’s highest levels of Ku Klux Klan membership, with ongoing lynchings–few if any tennis courts or park pools were open to black athletes, male or female. Thus as white swimmers brought home Olympic gold, and white tennis beauty queens made headlines, African-American “race girls” brought pride to their own communities by defeating white teams at track and basketball meets. This pattern of white celebrity athletes vs. grassroots local heroines heralded only by their own [minority] communities remained in place for decades, further obscuring how many women and girls were, in fact, committed to sports.
The association of sport with “rough” girls also continued through the Depression and the 1940s, due to industrial factory softball leagues and the segregated track world of black female athletes. But after the U.S. entry into World War II, gender codes changed to permit and reward muscular competence in war factories’ “Rosie the Riveter” workers (and WAC recruits.) Wartime America embraced an unlikely symbol of victory: the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Though all-white, and requiring strict obedience to absurd standards of femininity in dress, curfews and hairstyles, the League is now praised as radical for its day. Penny Marshall’s 1992 blockbuster “A League of Their Own” and Janis Taylor’s less famous but more authentic documentary “When Diamonds Were A Girl’s Best Friend” make plain the League’s selling point, conceived by Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley–that his “girls” would play like men but look like ladies. The contrast, and the presentation of strong-armed women as a wartime emergency resource not unlike the Navy’s WAVES, made escapist entertainment profitable. Since the League continued until 1954–an eleven-year run–it would be inaccurate to say it ended soon after the men returned from war and women were urged out of factories and ballparks and back to the home. But that social shift certainly influenced the League’s postwar wane, along with other factors such as boys-only Little League, the advent of television, and Cold War dramatization of American femininity vs. Soviet women’s mannishness in the 1950s Olympics.
I regularly bring in my parents’ high school yearbooks from Fairfax and Los Angeles High of the mid-1950s; while my parents’ soon-to-be celebrity classmates Dustin Hoffman and Jack Kemp were lettering in track and football, respectively, girls had exactly two choices: join the Neptunettes [be like Esther Williams!] or the Bowlerinas [and meet boys at the malt shop later!]. Most importantly, the 1950s introduced television, which would soon broadcast ballgames, sports-themed commercials, and images of a race and gender-stratified America no patriot of the McCarthy era was supposed to question. Television made possible a national rejoicing in U.S. sports heroes once only glimpsed in movie shorts (or at actual games).
This rapid-fire social history of attitudes towards women’s domestic duties and reproductive health in the years before Title IX are a must for my students–many of whom had no idea that, for instance, ballparks and beaches–the very waves of America’s oceanfronts–were off-limits to black men and women, or that as late as 1967 Boston Marathon officials could declare all women physiologically incapable of running 26 miles. What I teach in my sports history class is how national history shapes physical standards for us all.
In such countless ways, America wasted its real athletic potential. And then, in 1972, buoyed by the successes of the civil rights and feminist movements and political mandates to end segregation, women stepped up to the plate. And Title IX became law.
I am delighted to offer this sample mini-lecture from my women’s sports history class, which I’ve taught every year at both Georgetown and George Washington University since 1996.
Dr. Morris has written 13 books on a variety of women’s history topics, more information about her and her work can be found here: http://www.bonniejmorris.com.
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 Mary Odem, Delinquent Daughters. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995; pp. 13-16.
 Cahn, Coming on Strong, p. 47.
The Democratic party dominated US politics in the first half of the 19th century, winning all but two of the presidential elections between 1828 and 1856. At mid-century, the issue of slavery and its expansion into new territories fractured the party. It opened the door to the newly established Republican party and Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election win. It would be seventy years before the Democrats regained dominance. They did so with the help of women.
Party Dominates Politics Until Civil War
The Republican party emerged as the Civil War’s political victor. While Democrats and Republicans traded Congressional majorities for the remainder of the 19th century, the White House proved elusive to Democrats. Democrats formed women’s groups during election years but dissolved them between election cycles, in contrast to Republican women who established on-going, active clubs starting in the 1880s. The socially conservative Democratic party expressed wary discomfort with women’s on-going engagement in public, political activities.
After the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, both parties developed strategies to mobilize women voters. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) recruited Emily Newell Blair in 1922 to organize a Women’s Division. Blair re-activated the moribund network of Democratic women’s clubs across the country, reconstituting them as political education forums. She organized speaker’s bureaus, produced a newsletter, and mailed a million educational leaflets. Blair reported organizing 1,000 local women’s Democratic clubs before the 1924 presidential election, bringing thousands of women into the party.
In spite of Blair’s efforts, presidential candidate John W. Davis was overwhelmingly defeated by Republican Calvin Coolidge in 1924. The DNC suspended its national operations following the devastating returns. Blair transferred her operations to the private Woman’s National Democratic Club (WNDC), along with the DNC’s physical records, which the party could no longer store after giving up its headquarters. For the next four years, the DNC relied on the WNDC for organizational support.
Resurrecting the Party
The Democrat’s 1928 presidential candidate, Al Smith, also lost to his Republican rival—Herbert Hoover. However, Smith’s savvy appointment of John J. Raskob as the new DNC chair proved key to reversing the party’s fortunes. Raskob, a brilliant fundraiser, not only retired over a million dollars in campaign debt, he also reconstituted the DNC’s professional organization. He revived the Women’s Division, hiring Nellie Tayloe Ross—the country’s first female state governor—as director. Sue White replaced Ross in 1930. Working in tandem with the WNDC, White developed a national outreach program. Before the June 1932 national convention, the network contacted women in 2,600 of 3,000 US counties including all the counties in 22 states. Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Hoover in 1932, securing the presidency with 57% of the popular vote and sweeping in Senate and House majorities.
Roosevelt recognized the Women’s Division’s pivotal role in his success and made it a permanent department in the DNC. He appointed Mary “Molly” Dewson as its new head. Dewson was a New York political ally as well as a close associate of Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt had recruited Dewson to work on FDR’s 1930 gubernatorial and 1932 presidential campaigns and knew her to be a supreme organizer.
Bringing in the Women
Dewson reached outside the party structure to build support among traditionally unaffiliated voters, including women. Saying “elections are won between campaigns,” Dewson developed a voter education program aimed at women. She urged local women’s clubs to appoint members as Reporters to keep abreast of New Deal programs and explain their impact at club meetings. In this way, she by-passed news organizations, many of which were critical of the New Deal, and ensured that people at the grassroots level would be informed of the benefits and impacts of government programs. By 1940, the program involved more than 30,000 women.
Dewson also focused on recognizing and rewarding loyal women party members. She capitalized on her relationships with both Roosevelts to establish a pipeline of women to appointed government positions. Dewson lobbied Roosevelt to appoint Frances Perkins as the first female cabinet secretary, heading up the Department of Labor. Dewson also secured appointments for the first female judge on the US Court of Appeals (Florence Allen, Sixth Circuit); first female Assistant Secretary of the Treasury (Marion Glass Banister); and the first woman Director of the US Mint (Nellie Tayloe Ross). Dewson herself was appointed to the Social Security Administration in 1937. Dewson did not neglect the party’s grassroots. She successfully secured new party rules requiring equal representation of men and women in leadership roles throughout the DNC.
A New Party for a New Era
Dewson’s efforts to bring women into the Democratic Party and reward their contributions paid off. During the 1936 election, more than 80,000 women canvassed door to door for Democratic candidates and distributed 83 million fliers. Sixty percent of the electorate voted for Roosevelt, the largest margin of victory since 1820. The army of women Dewson and her predecessors brought into the party helped to maintain Democratic control through five presidential elections.
The Democratic party transformed itself in the 1920s and 1930s. Women were key. The 19th-century party staunchly adhered to limited government. During the Depression, the party—with the assistance of Democratic women—redefined the relationship of government to the people, encouraging a more activist position. They transformed government into an instrument of change. While the extent of government’s role in enacting social and welfare policies continues to be debated, the belief that government has a role is settled.
Elizabeth L. Maurer
Director of Program
Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Democratic Party”, accessed July 18, 2016, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Democratic-Party.
Freeman, Jo. 2002. A room at a time: how women entered party politics. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.
Gerring, John. A Chapter in the History of American Party Ideology: The Nineteenth-Century Democratic Party (1828-1892). Polity, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Summer, 1994), pp. 729-168.
Krook, Mona Lena, and Sarah Childs. 2010. Women, gender, and politics: a reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Leuchtenburg, William E. 1995. The FDR years: on Roosevelt and his legacy. New York: Columbia University Press.
O’Dea, Suzanne. 1999. From suffrage to the Senate: an encyclopedia of American women in politics. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.
Ware, Susan. 1981. Beyond suffrage, women in the New Deal. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Though 19th-century women could not vote, they could and did align with political parties and ideologies. Average citizens demonstrated their partisan loyalties at rallies and public celebrations. And, this included women. The parties actively encouraged women’s personal allegiance. Being barred from political activity did not deter women’s political inclinations.
Founding the GOP
On March 20, 1854 “50 men, 3 women, and 1 child” met in a small, frame schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin to discuss the creation of a new political party. A party to stand firm against the spread of slavery into the new western territories. They chose the name “Republican.”
Newspaper editor Horace Greely embraced the name as appropriate for “those who had united to restore the Union to its true mission of champion and promulgator of Liberty rather than propagandist of slavery.” Within six short years, the Republican party had achieved national status by electing its first president, Abraham Lincoln.
Party of Social Reform Attracts Women Activists
True to its antislavery foundation, the Republican party established itself as the national party of reform. Its antislavery stance attracted activist women to the party before the Civil War. Moreover, the party supported woman suffrage, endearing itself to reformers like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone, who self-identified as Republicans.
Acknowledgment of women in the party’s platforms in the 1870s and the creation of a Republican women’s auxiliary in the late 1880s kept women in the Republican fold after slavery ceased to be a political issue. Judith Ellen Foster founded the Woman’s National Republican Association in 1888, declaring that “woman is politics.” She challenged women to engage in partisan politics in order to reform society, which was a woman’s role. She built the WNRA into a substantial unit of the Republican party, and its members advocated for Republican candidates each election cycle.
Elects First Female Congresswoman in 1916
The first woman elected to federal office represented the Republican party. Montana voters elected Jeanette Rankin in 1916 as one of their first two members of the U.S. House of Representatives. They sent her four years before the 19th Amendment granted voting rights to U.S. women.
“I may be the first woman member of Congress,” she observed upon her election in 1916. “But I won’t be the last.” Rankin shepherded the woman suffrage amendment through Congress and rejoiced at its passage.
The Republican National Committee’s (RNC) Executive Committee formed a women’s advisory committee in 1918. The Committee was charged with advising the Republican National Committee on women’s issues. Anticipating that the 19th amendment would pass before the November 1920 national elections, the RNC was particularly interested in recommendations for party reforms that would solidify the Republican party as the home for the newly enfranchised female electorate. Women were invited to full RNC membership in 1924. That year 120 women sat as delegates at the Republican Convention, accounting for 11% of the total.
First Major Party to Consider Nominating a Woman for President of the United States … 1964
Perhaps it is not surprising, given its long history with women, that the first woman whose name was placed into nomination by a major party for the presidency was Republican Margaret Chase Smith. Chase Smith represented the state of Maine in Congress for 34 years, first in the House of Representatives and later in the Senate. She was the first woman elected to the Senate in her own right. Chase Smith brought 27 delegates to the 1964 Republican convention. President John F. Kennedy said of her in 1963, “I would think if I were a Republican candidate, I would not look forward to campaigning against Margaret Chase Smith in New Hampshire, or as a possible candidate for President. … She is a very formidable political figure.”
Carrying on Traditions
Republican women have carried on the tradition of public service to the present. Three Republican women followed in Chase Smith’s footsteps by running for president. Elizabeth Hanford Dole ran in 1998. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota)—the first woman to win the Iowa straw poll—in 2011. And Carly Fiorina entered a crowded Republican primary race for the 2016 election. Twenty-two Republican women served in the U.S. House of Representatives and six in the Senate in the 114th Congress. Three women serve as state governors in 2016. Today’s Republican women stand on the shoulders of 164 years of GOP political women.
Elizabeth L. Maurer
Director of Program
Return to this page the week of July 25, 2016 to learn about Democratic women.
Congressional Record, V. 150, Pt. 3, February 26, 2004 to March 10, 2004. Government Printing Office
“CAWP | Center for American Women and Politics.” CAWP | Center for American Women and Politics. Accessed July 13, 2016. http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/.
“Women in Politics.” by Mrs. Judith Ellen Horton Foster (1840-1910). Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman’s Building, World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 668-669. http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/eagle/congress/foster.html. Accessed July 13, 2016
Freeman, Jo. 2002. A room at a time: how women entered party politics. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.
Gustafson, Melanie Susan. 2001. Women and the republican party, 1854-1924. Urbana, Ill: University of Illinois Press.
Harvey, Anna L. 1998. Votes without leverage: women in American electoral politics, 1920-1970. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rymph, Catherine E. 2006. Republican women: feminism and conservatism from suffrage through the rise of the new right. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.
“The Origins of the Republican Party.” Ushistory.org. Accessed July 13, 2016. http://www.ushistory.org/gop/origins.htm.