Second Wave Feminism: Collections

The second wave feminism movement took place in the 1960s and 1970s and focused on issues of equality and discrimination. Starting initially in the United States with American women, the feminist liberation movement soon spread to other Western countries. The historical primary sources available in Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive provide scholars with unique primary sources and documents through which to explore this era of feminism and understand how it fits with other liberation movements, from suffrage to modern feminism. Researchers can search the available materials to uncover details of the feminist movement across the years, from the early years of suffrage through the second wave and other twentieth century political movements.

Unfolding in the context of the anti-war and civil rights movement, the catalyst for second wave feminism was Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, which criticized the postwar belief that a woman’s role was to marry and bear children. Though her feminist thinking wasn’t revolutionary—indeed, there were many similar feminist thinkers before Friedan, including Simone de Beauvoir—The Feminine Mystique had a far greater reach, bringing feminism to the attention of everyday women, mothers, and housewives. The feminist movement took off, focusing on public and private injustices, such as rape, reproductive rights, domestic violence, and workplace harassment. Second wave feminists cared deeply about exposing and overcoming the casual, systemic racism present in society—unlike the suffragists and suffragettes of the nineteenth century, who focused largely on political equality through suffrage. Second wave feminists realized that women’s cultural and political inequalities were inextricably linked. They worked under a unifying goal of social equality, with sexuality and reproductive rights being central concerns to the liberation movement, and with much of the movement’s energy being focused on passing the Equal Rights Amendment.

Although the Equal Rights Amendment still hasn’t been ratified, second wave feminism had many successes. The approval of the contraceptive pill by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960 gave women more control over their reproductive rights—within five years, around 6 million women were using it. Feminists also worked and gained women the right to hold credit cards and apply for mortgages in their own name and outlawed marital rape. Awareness around domestic violence was raised, and gender and women’s studies departments were founded at universities and colleges. The passing of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, Title IX in 1972, and Roe v. Wade in 1973 were legislative victories for feminists.

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Though many feminists considered themselves liberal, or mainstream, and focused on concrete changes at an institutional, political, and governmental level, radical feminism was prevalent within the movement. These radical feminists aimed to completely restructure what they viewed as an inherently patriarchal society, often using drastic methods to do so. One example is the activists who demonstrated at the Miss America pageant, with the aim of the protest being to bring attention to the exploitation of women, both in the contest and in society as a whole.

This wave of feminism was largely defined and led by educated, middle-class white American women, so the movement was centered on issues affecting white women. Alienated women of color viewed white feminists as incapable of understanding their concerns. Black women became increasingly excluded from the central platforms of the mainstream women’s movement, which didn’t view the issues of women of color, such as stopping the forced sterilization of people of color and people with disabilities, as a priority.

Despite its problematic underrepresentation of women of color, which led to the rise of intersectionality in later waves, Second Wave Feminism is viewed as being characterized by a general feeling of solidarity among women who were fighting together for equality and was responsible for many legal and cultural victories that brought about greater equality, building on the work of first wave feminists and suffrage. Both the successes and the problems associated with the feminist movement during the 1960s and 1970s can be explored using the historical primary sources available in Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive, which is an essential resource for researchers seeking to understand the history of feminism and women’s experience.

  • Grassroots Feminist Organizations, Part 1: Boston Area Second Wave Organizations, 1968‒1998

    The archives of eight Boston-area second-wave organizations are represented, with materials on feminism spanning a period from 1968 to 1998. Figuring prominently are the documents from the Women’s Educational Center; the Women School; the Abortion Action Coalition; and the Boston chapter of Women Against Violence Against Women, which combated offensive representations of women in media. Materials include meeting minutes, records of personnel and finances, correspondence, newsletters, files regarding affiliated organizations and opposition groups, and course descriptions. The collection documents the wide range of issues Boston feminists tackled, such as domestic violence, racism, pornography, rape, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights. The Female Liberation, Boston Women’s Union, and Boston Area Feminist Coalition records highlight theoretical underpinnings of the feminist movement, especially socialist feminism.

    Both Boston and San Francisco were hubs of the feminism movement. This collection is an essential source for researchers examining second-wave feminism and other social movements in the United States during the period from 1968 to 1998.

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  • Grassroots Feminist Organizations, Part 2: San Francisco Women’s Building/Women’s Centers, 1972‒1998

    The materials from San Francisco detail the work of the first woman-owned-and-run women’s center in the United States from 1972 to 1998. Many of the files document the founding, planning, and daily administration of the center, including the building itself and its place in the surrounding community. The Women’s Building/Women’s Center housed or sponsored more than 100 projects and women’s groups. Documents highlight its extensive involvement with organizations that supported women from different countries, cultures, religions, races, and life circumstances. Other projects involved gay and lesbian rights; health care; legislation; reproductive rights; and even issues not explicitly connected with feminism and women’s rights, such as Central American intervention, AIDS, and affirmative action. The collection also details the many film, theater, poetry, music, and visual arts events hosted and sponsored by the organization. Materials include meeting minutes, financial records, correspondence, newsletters, records of center-related groups, and flyers about events and projects.

    Boston and San Francisco were hubs of the feminism movement. This collection is an essential source for researchers examining feminism and other social movements in the United States during the period from 1972 to 1998.

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  • Herstory Collection

    The Herstory Collection comprises full texts of journals, newspapers, and newsletters tracing the evolution of feminism and women’s rights movements in the United States and abroad from 1956 to 1974. Compiled by the Women’s History Library from materials donated by the organizations that published them, the collection includes documents from the National Organization for Women (NOW), Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Women Strike for Peace (WSP), and many other groups.

    Among the longest-running periodicals in the collection is The Ladder, the journal of the Daughters of Bilitis, which was the first organization in the United States specifically dedicated to lesbian civil and political rights. Issues include those from October 1956 to August 1971—nearly a complete run. Also featured are the newsletters of many local and regional chapters of the National Organization for Women, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Portland, Oregon, and many larger and smaller cities in between. Several newsletters are devoted to efforts to legalize abortion. Among these are the newsletters of the Women’s Ad-Hoc Abortion Coalition, the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws, and the Indiana Abortion Coalition. These texts date from 1969 to 1971 and provide unique insight into the activism leading to the 1973 Supreme Court decision in the case of Roe v. Wade.

    Researchers interested in the evolution of feminism and women’s rights in the late twentieth century will find this collection indispensable for its primary source materials on a wide range of topics, from equal pay and reproductive rights to the role of women in the peace movement.

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