9 Things Women Couldn't Do In 1913 -- And 3 Things They Can't In 2013

It's Women's Equality Day, which is a good moment to take stock of how far we've come -- and the areas of our lives where we are not feeling the equality so much.

Gail Collins conveyed the former nicely in the New York Times column this weekend when she recalled signing up for a store credit card in her husband's name in what sounds like the early '70s. At that time, you see, credit card companies were totally, 100 percent cool with women charging all kinds of things -- as Betty Friedan observed in The Feminine Mystique in 1963, "Why is it never said that the really crucial function, the really important role that women serve as housewives is to buy more things for the house" -- but didn't trust the ladies to pay the bills, possibly because they weren't exactly encouraged to earn or have money of their own.

Collins' piece inspired us to do a brief survey of all of the things we couldn't have done if we were living a hundred years ago -- and what we still can't do 13 years into the third millennium.

In 1913, women couldn't:

1. Vote.
They won that right in 1920 when the 19th amendment passed. They could, however, hold public office. Susan Salter became the first female mayor in the U.S. when she ran for and won the mayorship of Argonia, Kansas in 1887. Women were elected to a state legislature for the first time in 1894 in the Colorado House of Representatives. The first female member of Congress, Jeanette Rankin, wasn't elected until 1917.

2. Have a credit cards in their own names.
It wasn't until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed in 1974 that card companies were no longer allowed to discriminate against potential card holders on the basis of sex.

3. Legally terminate a pregnancy.
That right arrived with Roe V. Wade in 1973.

4. Purchase the Pill.
It wasn't FDA approved until 1960.

5. Access emergency contraception.
The FDA approved it in 1998.

6. Attend Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth or Columbia.
The only Ivy League schools to admit women before 1913 were Cornell, which admitted a woman in 1870, and UPenn, which opened its doors to female students 1876.

7. Apply to graduate school as a married woman.
At least if you were this woman. Harvard's response to her application has to be seen to be believed.

8. Become an astronaut.
Granted, humans didn't make it to space until 1961. "We have no existing program concerning women astronauts nor do we contemplate any such plan," NASA allegedly replied to one woman's 1962 query letter. NASA selected its first female astronaut candidates in 1979.

9. Become a supreme court justice.
There was no law barring women from SCOTUS, but no president appointed a female justice until Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor in 1981.

In 2013, women still can't

1. Necessarily access legal abortion.
According to a recent HuffPost survey, over 50 abortion clinics in 27 states have shut their doors or stopped performing the service over the last three years as a result of laws that have made it difficult or impossible for the clinics to operate. And the 24-hour wait 26 states require between consultation and procedure make it difficult or impossible for lower income women -- those without easy access to a car -- to have abortions.

2. Have paid maternity leave.
... unless your employer is among the 16 percent of U.S. companies that choose to offer it to employees. The U.S. is the only developed country that doesn't require companies to cover parental leave.

3. See people of their gender equally represented in politics or at the top of U.S. companies.
Women hold 20 percent of seats in the Senate, 17.9 U.S. House seats and 23.1 percent of state level elective offices. Only 4 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are female.

Correction: This story previously listed "Purchase emergency contraception at a pharmacy without a prescription under age 17" as something women still can't do in 2013. Plan B brand emergency contraception is now available in pharmacies nationwide without a prescription and with no age restriction.



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