Women Empowerment: Succeeding in a Male-Dominated World

Voter, soldier, doctor, senator, CEO, astronaut, U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Today, one might not pause even a moment at the thought of a woman holding any of those titles. But it was not always so. As few as 35 years ago no woman had reached a position on the Supreme Court and or flown into space.

Less than a century ago, women in the United States did not have the right to vote. And less than 50 years ago, there had never been an African American woman elected to Congress.

Here are just a few of women’s milestones in history – some distant, some within living memory.

  • In the mid 1700s in colonial America, Lydia Chapin Taft became the first woman to legally vote with the consent of the electorate, casting votes at town meetings in New England after her husband’s death.
  • It wasn’t until 1869 that Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton brought the National Women’s Suffrage Association into existence. And it would still require decades of hard work before women would receive the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
  • The first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States was Elizabeth Blackwell, in 1849 from Medical Institution of Geneva, New York.
  • In 1903, Marie Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (Physics), and Mary Anderson invented windshield wipers.
  • During World War II, about 350,000 women served in the armed forces, and more served in supporting roles.
  • In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to Congress, and later she ran for president in the primaries.
  • With her appointment in 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female Justice of the Supreme Court at a time when only about 6% of all federal judges were women.
  • Sally Ride’s trip into space in 1983 propelled her into history as the United States’ first female astronaut. Just a few years ago, women made up roughly a quarter of the astronaut corps.
  • Madeleine Albright (1997), Condoleezza Rice (2005) and Hillary Clinton (2009) were appointed Secretary of State, the highest position attained by a woman in a president’s Cabinet.

Women have staked their place in today’s workforce. In the early 1900s, when working outside the home was not viewed favorably, only about 19% of women in the United States held jobs.

But by 1999, the percentage of women in the labor force peaked at 60% and in 2012 stood at 57.7%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Giving birth has not slowed the climb in numbers of working women. In 1975, 47% of mothers with children under the age of 18 worked outside the home. In 2011, 71% of such mothers were at work.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the number of women working full time rose from 38.8 million in 1970 to 75.9 million by 2011.

Much of that may be attributed to the increase in the number of women attending college (about 57% in 2011). And after they graduate, they are likely to pursue a greater variety of jobs, including occupations in the business, technology and science arenas.

Need for Women in Law Enforcement

In addition to headway in industries typically considered male-dominated such as science and technology, women are advancing in others such as law enforcement and criminal justice, though it was a slow start for women.

In the late 1800s, women typically held supporting roles such social worker or as secretary to an attorney. In fact, the Supreme Court upheld an Illinois ruling in 1870 that prevented a woman from practicing law based on her gender.

The first woman to be a sworn police officer in the United States was Lola Baldwin in Portland, Oregon, in 1907, though she was put in charge of a group of social workers, according to the National Center for Women and Policing.

But in the 1950s, the number of women in law enforcement doubled. Women were on patrol duty, going to law school and becoming lawyers, and then becoming qualified to be judges.

The National Women’s Law Center estimates 30% of U.S. District or trial court judges are women.

In 2000, a Los Angeles Times editorial written in the wake of a series of Los Angeles Police Department scandals, proposed that one part of a restructuring plan would be to hire more women. The editorial suggested the LAPD had too many “men trained in violence” and referred to studies that showed women typically use verbal and mediation skills in conflict resolution rather than physical force.

Today there are many opportunities for women to work in the criminal justice system. An Associate of Arts or a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice may open the door to careers with law enforcement agencies, correctional facilities, investigative agencies and much more.

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