"I am grateful to those Members of Congress who worked so diligently to guide the Equal Pay Act through. It is a first step. It affirms our determination that when women enter the labor force they will find equality in their pay envelopes." (John F. Kennedy, June 10, 1963.)
They crammed into the Oval Office, two dozen strong, crowding around President Kennedy's desk. They wore printed dresses and tailored suits, white gloves and fancy hats, holding purses on their arms. It looked like a meeting of Aunt Bee's social club from the TV program "The Andy Griffith Show". But these women weren't from the kitchens of Mayberry, North Carolina. They were from the labour force. Among them were Representative Florence Price Dwyer of New Jersey, Esther Peterson, the Director of the Young Women's Christian Association (YMCA), Senator Mauriene Neuberger of Oregon and Margaret Mealey, the head of the Women's Department of the United Auto Workers (UAW).
They were there to witness the President's signing of the Equal Pay Act. Back in 1963, one third of the American work force was female. Twenty five million women worked in the United States. Yet the average woman earned only 60% of the average man. Women faced another dilemma that their male counterparts did not: what to do with their children while they were at work. One fifth of the women labourers had children under 3 years old at home. Two-fifths had school age children. Of the remaining two-fifths, many were married to men who made less than $5000 a year. Women were thrilled to see the signing of the act, which was a "first step" towards resolving the injustice.
It would take another generation or two before the situation was truly resolved. I remember when I attended university in the latter half of the 1980's, the female professors were still paid less than the male ones. According to a study done by the Canadian Association of University Teachers, that gap still exists. In 1986, the gap between male and female professors' salaries was about $10,000. Ten years later, the gap had increased to about $13,000. And in 2006, the gap was back at $10,000. While the increase in salary has been more dramatic for female professors than for male in recent years, the male professors still earn more money.
I wonder how much Aunt Bee earned in the kitchen in Mayberry?