Women Who Put Women's Rights on the ACLU Agenda

Document Date: March 1, 2006

Women Featured

Jane Addams
Crystal Eastman
Jeanette Rankin
Dorothy Kenyon
Pauli Murray
Brenda Feigen
Ruth Bader Ginsburg


WRP in 2005
Caught In the Net: The Impact of Drug Policies on Women and Families

Court Cases

Reed v. Reed (off-site)
Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld (off-site)
United States v. Virginia et al. (off-site)
Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales


Learn about the ACLU's Women's Rights Project

Jane Addams
(September 6, 1860 to May 21, 1935)

Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois, the eighth of nine children. Her mother died when Jane was two. Her father was involved in local politics and encouraged her education, work ethic and philanthropy. She became involved in wider efforts for social reform, including housing and sanitation issues, factory inspection, rights of immigrants, women and children, pacifism and the 8-hour day.

With friend Ellen Starr, Jane founded Hull House in the slums of Chicago in 1889, which now serves an internationally recognized symbol of multicultural understanding and serves as an educational and urban research center for social service and reform.

Jane served as a Vice President of the National Woman Suffrage Association from 1911-1914. In 1915, she helped found the National Woman's Peace Party with Crystal Eastman. She helped found and served as president for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom from 1919-35, and in 1920 was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union. She was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

Crystal Eastman
(June 25, 1881 to July 8, 1928)

Crystal Eastman was born in Marlborough, Massachusetts. She was a lawyer, antimilitarist, feminist, socialist and journalist.

She had a brief marriage that moved her to Milwaukee where she worked on the unsuccessful 1912 Wisconsin suffrage battle. In 1913, she divorced and returned to New York City where she and others founded the militant Congressional Union, which became the National Woman's Party. In 1915 Eastman helped found the National Woman's Peace Party.

Crystal's second marriage was to British poet and antiwar activist Walter Fuller, they had two children and worked together until the end of World War I when he returned to England. Eastman commuted between London and New York, organizing the First Feminist Congress in 1919, co-owned and edited the Liberator with her brother Max. During the Red Scare of 1919 to 1921, she was blacklisted and therefore unemployable in New York. In 1920, Crystal became one of the founding members of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Jeanette Rankin
(June 11, 1880 to May 18, 1973)

Jeanette Rankin was born in Missoula, Montana, the oldest of eleven children.

After graduating from Montana University in 1902 Rankin worked as a school teacher before entering the New York School of Philanthropy in 1908. She did social work in Montana and Washington, and eventually enrolled in the University of Washington where she became involved in women's suffrage and became legislative secretary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

In 1916, she ran for Congress as a Republican and campaigned for universal suffrage, prohibition, child welfare reform, an end to child labor and staying out of the First World War. As the first woman elected to the House of Representatives, she introduced a bill that would have allowed women citizenship independent of their husbands and opened the congressional debate on the right for women to vote, which was ratified as the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920.

Jeanette's controversial views on the First World War, trade union rights, equal pay and birth control, lost her the Republican Senate nomination in 1918. She ran as an independent and was defeated. In 1940, she was elected to the House of Representatives on an anti-war program and was the only member of Congress to vote against war on Japan. In the 1960s, she established a women's co-operative in Georgia, and at the age of 87, led a women's demonstration against the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C.

Dorothy Kenyon
(February 11, 1888 to February 11, 1972)

Dorothy Kenyon was born in New York City. She graduated from Smith College in 1908 and after a period as a self-described "social butterfly," she entered New York University Law School where she transformed herself into a social activist.

She was the Deputy Commissioner of Licenses in New York City, served as a Justice on the city's Municipal Court and was the U.S. representative to the League of Nations Commission to Study the Legal Status of Women. She was the first delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women from 1947-50, working to advance the status of women and minorities in the U.S. and internationally.

She served on the National Board of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1930 until her death. With Pauli Murray, she persuaded the organization to take on cases that challenged sex discrimination.

Senator Joseph McCarthy made Dorothy one of his first targets in 1950 because of her involvement with communist organizations. She described the Senator as "an unmitigated liar" and "a coward to take shelter in the cloak of Congressional immunity," which led the Senate subcommittee to dismiss the charges.

Kenyon remained politically active in the 1960s and early 1970s through her work in the War on Poverty and her participation in the Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam War, and Women's Liberation movements.

Pauli Murray
(November 20, 1910 to July 1, 1985)

Pauli Murray was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and educated in segregated Baltimore public schools. Pauli graduated from Hunter College, and in 1938 was denied admission into the University of North Carolina law school because of her race. She later entered Howard University Law School and graduated in 1944. She sought admission to Harvard University for an advanced law degree but was denied admission because she was a woman. She then studied at the University of California, Berkeley, where she received her Masters of Law degree.

She became involved in attempts to end segregation on public transport and was arrested in 1940 for refusing to sit at the back of a bus in Virginia. Murray was an early and committed civil rights activist and wrote one of the early law review articles on sex-discrimination.

In 1965 she was awarded a law doctorate from Yale, the first African-American to be awarded the degree based on a dissertation entitled, "Roots of the Racial Crisis: Prologue to Policy." Murray was a founding member of the National Organization for Women in 1966. At 62, she entered the seminary and became the first Black woman Episcopal priest in 1977.

Brenda Feigen

Brenda Feigen graduated from Harvard Law School in 1969. She was elected National Vice President for Legislation of NOW in 1970 and then went on to start the Women's Action Alliance, the newsletter of which became Ms. Magazine that she co-founded with Gloria Steinem in 1971. That year, she also was a co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus. In 1972, Ruth Bader Ginsburg tapped Brenda to be the co-director of the Women's Rights Project.

Throughout the 1970s, Brenda lobbied intensively for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and wrote an article for the Harvard Women's Law Journal on the reasons that a state cannot rescind its prior ratification of a constitutional amendment, namely the ERA.

Brenda has published her memoirs, Not One of the Boys: Living Life as a Feminist, and currently practices entertainment law in Los Angeles.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, New York. She started law school at Harvard and made the Harvard Law Review in 1956. She went on to finish her degree at Columbia Law School, where she again made Law Review, becoming the first woman to accomplish such a feat at two major schools. Even so, when she applied for a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, she was turned down because she was a woman.

In 1972, Ginsburg co-founded the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU, going on to litigate against institutionalized gender discrimination. In that same year, Ginsburg became the first woman to be granted tenure at Columbia Law School.

In her first case before the Supreme Court, Reed v. Reed in 1971, Ginsburg succeeded in having a preference for a father in administering a child's estate struck down as unconstitutional on the basis of gender. This ruling marked the first time the Supreme Court held that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender as well as race.

During the remainder of the 1970s, Ginsburg went on to litigate several more landmark Supreme Court sex discrimination cases, appearing as direct counsel in nine cases, five of which she argued, and submitting friend-of-the-court briefs in fifteen.

In 1981, President Carter appointed Ginsburg to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the second woman to be a Justice on the Supreme Court.

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