Valuing Women’s Work in the 1970s Home and the Boundaries of the Gendered Imagination

Valuing Women’s Work in the 1970s Home and the Boundaries of the Gendered Imagination 

Suzanne Kahn*

A Response to Patricia Seith, Congressional Power to Effect Sex Equality, 36 Harv. J. L. & Gender 1 (2013)

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I. Introduction

Patricia Seith’s Congressional Power to Effect Sex Equality[1] provides an invaluable resource for historians, like me, who are trying to make sense of the messy legislative history behind feminist advances and setbacks in the 1980s. As I read her article, I found myself wishing for a similarly comprehensive history of women’s rights legislation in the 1970s. In this piece, I provide some of this history by exploring the heavily debated and largely unsuccessful proposals made in the 1970s to improve women’s post-divorce retirement security. Many of the provisions of the Economic Equity Act that Seith highlights, including federal employee pension reform and Social Security reform, came out of this debate.[2] A closer look at this longer history thus provides a deeper sense of the Economic Equity Act’s limits. By analyzing the breadth of proposed legislation, I show that the solutions ultimately enacted by Congress not only left marriage as a central “path to the benefits and privileges of economic citizenship,”[3] as Seith persuasively argues, but also left a very particular vision of marriage at the center of that path. Women continued to access the benefits of economic citizenship through marriages defined by status and dependency, not economic partnership.

            As Seith notes, welfare policies that developed in the 1930s made marriage central to women’s economic citizenship.[4] The benefits of economic citizenship—for example, public and private pensions, tax rates, and credit access—were generally extended to women based on their marital status. In contrast, men received such benefits as a result of their work histories.[5] For example, men (and women who worked for a wage) earned Social Security credits on the basis of their time in the work force and wages earned, but married women who were out of the paid workforce received Social Security through their husbands, based on their status as dependent wives.[6] In the 1970s when “roughly half of married women” were out of the paid labor force, this dependent benefit was often women’s only access to Social Security.[7]

Because women’s access to such social welfare benefits was so often connected to their marital status, rapidly rising divorce rates—between 1967 and 1979, the divorce rate doubled[8]—posed a serious challenge to these welfare policies. Divorced women who lost access to benefits they had during marriage mobilized to demand changes in how the law administered such benefits. As an early focus of these efforts, the policies surrounding federally administered pension programs—the main focus of this piece—provide a good window into the ensuing debates.[9] Over the course of the 1970s, women called for a retirement pension system that insured women as individuals, regardless of marital status. In claiming a right to both public and private pensions, divorced women articulated a vision of modern marriage as an “economic partnership” that paid more than lip service to the work that women did in their homes.

II.  Status and Dependency: Divorced Women’s Access to Social Security after 1965

            Before 1965, when a woman divorced, she lost all access to her ex-husband’s Social Security benefits. For a woman who had fulfilled societal expectations and left the workforce upon marriage, divorce thus meant a loss of all retirement security. Her work in the home had earned her no Social Security credits and, of course, had not allowed her to vest into a private pension plan.[10] As the divorce rate began to rise in the 1960s, women organized to challenge this system.

Divorced women who fought for retirement security had their first modest success in 1965. Congress granted women who had been married for twenty years access to a dependent benefit through their ex-husbands’ Social Security, [11] set at fifty percent of whatever their ex-husbands received.[12] Notably, this did not mean that each member of the divorced couple received half of the total benefit. Rather, the husband received one hundred percent of his benefit and his ex-wife received fifty percent of what he received. Together this added up to the full one hundred and fifty percent benefit the couple would have received had they remained married.[13]

Receiving this dependent benefit was valuable for divorced women, but it came at a cost. Women still had no independent right to Social Security unless they worked outside the home. Social Security policy still did not consider work in the home when assigning credits.[14] Thus, instead of giving full-time homemakers Social Security credits in their own right, the 1965 legislation simply expanded the forms of marital status that gave women benefits. “Divorced after 20 years of marriage” was now a status position that merited dependent Social Security benefits.

Choosing to expand women’s access to Social Security by expanding the categories of marital status produced new problems. First, women who had been married for fewer than twenty years still lost all Social Security benefits after divorce. Even women who worked in the home for nineteen years and six months received nothing.[15] Second, women lost Social Security benefits from their previous marriage upon remarriage.[16] Members of Congress received letters from many retirees complaining that they were forced to “shack up” rather than remarry in order to keep what they considered to be earned Social Security benefits.[17] Finally, as dependents, women could not draw any benefits until their ex-husband began to draw his, a provision that often left them waiting years in dire financial straits.[18]

III.  Valuing Housework: Fighting for Homemakers’ Retirement Security in the 1970s

Women responded to these problems with a two-pronged strategy. They organized to lower the number of years of marriage required to access their ex-husbands’ Social Security benefits and also advocated for homemakers to receive Social Security as individuals, based on the value of the work they did in the home. These efforts combined a pragmatic approach to getting more benefits for women with an effort to re-imagine marriages as joint economic endeavors instead of as relationships between breadwinning husbands and dependent wives.

Thus, in 1968, the National Organization for Women (NOW) passed a resolution demanding that the Social Security years-married requirement be reduced to ten years.[19] The next year they passed a resolution demanding Social Security for homemakers as individuals.[20] In 1970, NOW made clear that it would prefer to insure married women as individuals; however, “as long as the present Social Security law is in effect, a dependent spouse should be guaranteed continued coverage regardless of the years of marriage or the financial arrangements of the divorce.”[21]

Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY), an active member of NOW, championed this dual agenda. Throughout her time in office, she continually introduced legislation to lower the marriage requirement from twenty years to five.[22] Additionally, as early as 1971, Abzug began exploring ways to give homemakers individual Social Security accounts.[23] Such accounts would have allowed women to earn credits in their own name continuously as they moved in and out of the workforce and marriage.[24] Moreover, such accounts would recognize the value of the work women did in the home.

Abzug stressed that women’s work in the home had great value. In her bill, she proposed that homemakers’ benefits be calculated based on the going market rate for the tasks they routinely performed.[25] She pointed to a 1965 study by Chase Manhattan Bank that calculated a “wife’s worth” to be $8,285.68 per year based on a 99.6 hour week and the twelve different jobs she typically performed in the home.[26] While Abzug frequently referred to these hard numbers, she also described the value of homemakers’ work in metaphorical terms. She described their labor as “more precious than gold, silver or even gasoline.”[27] And, she claimed:


If America’s housewives ever placed an embargo on dispensing their free labor, the pilot lights on gas ranges would go out all over the land, the washing machines and vacuum cleaners would fall silent, husbands would not be driven to suburban trains, children would not be fetched and carried, and this nation would discover a whole new definition of crisis.[28]


By placing homemakers’ work squarely in the context of the broader economic concerns of the 1970s, these speeches argued forcefully for recognizing homemakers’ economic contributions to their families and the nation.

The challenge was finding a way to pay for homemakers’ retirement security. In 1970, NOW proposed that husbands’ employers pay for homemakers’ individual Social Security accounts. In an argument that embraced an older family wage ideal, NOW argued that this would acknowledge “the fact that the employer is receiving services of the household spouse as well as the employed person.”[29] Abzug, in contrast, proposed paying for her plan out of the general tax fund in order to recognize the importance of homemakers’ work to the national economy.[30]

Abzug’s plan was easily the most radical one in Congress, but she was not the first policymaker to propose giving homemakers their own Social Security accounts. At least two members of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women proposed this idea in the early 1960s, but according to government researcher Catherine East, the idea was then “ahead of its times.”[31] In the 1970s, however, Abzug was in good company. In 1974, Congresswomen Barbara Jordan and Martha Griffiths offered a bill to allow homemakers to be treated like self-employed workers.[32] They could earn Social Security credits, but they (or more likely, their husbands) would have to pay into the accounts themselves. Bills embracing this idea were introduced again in 1975 and 1976, while Abzug also continued to reintroduce her bill.[33] In 1975, Abzug reconsidered her financing and debated introducing a bill that would divide the cost of homemakers’ Social Security in thirds between the general fund, wage-earning husbands, and the husbands’ employers.[34] When she reintroduced the bill in 1976, however, she proposed instead that it be paid for exclusively through an appropriation from the Social Security Trust Fund.[35]

All these proposals were met with vociferous opposition from the people who would have to pay. Husbands and some wives objected to the added family expense in the Jordan and Griffiths bill.[36] One angry husband wrote to Griffiths, “If you think for one minute I’ll pay triple the amount of SS tax I’m now paying, you are crazy as hell. The minute a law of that sort comes into being is the same minute I apply for divorce.”[37] At the same time, employed women, married and single, objected to the plans. They argued that covering homemakers would require them to pay even more in Social Security taxes when they already received less of a return than married men because they were not eligible to receive dependent benefits for their husbands.[38]

Perhaps in response to the challenges of including homemakers in the Social Security system, and certainly as a reflection of the growing reliance on the private sector to provide welfare benefits, in the 1970s other congressmen proposed creating contributory retirement plans for homemakers.[39] In 1975, Senator William Roth proposed legislation to allow homemakers—or their husbands on their behalf—to set up Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs).[40] Five years earlier, in 1970, Representative Bertram Podell had proposed creating Keogh accounts for homemakers.[41] Podell’s plan was notable for its understanding of women’s economic role in marriage. He designated wives as “‘independent proprietor[s]’ in charge of a specific amount of money—that used for the feeding, the housing, and the clothing of her family.”[42] Women could pay into their Keogh accounts with money they saved through their “weekly management of the household.”[43]By relying on homemakers’ shopping savvy for funding, this plan clearly recognized homemakers’ work, but it also called for writing into law a very specific set of gendered marital practices.

In 1977, women finally began to see legislative progress. In that year, employees eligible for IRAs were allowed to begin contributing a small extra amount for a spouse with the promise that in a divorce the account would be divided evenly.[44] Also in 1977, Congress finally lowered the Social Security years-married requirement from twenty to ten.[45] In the same act, Congress directed the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) to develop proposals for the elimination of dependency as a means of distributing benefits under Social Security.[46]

In 1979, HEW published a report in response to its 1977 mandate from Congress. The report considered two main options for eliminating the dependency requirement from Social Security: earnings sharing and the creation of a “double-decker benefit structure.”[47] Under earnings sharing, each member of a married couple would be awarded Social Security credits based on half of the couples’ total earnings for the year.[48] (Subsequent earnings sharing proposals sometimes used different percentages of a couple’s total earnings, for example 150%, in order to keep single earner families from losing benefits under the proposed new regime.[49]) The double-decker plan, on the other hand, required a more complete overhaul of the system. Under this plan everyone would be awarded a flat rate benefit regardless of marital or employment status. A second tier of benefits—an “earnings-related benefit payable to everyone who had worked in a covered job”—would then be layered on top of the flat rate benefit.[50] Probably because they would have required such a complete overhaul of the system, double-decker proposals got little traction; however, it is also notable that double-decker schemes would have provided no incentives to marry because they offered no dependent benefits. Earnings sharing, on the other hand, eventually was written into the Economic Equity Act, making its first appearance in the 1985 version of the bill.[51]

The HEW Report noted that none of these Social Security reforms would help the wives of the six million or so public employees who were not eligible for Social Security.[52] Thus, other members of Congress took up the cause of the divorced wives of federal employees, Foreign Service officers, and members of the military, trying to establish an earned right for these women to draw on their ex-husbands’ pensions.[53] Advocates pointed out that for years the military and the Foreign Service had recognized the importance of women’s work. Until 1972, women married to Foreign Service officers received performance grades along with their husbands.[54] Similarly, military officers could lose promotions based on their wives’ failure to perform all of their expected duties.[55] If these were not signs that some branches of the government already recognized marriages as economic partnerships, what were?

IV. Economic Partnership?: Marriage and Pension Access in the Economic Equity Act

            In April 1977, Sara Deane, a member of the Washington, D.C. Chapter of the National Organization for Women, testified before Congress in support of a bill to give former wives of federal employees the right to a portion of their husbands’ retirement benefits. When she took the stand, her testimony reflected more than ten years of debate about what America’s retirement system did and should say about the nature of marriage and women’s work within the home. Deane described her marriage as a “partnership.”[56] She had been married to a federal employee for over twenty-five years, many of which had been spent abroad on assignment.[57] She explained, “My share of the partnership was in entertaining and representation, sharing in whatever work the ranking women at a post felt American wives ought to be doing in that country. It also was in fulfilling women’s traditional homemaking role . . .”[58] Deane argued that women like her had a “right to compensation from the annuity she helped to earn, a return on the contributions paid from family income during the years of marriage . . .”[59]

Deane’s description of her marriage as a partnership and her earned stake in her husband’s annuity embraced the vision of marriage that women’s groups and legislators had developed over the 1960s and 1970s. This, however, was not the vision that Congress wrote into law through the Economic Equity Act. We get a sense of the more limited understanding of marriage written into law by looking at the passed provisions of the Economic Equity Act with this longer history of the debates that preceded them in mind. While many of the proposals made in the 1970s did end up in different versions of the act—military benefits for ex-spouses, IRAs for homemakers, even earnings sharing—those measures that actually passed were not only the cheapest ones but also the ones that continued to let the government interact with married and divorced homemakers as dependents instead of valued workers.[60]

A clear example of the failure of the enacted pieces of the Economic Equity Act to recognize marriage as an economic partnership is found in the legislative history of the provision guaranteeing ex-spouses of servicemen a share of military retirement benefits. The initial proposal, championed by Rep. Patricia Schroeder, would have dictated that after ten years of marriage, the wife would automatically be eligible for a pro rata share of her husband’s retirement benefits based on a set formula using number of years married and number of years in the service.[61] This bill thus promoted a view of marriage as both a status that earned one rights and an economic partnership. On the one hand, ten years of marriage was used as a status marker that determined whether a woman was eligible to receive any of her husband’s military retirement benefits. On the other hand, once they passed the ten-year mark, women would have earned their benefits based on the years of work they put into the marriage. A vesting scheme based on years married looked like an employment-based pension and thus suggested that military wives were working in their marriages.

The version of the law that passed, however, gave the courts discretion to award dependent spouses’ military retirement benefits as they saw fit, up to a certain limit. Notably, there was no floor so the law did not give divorced women an absolute right to any of their ex-husband’s military retirement benefits.[62]  Moreover, by leaving the automatic pro rata division of benefits out of the passed legislation, Congress avoided treating military homemakers as workers with earned rights to benefits. Where statutes did use years of marriage to administer benefits, they used years to denote status not measure work. For example, the law awarded full medical benefits and commissary privileges to ex-military spouses who had passed the twenty-year marriage mark (and who had been married during twenty years of service) instead of having such benefits accrue year-by-year[63] As Seith shows, in their proposals, many women legislators and activists imagined a pension system that valued women’s work in the home and understood marriage as an economic partnership. But in the passed pieces of the act, when Congress directly allocated benefits to married women, they continued to use marital status to extend benefits instead of years of work that women put into a marriage.[64]

V. Conclusion: The Enacted Economic Equity Act and the Boundaries of the Gendered Imagination

Throughout the 1970s, both policymakers and feminists proposed reforms of America’s pension system that would have left marriage at the heart of its allocation system—as did enacted portions of Economic Equity Act—but they wanted a different kind of marriage at the foundation. The marriage that feminist activists envisioned at the heart of a reformed retirement system was a working partnership in which both partners were recognized as contributing economically valuable services to the family, even when one worked inside the home. The laws eventually enacted in the 1980s, however, entrenched an understanding of marriage as based on dependency and status. Thus while the full Economic Equity Act and the work of the Women’s Caucus “challenged the boundaries” of the “gendered imagination,” as Seith argues, the laws that passed demonstrate just how rigid the boundaries of the gendered imagination remained.[65]

Cite as: Suzanne Kahn, Valuing Women’s Work in the 1970s Home and the Boundaries of the Gendered ImaginationHarv. J. L. & Gender (Feb. 2013) (response to Patricia Seith, Congressional Power to Effect Sex Equality, 36 Harv. J. L. & Gender 1 (2013)),

* P.H.D. Candidate, Columbia University. I thank the Schlesinger Library for a generous Dissertation Grant that allowed me to complete much of the research behind this article. I am also grateful to Alice Kessler-Harris for her helpful comments and support and to Patricia Seith and the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender for this opportunity.

[1] Patricia A. Seith, Congressional Power to Effect Sex Equality, 36 Harv. J.L. & Gender 1 (2013).

[2] Id. at 76–81.

[3] Id. at 68.

[4] Id. at 14–15.

[5] Alice Kessler-Harris, In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th-Century America 4–5 (2001).

[6] Id. at 134–39.

[7] See U.S. Dep’t of Health, Educ. & Welfare, Social Security and the Changing Roles of Men and Women 2 (1979).

[8] Sandra L. Hofferth & Kristin Moore, Women’s Employment and Marriage, in Urban Institute, The Subtle Revolution: Women at Work 99, 103 (Ralph E. Smith, ed. 1979).

[9] This piece focuses largely on Social Security, Federal Employee Benefit Plans, and military pension plans. In addition, I briefly consider Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) because the debates surrounding homemakers’ access to IRAs were quite similar to those regarding Social Security. I do not consider the debate surrounding employer sponsored pension plans in this piece. The Economic Equity Act did contain provisions addressing homemakers’ access to pensions administered by their husbands’ employers that engendered debates similar to those I discuss here. See Seith, supra note 1, at 14, 35–44, 77–82. Because the solutions proposed to give homemakers’ access to employer pension plans were somewhat different than those I discuss in this piece, and because of space considerations, I have left a discussion of those debates out of this article.

[10] Letter from Rep. Martha Griffiths to Gladys Kissel (Apr. 20, 1965) (on file with the University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library, Martha Griffiths Papers, Box 26, Folder 89th: Social Security for Women).

[11] Letter from Ruth Harmer, Member L.A. Cnty. Comm. On Affairs of the Aging, to Dorothy M. Crippen, Dir. Of Membership, Processing, and Publ’n, Am. Ass’n of Retired Persons, (June 22, 1971) (on file with the Harvard University, Schlesinger Library, Betty Blaisdell Berry Papers, Folder 5.5: Ruth Harmer).

[12] Memorandum from Carolyn A. Hull-Ryde to Susan Bennett, Re: New Abzug Bill (no date) (on file with Columbia University Library, Bella Abzug Papers, Box 638: Folder: Subject File: Women, Social Security—Homemakers–Legislation).

[13] Memorandum from the Women’s Rights Project, ACLU, to Interested Parties, Soc. Sec. and Sex Discrimination (July 17, 1974) (on file with Columbia University Library, Bella Abzug Papers, Box 546: Subject File Social Security: Women-General, Bella Abzug Papers).

[14] Rep. Bella Abzug, Speech at NOW Marriage and Divorce Conference (Jan. 19, 1974) (on file with Columbia University Library, Bella Abzug Papers, Box 759 A: Folder: NOW Marriage and Divorce Conference) (Rep. Abzug also had her remarks published in the Congressional Record. 120 Cong. Rec. 1759-61).

[15] Id.

[16] Dear Colleague Letter from Rep. Bella Abzug (Feb. 26, 1976) (on file with Columbia University, Bella Abzug Papers, Box 637: Subject File: Women: Social Security—Homemakers—Correspondence, Columbia RBML).

[17] Letter from Marie Reller to Rep. Bella Abzug (Jan. 19, 1976) (on file with Columbia University, Bella Abzug Papers, Box 637: Subject File: Women: Social Security–Homemakers–Correspondence); e.g., Letter from Ernest D. Frame to Rep. Martha Griffiths (Feb. 3, 1965) (on file with University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library, Martha Griffiths Papers, Box 26, Folder: 89th, Social Security for Women).

[18]Memorandum from Elise Rabekoff to Judy Goldsmith & Mary Jean Collins on Social Security (Feb. 10, 1983) (on file with Harvard University, Schlesinger Library, NOW Records, 1959–2002, Folder 195.16, Elise Rabekoff).

[19] National Organization of Women, Resolutions Passed by Marriage and Divorce Task Force, 1967–1971 as Listed in the NOW Resolutions Book with 1973 Resolutions Added (on file with Harvard University, Schlesinger Library, Elizabeth Cox Spalding Papers (MC 482), Folder 1.3).

[20] See id.

[21] Id.

[22] Memo from Jessica [No Last Name] to Rep. Bella Abzug, Re: Legislation in the Women’s Area (1971) (on file with Columbia University Library, Bella Abzug Papers, Box 546: Subject File: Social Security: Women—General).

[23] Letter from Catherine East to M. (May 10, 1971) (on file with Columbia University Library, Bella Abzug Papers, Box 617: Subject File—Women: Insurance—Health, Disability, Workers’ Compensation and General).

[24] Abzug, Speech at NOW Marriage and Divorce Conference, supra note 14, at 3.

[25] Id.

[26] Id. at 5. The jobs Chase used in these calculations were nursemaid, housekeeper, cook, dishwasher, laundress, food buyer, gardener, chauffer, maintenance man, seamstress, dietician, and practical nurse. H.D. Quigg, What’s a Wife Worth?, Wash. Post, Feb. 16, 1965, at B4.

[27] Abzug, Speech at NOW Marriage and Divorce Conference, supra note 14, at 3.

[28] Id.

[29] Spalding, supra note 19, at 5.

[30] Abzug, Speech at NOW Marriage and Divorce Conference, supra note14, at 6.

[31] Letter from Catherine East to M., supra note 23, at 5.

[32] Joint Statement by Rep. Barbara Jordan (D-Tex.) and Rep. Martha Griffiths (D-Mich.) on Social Security for Homemakers (Feb. 6, 1974) (on file with Harvard University, Schlesinger Library, National Organization for Women (NOW) Records, 1959–2002 (MC 496), Folder 89.41).

[33] Memorandum “Homemaker Bills: Comparison of H.R. 3009 (Jordan, Burke) and an Identical Bill, H.R. 10750 (Heckler), with H.R. 11840 (Abzug),” (31 March 1976,) (on file with Columbia University Library, Bella Abzug Papers, Box 638: Folder: Subject File: Women, Social Security—Homemakers—Legislation). A new co-sponsor, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, joined Jordan in 1975. Rep. Margaret Heckler also introduced and identical bill in that year. Id.

[34] Memorandum from June Zeitlin to Congressional Research Office (Oct. 30, 1975) (on file with Columbia University Library, Bella Abzug Papers, Box 637: Subject File: Women: Social Security—Homemakers—Abzug Notes).

[35] A Bill to Amend Title II of the Social Security Act to Provide Coverage for Homemakers Under the Old-Age Survivors, and Disability Insurance Program, H.R. 11840, 94th Cong. (1976).

[36] Letter from F.B. Mitchell to Rep. Martha Griffiths [Honorable Ladies] (Feb. 23, 1974) (on file with University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library, Martha Griffiths Papers, Box 50, Folder: Social Security, Homemakers, HR 12645).

[37] Letter from Jack Strausle, Jr. to Rep. Martha Griffiths (Feb. 20, 1974) (on file with University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library, Martha Griffiths Papers, Box 50, Folder: Ways and Means—Social Security, Homemakers, HR 12645).

[38] Letter from Jean N. Dorman to Martha Griffiths (July 26, 1973) (on file with the University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library, Martha Griffiths Papers, Box 50, Folder: L/JEC Women’s Hearings, General).

[39] Notably, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which passed in 1974 and created extensive regulations for private pension plans, specifically failed to address concerns women had raised about the private pension system, such as the ways in which it punished women for taking time off to have children. In addition, it actually created some new problems when judges began to read its ban on assigning pensions to anyone other than the employee who earned them as prohibiting the courts from dividing pensions in a divorce. Retirement Equity Act of 1983 and Economic Equity Act of 1983: Hearing on S. 19 and S. 888 Before the S. Finance Comm., 98th Cong. (1983) (statement of Judith Avner, NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund).

[40] 121 Cong. Rec. 38332, 38332 (1975) (statement of Sen. William Roth).

[41] Press Release, Rep. Bertram L. Podell Introduces Housewive’s Pension Fund (Aug. 10, 1970) (on file with Harvard University, Schlesinger Library, Betty Blaisdell Berry Papers, Folder 7.4).

[42] Id.

[43] Id.

[44] See Helen Benson, Pension and Welfare Benefits Programs, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Women and Private Pension Plans 32–33 (1980) (on file with Harvard University, Schlesinger Library, Wider Opportunities for Women Records, 90-M59, 90-M71, Carton 8, Folder 90).

[45] See Social Security Financing Amendments, Pub. L. No. 95-216, 91 Stat 1509, 1509 (1977), available at|TOM:/bss/d095query.html|.

[46] Id.

[47] U.S. Dep’t of Health, Educ. & Welfare, Social Security and the Changing Roles of Men and Women 5 (1979).

[48] Id.

[49] Id.; U.S. Dep’t of Health, Educ. & Welfare, Report of the HEW Task Force on the Treatment of Women Under Social Security (1978).

[50] Social Security and the Changing Roles of Men and Women, supra note 42, at 5.

[51] Seith, supra note 1, at 34.

[52] Social Security and the Changing Roles of Men and Women, supra note 47, at 6.

[53] See, e.g., Letter to Eleanor Cutri Smeal from Rep. Patricia Schroeder, (May 2, 1977) (on file with Harvard University, Schlesinger Library, NOW Folder 46.38).

[54] Memorandum from Frances Tracy Dobbs to the Members of Congress, Why Already-Divorced Foreign Service Spouses Are Entitled to Remain on Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (Sept. 4, 1983) (on file with Marymount Manhattan College, Geraldine Ferraro Papers, Box 129, Folder: Ferraro: Subject, Women (5 of 7)); National Military Wives Association, Inc. (untitled memo) (on file with Harvard University, Schlesinger Library, Women’s Equity Action League Records (MC 500), Folder 54.30).

[55] Id.

[56] Sarah Deane, “Testimony Before Employment and Compensation Subcommittee, Post Office and Civil Service Committee,” First Hearing, Schroeder-Spellman Bill 1 (Apr. 19, 1977) (on file with Harvard University, Schlesinger Library, Women’s Equality Action League Records (MC 500), Folder 55.1).

[57] Id.

[58] Id.

[59] Id. at 3.

[60] See Seith, supra note 1, at 36 (“[T]he parts of the Economic Equity Act that were most popular with the Reagan administration were those that served to privatize the costs of women’s dependency by capitalizing on a current or former marital relationship and concomitant claims to income . . . .”).

[61] See In the Legislatures: Senate Subcommittee Hears Testimony on Bills to Offset McCarty Ruling, 7 Fam. L. Rep. 2722, 2722–23. (1981) (on file at Harvard University, Schlesinger Library, National Center on Women and Family Law (96-M105), Box 33, Folder: McCarty v. McCarty).

[62] National Veterans Legal Services Project, The Former Military Spouses Protection Act, 17 Clearinghouse Rev., 442, 442 (1983). It is also noteworthy that when Congress passed the law addressing the same issue for former spouses of Foreign Service Officers, the House and Senate split on this issue. When that law passed in 1980, the year before the first Economic Equity Act was introduced, the House approved an amendment eliminating the intial automatic pro rata division of pension benefits from the bill. The Senate kept the pro rata language in its version. In conference, a compromise was struck that instated the pro rata rule only for divorces that took place after the effective date of the law, February 15, 1981. “Dear Friends” letter from Rep. Patricia Schroeder (October 3, 1980) (on file with Harvard University, Schlesinger Library, Catherine East Papers (MC 477), Folder 26.38.)

[63] Id.

[64] Arguably, the closest Congress came to valuing women’s work in the home in the Economic Equity Act was in allowing women to use alimony to pay into IRAs, effectively recognizing alimony as payment for work. Seith, supra note 1, at 72.

[65] Id. at 56.


  1. Congressional Power to Effect Sex Equality: The History and Future of the Economic Equity Act | Harvard Journal of Law and Gender - February 17, 2013

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