US Women’s Groups in National Policy Debates, 1880–2000
This chapter considers appearances by women’s organizations at US congressional hearings from 1920 to 2000. By three measures—the number of times women’s groups testified, the number of women’s organizations that appeared, and the breadth of issues to which the groups spoke—these groups’ policy engagement expanded in the four decades after suffrage. Women’s engagement then declined after the second-wave women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The chapter evaluates promising yet ultimately unsatisfying explanations for this inverted-U pattern and then lays out an account centered on public policy’s role. Specifically, federal gender policies provided resources that helped structure and direct the representation of women’s interests. For the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, interests surrounded women’s group rights and civic responsibility; for the last third of the century, the focus was on group rights almost exclusively. This evolution influenced women’s collective voice in American democracy and the range of issues on which women were heard.
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