Happy Birthday, Women’s Bureau!June 04, 2010
When it comes to the history of American women, 1920 was a seminal year. That August, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — the granting of women’s suffrage — was officially ratified and became the law of the land. I would imagine that in a couple of months, we’ll have plenty to say on the anniversary of that historic victory. Today, however, I want to talk about different watershed moment for American women from that very same year.
On June 5, 1920 — 90 years ago today — the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau was created. The Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor is the only federal agency devoted solely to the needs of working women. Since its founding, the Women’s Bureau has, time and again, been on the frontlines fighting for working women and their families on the big issues of the day. From fighting discrimination against African American women workers in the 1920s, to advocating for the landmark Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, to encouraging green and other nontraditional jobs for women in the present day, the Women’s Bureau has a long and storied history of promoting gender equity in the workforce.
Here’s some cool trivia: AAUW and the Women’s Bureau go back almost as far as the agency’s founding. As early as 1922, AAUW’s legislative program called for a reclassification of the U.S. Civil Service and for a repeal of salary restrictions in the Women’s Bureau. In the decades that have followed, we’ve been close partners and loyal allies. In fact, just last month, AAUW hosted a welcome reception for the newest director of the Women’s Bureau, Sara Manzano-Diaz, with several leaders of various women’s organizations. Joined by such luminaries as Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement Tina Tchen, we were proud to celebrate those ties that have bound us for so long.
Unfortunately, under the previous administration, the Women’s Bureau was not accorded the resources, staff, or respect it deserved. Today, however, represents a new day and new era. Under the leadership of President Obama, Secretary Solis, and now Director Manzano-Diaz, the Women’s Bureau is being restored to its previous role as a committed and determined advocate for working women and their families. That, to say the least, is very good news.
For 90 years, the Women’s Bureau has been a beacon of hope for those of us who care a great deal about achieving gender equity in the American workforce. Let’s hope the next 90 years are even better.