Scholar Exhibits

WGBH and the President’s Commission on the Status of Women

October 11, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of American Women, the final report requested by President John F. Kennedy at the inception of the 26 member President’s Commission on the Status of Women on December 14, 1961. WGBH and Massachusetts played an important role in the pubic history of the Commission when they partnered with Brandeis University in the production of the roundtable policy series Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt Prospects of Mankind, moderated by Eleanor Roosevelt. The final segment of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt Prospects of Mankind: What Status for Women? first aired June 4, 1962. It included a 10 minute discussion between President Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt who had been appointed by the President to chair the Commission. A discussion with four experts in labor and education, Secretary of State Arthur Goldberg, Agda Rossel, Representative to the United Nations for Sweden, Thomas Mendenhall, President of Smith College, and Dr. Mirra Komarovsky, Professor of Sociology at Barnard College, followed the Kennedy interview and served the public well in communicating the issues the American government would be evaluating with an eye toward improving opportunities for women. The WGBH production and President Kennedy’s executive order to establish the commission predates the February 1963 publication of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, the work most often credited for the start of the Women’s Movement of the late 1960’s. Though Friedan’s book and her help in organizing NOW at the third annual conference of state Commissions on the Status of Women held in 1966 are often seen as the catalyst for change in the nation’s policies for women, a closer look at the earlier President’s Commission on the Status of Women reveals how the work of a different woman, Esther Peterson, Executive Vice Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, carefully set the stage to ensure NOW’s success. This collection gathers newly digitized primary source media archives and research from the WGBH Open Vault, the John F. Kennedy Library, and Brandeis University, to share the contribution public television played in giving status to the work of the Commission and to utilize digital capabilities for the public education of a new generation.

Interview with JFK on the President's Commission on the Status of Women

Audio portion of the JFK Interview with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt on the President's Commission on the Status of Women.

John F. Kennedy’s speech accepting the Commission on the Status of Women’s final report, American Women, on October 11, 1963.

This is the speech John F. Kennedy gave at the October 11, 1963 at the ceremony held for the completion of the Commission’s Report, “American Women.”

Makers: Women Who Made America

Three-part digital initiative from PBS and AOL featuring oral history interviews and historical footage of the Women’s Movement and women’s contribution to America.

President John F. Kennedy and Commission leaders

This photo shows six key figures of the Commission: (L-R) Secretary-Treasurer of American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), William F. Schnitzler; Chairwoman of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, Eleanor Roosevelt; Chairman of the Civil Service Commission, John W. Macy, Jr.; Representative Edith Green of Oregon; President Kennedy; Vice-chairman of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, Dr. Richard A. Lester; Assistant Secretary of Labor Esther (Eggertsen) Peterson.

Photo: President John F. Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act June 10, 1963

Second Photo of President John F. Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act

Executive Order 10980

The original executive order from the National Archives signed by President John F. Kennedy on December 13, 1961.

Statement of the President on the Establishment of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women

The statement issued upon the establishment of the Commission.

American Women, The final Report of the President's Commission on the Status of Women

Digitized copy of American Women, the final report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women submitted to the president on October 11, 1963, provided by the Hathitrust Trust Digital Library.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963

This text includes the Equal Pay Act of 1963 signed by President Kennedy on June 10, 1963 which is an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

Esther Peterson, Oral History 5-18-66

Esther (Eggertson) Peterson provided several oral history Interviews to document her work in politics. The 1966 interview discusses her work with Kennedy as Senator. The two later interviews discuss the details of President’s Commission on the Status of Women. – From the digital collections at the JFK Library.

Esther Peterson, Oral History 1-20-70

Esther (Eggertson) Peterson provided several oral history Interviews to document her work in politics. The 1966 interview discusses her work with Kennedy as Senator. The two later interviews discuss the details of President’s Commission on the Status of Women. – From the digital collections at the JFK Library.

Esther Peterson, Oral History 2-11-70

Esther (Eggertson) Peterson provided several oral history Interviews to document her work in politics. The 1966 interview discusses her work with Kennedy as Senator. The two later interviews discuss the details of President’s Commission on the Status of Women. – From the digital collections at the JFK Library.