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6 The Equal Pay Act of 1963: Compromise and Victory
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The Equal Pay Act of 1963: Compromise and Victory

The fight over equal pay legislation in the Kennedy years took place in a very different context from the earlier battles. The politics of the time welcomed new programs, and equal pay fitted into the larger program of the Kennedy administration both to revitalize the economy and to draw upon the resources women offered. By now, the question of whether working women would take jobs away from male breadwinners and set off a new depression had been answered: women worked in jobs different from those of men—jobs men didn't want.

Given the sexual segregation of the workplace, few women would benefit from equal pay legislation, but prevailing sentiment favored giving those few the protection they deserved. In the last years of the Eisenhower administration, when social and economic obstacles had dissipated, equal pay bills fell victim not only to the objections of opponents but also to differences among supporters. In the Kennedy administration, the Women's Bureau gained the strength to lead the equal pay battle effectively. Its director, Esther Peterson, was both an assistant secretary of labor and a former lobbyist for the AFL-CIO. As such, she had authority within the administration and with women's organizations and labor unions, advantages her predecessors had lacked. Both context and structure now favored the enactment of the first federal law to bar discrimination against women by private employers.

Since the Women's Bureau coalition had begun its campaign for equal pay legislation after World War II, the role of women in the paid labor force had changed and expanded dramatically. During the 1950s the demand for female workers had bur-


geoned, the result of growth in the clerical and service occupations, which employed women almost exclusively. Yet at the same time, the proportion of young single women seeking employment in the United States declined. The low birth rate of the 1930s meant that there were fewer young women in their twenties to take all the jobs designated as "women's work." Moreover, many young women now elected to go to college rather than work, and more of the others were getting married, thus causing the pool of available single women in their twenties to evaporate further. Because the younger married women tended to stay home to care for their infants—a commonplace phenomenon with the explosion in the birthrate after World War II—employers had to forgo their preference for young, unencumbered female workers and offer jobs to older, married women with school-age children. Smaller families, the appearance of convenience foods, and the availability of various household appliances made it easier for wives and mothers to choose to work outside the home. The GI bill, which offered men incentives to stay in school, also encouraged employment of married women to supplement meager family allowances. Between 1950 and 1960, the number of wives at work increased by 42 percent, from 21.6 percent in 1950 to 30.6 percent in 1960. As of March 1963, 41.5 percent of mothers with children between the ages of six and seventeen worked for wages, compared with 30.3 percent in 1950, a 37 percent increase. Mothers with children under the age of six raised their labor force participation rate from 14 percent in 1951 to 22.5 percent in 1963, a 61 percent jump. By 1961 approximately twenty-four million women were working, 34 percent of all workers.[1] The Department of Labor predicted that by 1970 this number would swell to thirty million. One Labor Department economist in 1963 stated that the growing incidence of married women workers represented "the most significant employment trend in the country."[2]

The employment of wives resulted, observers detected, in more egalitarian marriages and in greater political participation of women, but it did not expand women's employment choices, nor did it raise their wages. Women workers still tended to be clerks, service workers, factory operatives, domestic workers, nurses, and teachers. In 1960, the wages of full-time year-


round women workers averaged only 60.6 percent those of men, down from 63.6 percent in 1957. Black women fared worst of all: their earnings were 42 percent of men's.[3]

Organizing Support

Against this backdrop, the Women's Bureau staff organized the quest for equal pay legislation in the new Congress. The outgoing Eisenhower administration, which for eight years had supported equal pay bills in vain, again submitted a proposal before Kennedy's inauguration. Immediately after, Peterson arranged for meetings with Democratic congresswomen, representatives of organized labor, and the members of the National Committee on Equal Pay to review the legislative situation.[4] The retirement of Graham Barden, the unfriendly chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, made the situation much more tractable: his replacement, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a black Democrat from New York, favored the bill.

As before, the conflicts about the measure focused on two items: the coverage of employees and the mode of enforcement. Several Democratic congresswomen, including Edith Green (D-Oreg.), had introduced bills modeled on the broad coverage of the National Labor Relations Act (which applied to industries "affecting" interstate commerce). These bills granted enforcement authority to the secretary of labor. Two Republican legislators, Jessica Weis and Katharine St. George (both from New York), had introduced bills modeled on the narrower Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA, which covered employers "engaged in" interstate commerce). Their proposals provided for judicial enforcement. The AFL-CIO had cleared the Green bill before its introduction, and equal pay advocates within the Department of Labor initially wanted the administration to support it as well, a course of action urged by experienced staffers to eliminate the problem of competing bills.[5]

Under the direction of the Women's Bureau, opinion quickly coalesced around a compromise proposal. The administration bill would adopt the FLSA-based coverage of the Republican bills to facilitate administration by the Wage and Hour Division


of the Department of Labor, which oversaw the FLSA; however, it would retain the provision of the Green bill that gave "cease and desist" powers to the secretary of labor, as the AFL-CIO wanted. The Solicitor's Office of the Labor Department agreed to draft the bill.[6] In the meantime, the Women's Bureau set out to accumulate statistical evidence establishing the need for federal legislation—ostensibly a major impediment in the past. J. A. Beirne, president of the Communications Workers of America, wrote to Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg in February 1961 informing him that at past hearings the union had been "tremendously impressed by the lack of authoritative data on male-female wage differentials for workers doing the same work in a given plant or office location." Internal studies by the CWA showed no such wage differentials, according to Beirne; rather, discrimination took place in women's not being permitted to apply for the higher-paying jobs. Beirne expressed hesitation about supporting an equal pay bill without such data, attributing past failures to this omission. Beirne recommended that the government act to equalize employment opportunities in the event that widespread wage differentials could not be found.[7]

So, while the AFL-CIO studied the administration's draft bill, the Women's Bureau wrote to dozens of women's organizations and labor unions, asking them to use their resources to supply specific examples of wage discrimination. Reluctant to employ instances only from unionized plants, Peterson requested the AFL-CIO's organization director to have his staff look for cases from nonunion shops. In addition, promising confidentiality, the Women's Bureau wrote to state labor departments, hoping for instances from adjudicated cases or settlements. Finally, Peterson wrote to women who had complained to the bureau about wage discrimination in the past, asking them about their present situation and soliciting leads to cases.[8]

With the Women's Bureau now actively engaged in shoring up the coalition and gathering data, Arthur Goldberg decided to turn over to the bureau the entire lobbying effort on the bill as well. The department's Legislative Liaison Office had no particular interest in it—it had been around "forever"—and he assumed the bureau would work harder at getting the bill through Con-


gress. In March 1961 Esther Peterson hired Morag Simchak, a lobbyist for the United Rubber Workers, to take charge.[9]

The White House Legislative Liaison Office also left the effort to the Women's Bureau. John Kennedy had supported equal pay legislation during his tenure in Congress, but without vigor. He introduced a bill in 1951 at the request of former House representative Mary T. Norton, who was then working as an aide to the secretary of labor, but did no more than that. In 1957, when he was chairman of the labor subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, he cosponsored an equal pay measure with Senator Wayne Morse and others but did not hold hearings on the bill despite a request to do so. A confidential listing of the standing of White House legislative proposals omitted equal pay legislation under both "major" and "minor" headings. Thus the "administration effort" on behalf of equal pay legislation became more and more localized in the Women's Bureau office at the Department of Labor.[10]

The Women's Bureau managed at least to bring its regular constituents into line. The AFL-CIO disliked the narrowed, FLSA-based coverage of the bill, but acquiesced. The National Committee on Equal Pay, composed of many of Peterson's old colleagues, including Caroline Davis of the United Automobile Workers, Mary Anderson, the first director of the Women's Bureau, Helen Berthelot of the Communications Workers, and Olya Margolin of the National Council of Jewish Women, quickly concurred. By mutual agreement, Edith Green, who had sponsored equal pay legislation ever since her election to the House of Representatives, was named chief sponsor in that body. Wayne Morse (D-Oreg.), an originator of equal pay legislation in 1945, and Patrick McNamara (D-Mich.), whose subcommittee would consider the bill, would introduce the bill in the Senate.[11]

Although the Department of Labor and the White House expressed solid support for the bill, other administration officials tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to block the measure. Under Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz wrote Goldberg in early May 1961: "Arthur: I am not in favor of this proposal. I think it is utterly unrealistic and that if such a bill were adopted it would be the worst failure since the 18th Amendment. Nor am I per-


suaded that this is either necessary or good public relations." The Bureau of the Budget, too, expressed reservations about the need for such a bill and delayed its approval while awaiting cost estimates.[12]

Nevertheless, by the end of July Esther Peterson was able to write to AFL-CIO legislative director George Riley that "things are moving along at last."[13] The administration bill was sent to the House and Senate in August 1961. In his transmittal letter to the president of the Senate, Goldberg observed that unequal wages had an adverse impact on both purchasing power and worker morale, which in turn hindered production, a key concern of the Kennedy administration. Equal pay, Goldberg contended, would prevent employers from using women to undercut the wages of male workers and would bring the workplace closer to the ideals of American justice.[14]

Equal pay legislation also received the endorsement of the President's Commission on the Status of Women, a move Peterson orchestrated. At its first meeting in February 1962, Eleanor Roosevelt, the commission chairman, commented: "I should think this was a fairly safe thing to take up,"[15] and she told the press that the commission believed that unequal wages for comparable work were "contrary to the concept of equality and justice in which we believe."[16]

While the Women's Bureau staff shepherded the bill through legislative channels, data in support of the bill began to come in from the Women's Bureau constituents. The American Association of University Women produced a study of men and women in executive positions that disclosed discriminating pay practices in many companies. Caroline Davis of the UAW supplied material about a recent strike that resulted in the reduction of pay differentials between men and women, not to zero, but to ten cents an hour. Hattie Trazenfeld of the BPW reported on cases collected from that organization's membership, and the Women's Bureau discovered specific wage differentials in about a dozen union contracts from 1959 to 1961.[17] Peterson herself sought cases as she traveled around the country. At one point, a manager told her that unequal pay scales were "equitable." When, over coffee, she pressed him for his meaning, he offered lame justifications, which she contended she did not understand.


Finally he said to her: "Mrs. Peterson, don't do this to me. You know we pay them less because we can get them for less," an explanation Peterson often repeated in discussions with members of Congress.[18]

Thus, proponents were well prepared for the hearings that took place in March 1962, before a select subcommittee on labor headed by Herbert Zelenko (D-N.Y.) of the House Education and Labor Committee. Arthur Goldberg led off, addressing himself to the principle of equal pay legislation, then Peterson offered individual stories and surveys of wages in particular cities, including a Women's Bureau study of work orders for public employment revealing 120 job requests that offered men higher wages than women. Representatives from both sides of the aisle spoke in favor, as did delegates of various labor unions who called for the bill's enactment in order to bring nonunion shops and less enlightened unions than their own into line with the principle. Emma Guffey Miller, now chairman of the National Woman's party, supported the bill as befitted a devoted Democrat but spent most of her testimony arguing for the Equal Rights Amendment. (Privately, Miller called the measure "the so-called equal pay bill"; another NWP member characterized it as "a smart dodge for the people who want to spike the movement for real equality.")[19] Katherine Peden, president of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, appeared for that organization's 175,000 members and offered examples of unequal pay from BPW files. The American Association of University Women and the National Councils of Jewish, Catholic, and Negro Women also sent contingents. The National Association of Manufacturers did not attend but filed a statement affirming its belief in equal pay and its opposition to federal "intervention." Additional hearings also took place in New York, where such notables as Eleanor Roosevelt and Bette Davis testified, along with several more organizations. No one offered opposing arguments.[20]

A clean bill incorporating changes suggested in the hearings received unanimous endorsement from the House committee. The administrative enforcement provision had been lost, which irritated the AFL-CIO, and a section excluding employers with fewer than twenty-five employees was added, but the commit-


tee included a new provision expressly forbidding employers to lower the wage rates of male employees to comply. During the House debate on the rule, Representative Katharine St. George (R-N.Y.) declared that she did not see how anyone could oppose the legislation: "It would be like being against motherhood."[21] Nevertheless, many representatives had specific objections. Chief among them was the language of the key clause, requiring "equal pay for comparable work." In response, Katharine St. George proposed substituting the phrase "equal pay for equal work."

Bills concerning equal pay for women had always used the terminology "comparable work" requiring "comparable skills," rather than "equal work." Opponents of the bill objected that comparability would prove virtually impossible to determine, but advocates feared that "equal" would mean "identical," and that "slight and inconsequential" differences might be used to justify disparate wages. Few state equal pay laws applied only to identical jobs, and General Order 16, promulgated by the War Labor Board in 1942, spoke of "comparable quality and quantity of work" in authorizing equal wages for women workers. Supporters argued that formal job analysis and rating procedures, carried on in cooperation with labor and management, would establish "comparability" if necessary. This battle went to the conservatives, however: Republicans heavily supported St. George's amendment to change the wording, and it passed 138 to 104.[22]

During the House debate on the measure, several representatives offered additional amendments. Republican representative Charles Goodell (New York) moved to eliminate the provision prohibiting compliance through a lowering of wage rates, citing the "panic" of retailers, and the amendment passed 132 to 116. An amendment to add the words or race to the bill everywhere that sex appeared, offered by Charles S. Joelson (D-N.J.), was disallowed on a point of order, raised by Edith Green, as not being "germane." At the close of the debate the House passed the bill by voice vote. No one had spoken on the floor against it.[23]

House approval surprised and alarmed business groups. Unaware of the new impetus behind the bill, they had assumed it


would meet the same fate it had before. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, realizing that it had been remiss in failing to take concerted action against the bill in the House, hastily organized a campaign to bottle up the bill in the Senate committee. "Nobody really was taking the bill very seriously, but suddenly it has become a reality," a chamber spokesman told the Wall Street Journal . The Journal attributed the bill's success to administration efforts and quoted a Senate Democrat as saying, "The Kennedy administration really wants this. They can build this up as a staggering social achievement."[24]

As part of its eleventh-hour lobbying effort, the chamber devoted an issue of its bulletin to equal pay, assuring business leaders that their fear of equal pay legislation did not mean they were prejudiced. The chamber asserted that there were in fact many arguments against "coercive" federal power: for one, pay differentials often resulted from the "added costs" of employing women, caused by their supposedly higher rates of absenteeism and turnover and by state laws requiring special benefits such as rest periods. Federal legislation to compel equal pay would undoubtedly create more problems than it would solve, the chamber insisted. That the misbegotten bill had gotten as far as it did the chamber attributed to "Mrs. Peterson's twelve-hour day."[25]

In their attempt to stall action in the Senate, business groups confronted the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Pat McNamara, and demanded hearings. McNamara refused. The chamber finally found an ally in the ranking minority member of the Senate Labor and Public Works Committee, Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), who succeeded in blocking committee approval. When McNamara finally agreed to amend the bill to permit employers to reflect "added costs" in wage differentials, Goldwater lent his support. Because it was too late to win committee endorsement, in early October McNamara offered the bill as a rider to a State Department construction bill already before the Senate, and it passed.[26]

Although the equal pay bill had for the first time won approval in both houses of Congress, McNamara's strategy ultimately failed. Because the Senate bill differed from the House bill, the legislation had to go to a conference committee. But the Senate


action had created parliamentary problems: the bill to which McNamara appended the equal pay measure had been reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whereas the House Education and Labor Committee had handled equal pay. With only nine days between the Senate vote and adjournment, committee jurisdiction could not be resolved and the bill died. The belated opposition of the business community, by stalling the bill in the Senate Committee for so long, resulted once more in the bill's demise. But this time the new backers of the bill were not so easily undone.[27]

Compromise and Victory

Peterson, Simchak, and the Women's Bureau staff started on a new bill immediately. Taking into account the various amendments of the administration bill offered in each house and the recommendations of the AFL-CIO, the new draft, again modeled on FLSA coverage, included the following provisions: enforcement by the secretary of labor, exemption of employers with fewer than twenty-five employees, prohibitions against compliance by wage cutting and against labor unions seeking unequal wage scales, use of the language "equal work" rather than "comparable work," a gradual elimination of wage differentials, and exclusion of offending firms from government contracts.

The draft bill represented a compromise. The AFL-CIO objected to FLSA coverage and to permitting employers to bring wages into line gradually. The Department of Labor disliked substituting "equal work" for "comparable work." Yet advocates of the legislation took the position that, for the moment, half a loaf was better than none.[28]

With the replacement of Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg by Under Secretary W. Willard Wirtz in September 1962, however, new problems appeared from within the administration. Goldberg had strongly backed the bill; Wirtz opposed it. With Wirtz running the shop, other equal pay opponents became bold. In response to a request for an opinion on the new bill, Walter Heller, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), notified the Bureau of the Budget that the council objected to the bill, citing a lack of "convincing evidence" and the


possibility that "economic" reasons, such as the "added costs" of hiring women, might account for such differentials as did exist. Heller based his letter on an internal memorandum, written by Norman Simler of the CEA staff. Simler, who warned the council that fighting the bill was like "opposing virtue," accused the Labor Department of supporting the bill for its vote-getting appeal and failing to document its contention that women were indeed paid less than men, relying on "common knowledge" rather than hard data. Simler found the bill more objectionable now that it referred to "equal work" rather than "comparable work"; he doubted that many men and women actually did "equal" jobs and feared employers could therefore easily evade enforcement efforts. He predicted that the Department would ultimately create another expensive bureaucracy that would not succeed in eliminating pay discrimination. "But even if it [the bill] could be administered and enforced," Simler argued, "no evidence is presented demonstrating a need for it."[29]

Peterson responded aggressively to the CEA's contentions, asserting that Heller's reasoning revealed "a complete lack of understanding of not only the political but the economic aspects of the bill." After a telephone conversation with Peterson, Heller agreed "to take another look at it," and to have Simler call her as well. Her conversation with Simler disclosed that his research had been limited; he had neither looked at the report of the committee hearings nor asked the Women's Bureau for additional information. The day following Peterson's conversation with the two, the Council of Economic Advisers withdrew its letter to the Budget Bureau.[30]

Both Simler and Heller remained unpersuaded, however. In a memorandum for the council, Simler summarized the evidence Peterson had offered to Congress in 1962. Although he included surveys of job-hiring orders with double pay scales, labor-management contracts that applied wage rates by sex, two private surveys of employers totaling more than two thousand firms of which one-third admitted to double pay standards, and a survey of salary schedules by the National Education Association showing one salary rate for men and and another for women teachers in sixteen school districts, he insisted that the differing wage rates could reflect disparities in job content that


the titles failed to disclose. He concluded: "What this all adds up to is that the Labor Department does not have one shred of evidence, except possibly the 120 cases of job orders . . . , that there is discrimination in wage rates based on sex where men and women perform equal work on jobs requiring equal skill in the same place of employment."[31] Still, Heller said, the Council of Economic Advisers would not enter "objection" to the bill.[32]

Disturbed by the new opposition from within the administration, Peterson dealt with Wirtz directly. In a February 1963 meeting, he objected to the costs of enforcing the equal pay law. Perceiving a lack of sympathy on his part for women affected by such discrimination, Peterson argued that his objection to administrative enforcement would embarrass the administration vis-à-vis unions and women's organizations. Moreover, the amount of money requested for enforcement was small in comparison to other allocations. "It does not seem unreasonable," Peterson maintained, "to spend approximately the same amount of money the government now spends on paper clips and stapling machines in order to protect the pay of 24 million women members of the labor force." Peterson argued also from the political standpoint—that women felt that pay and job discrimination affected them seriously and that such a bill would impress groups such as the BPW, possibly breaking them away from their traditionally Republican allegiance. She recognized that the bill constituted only a first step for women: "This Bill will not give most of them real relief, since it does not give them equal opportunity." But it would point the way to future steps.[33]

Peterson prevailed; the Bureau of the Budget finally advised that it would not obstruct the bill. Despite the continuing objections of Secretary Wirtz and CEA chairman Heller, Peterson carried the administration bill to the Hill on February 14, 1963, where it was introduced in the House by Edith Green and in the Senate by Pat McNamara.[34] The prohibition against compliance by lowering wages had been omitted because McNamara believed the bill included the injunction implicitly. The Labor Department continued to amass better evidence of the bill's need, and the AFL-CIO Executive Council issued a statement calling for prompt action without detrimental amendments.


Frank Thompson, chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on Labor (who kept material on the bill filed under B for "Broads"), scheduled hearings for the middle of March, hoping that, in view of the extensive hearings held the previous year, testimony would be brief.[35]

This time, business representatives organized early. The Chamber of Commerce urged its members to write or wire their representatives telling them that the bill would give the government "sweeping powers over industry" and make the secretary of labor "prosecutor, judge, and jury."[36] Manufacturers' associations met with Labor Department officials and complained that the new bill did not take into account the "added costs" of hiring women or the fate of small manufacturers who would go out of business if they had to raise women's wages.[37]

Representative Charles Goodell (R-N.Y.) sympathized with these complaints. Goodell himself believed the administration bill to be too vague; in conjunction with labor and industry representatives, particularly officials of Corning Glass Works, an important New York employer, Goodell offered a bill simply amending the Fair Labor Standards Act. As such, the bill contained no twenty-five employee test, it narrowed coverage by excluding all the exempted occupations included in section 13 of the FLSA, and it utilized the enforcement provisions of the FLSA, which meant that only the courts could compel employers to comply.[38]

During the hearings in March and April, Peterson and the bureau's allies testified against Goodell's approach. Amending the FLSA would bring undesirable consequences, they said, particularly the unavailability of administrative enforcement and the exclusion of several categories of employees from coverage. The AFL-CIO representative argued that even the coverage of the administration bill (which followed the FLSA in affecting only employers "engaged in" commerce) fell short; the labor organization still preferred the broader scope of the National Labor Relations Act.[39]

This time, four corporate executives spoke in opposition to any equal pay law, and five more submitted written statements. Their objections rested on the powers given the secretary of labor to "harass" businesses, the supposed added costs of hiring


women, the anticipated difficulty of assessing equality of work, and the lack of a need for federal legislation. Some firms, though, reflecting an awareness of the likelihood that some bill would pass, testified in favor of legislation if it were to be an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act.[40]

Business opposition to the administration measure was much more vocal than it had been in the fifties, when the bill had failed without it. After the hearings, pressure mounted to assuage business fears by enacting equal pay legislation through revision of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Although the Department of Labor feared this proposal might open up the FLSA to other less desirable amendments, advantages became apparent. By way of compromise, the administration bill had limited coverage to employers with twenty-five or more employees; because the FLSA applied to all employers with two or more employees "engaged in commerce," amending the FLSA would actually increase by about three million the number of employees covered. With business objection so strong, Peterson and others feared that administrative enforcement would be lost in the legislative process anyway, and the FLSA provided established investigative practices that often resulted in voluntary compliance before court action became necessary. Goodell's bill had the recorded support of many Republicans; it appealed to legislators because it was "simple"—it did not require new procedures or machinery. The Department of Labor began to consider any other prospect of passage unlikely.[41]

After close consultation with Peterson, Simchak and other Labor Department staff, the Senate and House committees decided to endorse amendment of the FLSA. On April 30, Pat McNamara introduced such a bill in the Senate, with Edith Green following in the House on May 6. Both bills prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in the payment of wages for "equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort and responsibility, and are performed under similar working conditions," and neither permitted employers to lower wages rates to reach this goal. The act was to take effect one year from the date of passage. Both the House and the Senate committees reported the bills quickly and favorably, barely one week


after their introduction, despite an attempt by the Chamber of Commerce to instigate further hearings because of "inadequate" consideration of this approach in the earlier hearings.[42] In response to the congressional committee reports, Peterson stated: "There are advantages and disadvantages to this FLSA route, but the decision was made by the Congress and we believe the bills as reported out of committee are good ones." With little debate, the Senate passed the bill on May 17.[43]

Peterson had consulted with the AFL-CIO before consenting to Goodell's proposal, and, reluctantly, the organization supported the new bill.[44] Writing to members of Congress, Andrew J. Biemiller, director of the Department of Legislation, asked for their vote in favor but observed that the bill did not meet even "minimum requirements for equal pay legislation" and cautioned against any further weakening amendments. Yet Biemiller also stated that the organization would support an amendment to delete a provision granting an extra one-year stay of the law in cases where the employees were covered by a union contract. The measures granted relief, claimed Biemiller, not to unions but to employers.[45]

During the House debate at the end of May, few representatives spoke against the bill in general, although several offered specific amendments. Motions to forbid the secretary of labor to investigate without a written complaint and to permit employers to pass along "costs of hiring women" in wage differences both met defeat. Those amendments that were adopted did not eviscerate the bill: the House spelled out that wage differentials resulting from seniority, merit, or piece rate would not be illegitimate, and added a provision making labor unions culpable if they attempted to get an employer to agree to wage differentials based on sex. Many representatives commended the choice to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act over other methods of enactment. The bill in the House passed easily on May 23.[46]

Senator McNamara, contradicting assertions made on the House floor, took pains to state for the record that the bill did not require "a pattern of violation" for an employer to be culpable and that the Senate did not construe "equal" to mean "identical." The Senate then concurred in the House amendments—


the final legislative action—on May 28. Thus, eighteen years after its initial proposal, an equal pay bill came before the president for his signature.[47]

The long fight for an equal pay law culminated in a signing ceremony in the president's office on June 10, 1963, with several congresswomen, Wirtz, Peterson, Simchak, and Labor Department staff members, representatives of women's organizations, Mary Anderson, and Frances Perkins in attendance. In his remarks, drafted at the Labor Department, Kennedy observed that despite the work still to be done, the law represented a significant moment.[48]

Although its focus was narrow, the Equal Pay Act marked the entrance of the federal government into the field of safeguarding the right of women to hold employment on the same basis as men. Traditionally, the business community had justified women's lower wages by claiming that women worked for "pin money," not for income to support their families. By making wage discrimination illegal, the federal government undermined this view and implicitly supported, for the first time, the contention that paid employment was consonant with a woman's obligations as wife and mother.[49]

Women who had worked long and hard for equal pay legislation expressed deep gratitude to Peterson. Wrote Caroline Davis of the UAW:

It could never have happened without the tremendous effort put forth on your part and the work of the women in your U.S. Women's Bureau under your expert guidance. Believe me I know, because for 15 years that I have been on the staff of the UAW we have worked to secure passage of a law, and at a time had high expectations, only to have [them] dashed before we got very far. This is indeed a great accomplishment on your part and you can rightfully be very proud that your influence played the greatest part in securing this victory.[50]

Indeed, the leadership of the Women's Bureau proved crucial. The bureau forged a compromise by persuading women's organizations and labor groups to accept a bill lacking features they had considered vital and by quashing disunity in the administration. In its final form, the equal pay law guaranteed equal


pay for "equal" rather than "comparable" work; it excluded employees not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act; it contained no provision for administrative enforcement. Yet future amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act extended coverage, and the procedures established by the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor ultimately offered good results. Court decisions construed the meaning of "equal work" liberally, declining to apply the law solely to identical jobs: in the first ten years of its enforcement, 171,000 employees had been awarded $84 million in back pay alone under the provisions of the law.[51]

The Women's Bureau coalition had succeeded in enacting its chief legislative objective through the advantages of a sympathetic social setting, an administration tied to its labor constituency, and effective leadership in Peterson and Goldberg. This particular combination of circumstances permitted the Women's Bureau coalition to achieve yet another of its goals: a commission on the status of women that had the power to reach beyond the narrow limits of an equal pay law and examine the whole question of women's status, even while draining away the minimal energy still fueling the Equal Rights Amendment.


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