Chronology of Highlights in History of Wisconsin Women’s Movement (1977-1983)

April 1977 - State responds to equal rights requirements in the statutes by requiring time-and-a-half pay for work over 40 hours a week (48 hours for restaurants).

March 1977 - Planned Parenthood and the Alan Guttmacher Institute note an increasing interest in health insurance and caution women to check coverage for the following: are pregnancy and maternity care covered and not just “diseases of the reproductive organs”?; are single women covered for pregnancy and maternity?; is wife covered after divorce?; are contraceptives covered?; are costs covered at clinics?; for midwife’s services?; for nurse practitioners?

March 1977 - The League of Women Voters has published a source book of information about the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.

March 1977 - The International Women’s Year Commission has prepared a book of statistics on teen pregnancy and recommends greatly increased preventive services for teenagers.

March 1977 - A Wisconsin Child Care Task Force had been created by the several pertinent service providers and advocacy groups to coordinate child care services.

March 1977 - In response to a U.S. Supreme court decision that employers need not compensate women for maternity-related disability, a coalition of 150 groups has joined in a campaign to prevent such exclusions. The State of Wisconsin has begun to provide income continuation insurance for disabilities resulting from maternity and for time off for “maternity purposes.”

June 1977 - Over 1200 women came to Madison for the Wisconsin State Meeting to elect 28 delegates and pass resolutions in preparation for the National Women’s Conference to be held in Houston in November. Workshops, plenary sessions, and many special events and exhibits kept the excitement high. The Equal Rights amendment and abortion rights were the most controversial issues, and, although the opponents were few in number, they were very vocal with their views.

June 1977 - College Week for Women, a three-day program of non-credit classes sponsored by University Extension and held on the Madison campus each June, has completed its 14th year with almost 1500 women in attendance.

July 1977 - State Clerical workers led a strike to gain recognition of a union and a number of contract items, among them a pay increase, future increases based on the cost-of-living, and an automatic schedule of steps through a pay range.

July 1977 - Brazil grants the right to divorce.

July 1977 - Four regional conferences on rural women in Wisconsin have led to a report prepared by Kathryn Clarenbach for the National Advisory Council on Women’s Educational Programs that describes the diversity of needs of rural women from farmwife entrepreneurs to Spanish-speaking migrants to tribal women on reservations.

July 1977 - The Wisconsin Telephone Company has agreed to include with its July billings a memo permitting dual listings of names in the next telephone directory.

July 1977 - In 1975 the U.S. Supreme court ruled that an employer’s failure to provide maternity benefits did not constitute sex discrimination. However, the Industry, Labor and Human Relations Commission of Wisconsin has ruled in a number of cases since then that it does constitute sex discrimination under the State Fair Employment Law and a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that pregnancy is a medically related disability and must be covered in the same way as other disabilities in group health insurance plans and sick leave policies.

July 1977 - Wisconsin women writers are invited to participate in the first Annual Writing Contest of Wisconsin Women in the Arts to be presented at Telemark Lodge Sept. 30.

November 1977 - Nineteen Wisconsin delegates and alternates and a number of other Wisconsin women attended the National Women’s Conference in Houston. A Plan of Action was passed overwhelmingly. There were many workshops and events and a spirit of excitement that will empower the women’s movement.

February 1978 - Under new Civil Service rules 39 top administrative posts have been declassified and will be filled by appointment by the governor, thus making departments more responsive to the governor’s policies and making it possible for more women and minorities to reach top levels that were denied under the previous seniority system. Veterans preference points will be applied only for entry-level positions. More part-time and flexible schedules will be created to permit the employment of more seniors, women with young children, and those with handicaps.

February 1978 - Wisconsin Divorce Reform Act takes effect, requiring a no-fault system with an initial presumption that property acquired during the marriage will be divided equally, with any exceptions to be granted by the court.

April 1978 - Under a compromise in the Legislature public funds (Medicaid) will no longer be available for abortions, but the Department of Health and Family Services will receive $1million for family planning services, and $500,000 will be distributed to the Cooperative Educational Service Agencies to fund Human Growth and Development programs in the schools.

June 1978 - State pension plans may be changed to reflect a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that differences between men’s and women’s contributions to pension plans discriminate unlawfully. Although women as a class live longer than men, this generalization does not justify making individual women pay more into the fund. Still undecided is the practice of giving smaller pay-outs to women because they live longer.

June 1978 - A Wisconsin judge has ruled against the “derivative domicile” policy making it legal for a woman living apart from her husband to establish her own domicile for voting or running for public office. Problems remain on matters of income tax liability and property disposition at the time of death or divorce.

June 1978 - Chair of the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women Kathryn Clarenbach has recommended several actions to help women overcome problems in gaining any benefits from the federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). The main recommendation was to volunteer to serve on local CETA boards and so to participate in their decisions.

June 1978 - The Women’s Transit Authority, the rape prevention service that offers free rides to women at night is receiving 40 to 100 calls a night and is seeking more volunteers to drive its two cars. It hopes to obtain a third car soon.

June 1978 - A Fellow at the U.W. Law School has been investigating the problem of credit discrimination on the basis of sex and marital status and finds that enforcement of the law is inadequate. She recommends that women’s groups such as the League of Women Voters, the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, and the Center for Public Representation press the Office of the Commissioner of Banking for better enforcement of the law.

June 1978 - Reserve Judge George Currie has ruled that the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision requiring sick leave for pregnancy-related disability be treated the same as any other temporary disability will stand in spite of a contrary ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Title IX already requires school districts to do so.

June 1978 - In a letter to friends and contributors the Women’s Medical Fund has described the plight of some of the women it has helped to receive abortions now denied under Medicaid.

June 1978 - The U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare has issued rules describing the factors that must be taken into account when schools establish equal opportunities for both sexes in athletics. These include the interests of each sex, the supplies and equipment provided, the practice and games schedules, travel allowances, coaching pay, locker rooms, travel allowances, publicity and such. Although contact sports were exempted, subsequently a U.S. District court in Milwaukee extended the rule to cover contact sports.

September 1978 - The Wisconsin Tax Appeals Court has ruled that a farm wife is a joint and equal partner with her husband in the farm business. It is a strong argument for the proposed Marital Partnership legislation.

October 1978 - Library Services workshops were held in Racine and LaCrosse to link all community information providers dealing specifically with women’s concerns. A series of twenty packets with information on women’s issues was introduced. It is available from University Extension’s Women’s Education Resources.

October 1978 - Fifteen Wisconsin women attended the first national conference of displaced homemakers in Baltimore, Maryland. Displaced Homemaker programs are operating in many Wisconsin Communities including Fennimore, Waukesha, Madison, Milwaukee, West Allis, and Rock County.

December 1978 - The federal government is experimenting to see if the Work Incentive Program can increase the earning power of AFDC women by placing them in non-traditional jobs. Those women who volunteer will receive on-the-job training in work that pays at least $4 an hour.

January 1979 - Only one woman, Nancy Landon Kassebaum, sits in the new U.S. Senate, sixteen sit in the House of Representatives. In Wisconsin, with the defeat of the first woman elected to the State Senate, Kathryn Morrison, only one remains, Michelle Radosevich, while there are 13 in the State Assembly. They are Marcia Coggs, Sheehan Donoghue, Joanne Duren, Patricia Goodrich, Esther Luckhardt, Sharon Metz, Marjorie Miller, Mary Lou Munts, Louise Tesmer, Mary Kay Wagner, Patricia Smith, and Barbara Ulichny.

April 1979 - A conference on nontraditional jobs for women will be held in LaCrosse The Wisconsin AFL-CIO has voted to oppose the interspousal inheritance tax, and any effort to rescind the ERA.

June 1979 - After 15 years of activity on behalf of Wisconsin women, the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women officially closes. (Governor Dreyfus said he would “croak it.) One of the most active of the state commissions, it has taken on dozens of issues and problems confronting Wisconsin women, including publishing reports, speaking to organizations, and providing information on legislation.

August 1979 - Governor Lee Dreyfus has vetoed a bill that was originally proposed by the League of Women Voters and adopted by both houses of the Legislature for a Board on the Economic Status of Women to take up the work of the Governor’s Commission.

August 1979 - A Republican Women’s Task Force has been created in the GOP Steering Committee.

September 1979 - Following the dissolution of the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, a coalition of the major feminist organizations has joined to create The Wisconsin Women’s Network. It includes The Women’s Political Caucus, The Coalition of Labor Union Women, the National Organization for Women-Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, the Center for Public Representation, the American Association of University Women, and many others. The Board of Directors includes Liesl Blockstein, Gene Boyer, Kathryn Clarenbach, Catherine Conroy, Joan Dramm, Eunice Edgar, Eleanor Fitch, Nelia Olivencia, Vel Phillips, Chris Roerden, and Louise Trubek. Helen Casper, a director of the League of Women Voters will staff the organization.

The purpose of the Network is “to create a network of Wisconsin women and men to facilitate coordination, provide a communications system and strengthen the advocacy voice for women’s issues based on the principles articulated in the publication Wisconsin Women and the National Plan of Action. (The National Plan was adopted at the National Women’s Conference in Houston in November 1977.) Marital property reform has been selected as the first agenda item, and a task force on this matter will be chaired by Anne Arnesen.

December 1979 - Sponsored by 55 representatives, a “marital partnership property” bill was introduced into the State Assembly. The idea and the details of changing from a “separate property” regime in Wisconsin laws relating to property ownership in marriage has been discussed for many months by a group of women representing several organizations. The proposal would install a “community property” regime.

January 1980 - A hearing was held by the Assembly Judiciary Committee on the marital property reform bill. Nine hours of testimony brought forth many technical questions and legal doubts as well as a surprising number of supporting statements.

January 1980 - The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has voted to begin national championships for women thus driving out the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, which has been far more interested in the status of women athletes. The NCAA has tried unsuccessfully to exempt collegiate athletics from Title IX.

February 1980 - Governor Dreyfus has signed a bill appropriating $1 million to fund the first year of the new domestic abuse law that provides for local shelters and training for law enforcement officers.

March 1980 - The State Department of Health and Social Services is working with the U.W. Institute on Poverty to study child support and the allocation of moneys in divorce settlements.

May 1980 - To comply with the federal Vocational Education Act and the subsequent State Plan for Vocational Education, a member of the Advisory Council has been appointed to represent the needs of women and to overcome sex bias and assure equal access to vocational education.

August 1980 - The Wisconsin Women’s Network has established a task force on equity in employment with emphasis on pay equity.

November 1980 - A new provision of the California unemployment insurance system allows the payment of partial unemployment insurance benefits to workers in companies where there is mutual agreement to temporarily reduce wages and hours rather than to lay off some employees.

January 1981 - Under the Economic Recovery Tax Act that took effect on January 1, the marital deduction exclusion for federal estate taxes is unlimited, meaning that all property, money, and other assets transferring to a surviving spouse will be exempt from federal estate taxes.

January 1981 - Secretary of State Vel Phillips was the opening speaker at the Wisconsin Women’s Network’s press conference held to demonstrate concern that in this era of fiscal austerity women and their families will suffer disproportional hardship as the result of proposed budget cuts.

November 1981 - With the campaign for the marital property legislation continuing, major concern is expressed regarding the federal government’s shifting away from categorical aids for health and social service to “block grants” that will require states to make difficult decisions among competing agencies and programs.

November 1981 - As the result of a major effort by women’s groups, Governor Dreyfus has restored the appropriation for displaced homemakers that he had vetoed earlier. The program will be administered by the VTAE (Vocational, Technical, and Adult Education) Board.

April 1982 - The Wisconsin Supreme Court has handed down a decision that implements the 1977 Divorce Reform Act that requires courts to assume a 50-50 split of the couple’s assets and place the burden for any different division on the spouses if either wishes to contest that basic presumption.

May 1982 - The marital property reform bill, passed by the State Assembly, was “tabled” by the Senate and so will have to be revised and resubmitted in the next session.

May 1982 - Wisconsin has become the first state to include the term “sexual orientation” in the list of minority groups to be protected under the Equal Rights Act.

June 30 1982 - The federal Equal Rights Act has failed ratification by the required number of states (2/3) in the necessary ten years since passed by Congress, and so has been defeated. It needed only three more state’s ratifications to have passed.

August 1982 - A pay equity lawsuit has been filed under Title VII against the State of Wisconsin the State Employees Union and its international, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. AFSCME said the state underpays women in state civil service by an average of 20% and in some cases as much as 37% when compared with job classifications traditionally held by men but requiring similar training and skills. Furthermore, Wisconsin also discriminates by excluding women from almost half of the higher paying entry-level jobs such as laborer or mail clerk.

August 1982 - The Wisconsin Women’s Network now lists 58 organizations as members of its coalition.

September 1982 - The Wisconsin Women’s Network’s Task Force on Women in the Criminal Justice System and University Extension held a two-day conference for law enforcement officers, lawyers, corrections personnel, social workers and other professionals to discuss ways to offer education and vocational training to guide women into more productive lives after prison.

September 1982 - The Center for Public Representation is offering for sale “The Children’s Audit Manual” that describes how state and federal programs work in each county of Wisconsin to provide health care, nutrition, social services, child development programs, and meet other special needs. It is valuable for public officials, health and human service workers, educators, and the early childhood community.

November 1982 - Although 63 women ran for the Legislature, including 20 incumbents, only 23 were elected to the Assembly and 2 to the Senate. This is a net gain of 5 for the Assembly.

November 1982 - The Legislature has passed a law requiring physicians to inform their patients about the availability of all alternate, viable medical modes of treatment and the benefits and risks of those treatments. The law was stimulated by the case of a cancer patient who was not given full information. The statute codifies a 1965 Supreme Court decision.

November 1982 - Under a proposed system for supporting children of divorced parents, a minimum support based on a percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income would be paid by that parent as a tax. The state would then make the payment to the custodial spouse and would be responsible for collecting any unpaid tax, thus guaranteeing at least a minimum of financial support for the child or children.

February 1983 - An effort by the BPW and some other groups to put the proposed state ERA on the ballot again is being opposed by other groups such as the ACLU-Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters and NOW who have other priorities. They also have concerns that opponents will push for a preamble that would exempt issues like abortion, sexual orientation, public toilets and the draft.. No action is expected.

March 1983 - Although the term “feminization of poverty” is commonly used to refer to the fact that many women are impoverished by the combination of traditional roles and governmental policies, a more accurate term— “the impoverishment of women”-has been suggested. Feminists continue to work to end this situation.

April 1983 - Wisconsin is joining the national project to establish an annual “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” The Education Equity Task Force of the Wisconsin Women’s Network is leading the effort.

May 1983 - The economic status of women continues to decline. Many factors are recognized: increases in the numbers of single mothers; the nature of budget cuts for school lunches, reductions in food stamps, cuts in AFDC, Medicaid, subsidized housing, child nutritious, maternal and child health programs, and local education promotions.

May 1983 - Rep. John Medinger (D-LaCrosse) has introduced a bill which would prohibit parents of a child born with congenital abnormalities or developmental difficulties caused by the defendant’s negligence from suing for damages caused by malpractice. Similar legislation is being proposed in other states by opponents of abortion rights on the assumption that it will reduce the number of abortions. It is being called “Wrongful Life-Wrongful Birth.

May 1983 - Governor Anthony Earl is advocating a strong “happy family” program that includes reproductive rights.

August 1983 - “The Wisconsin Difference,” a coalition of some 40 churches, public interest groups, and women’s organizations, was able to obtain some provisions in the state budget that are favorable to women and children. Included are funds for family support, respite care, and an Emergency Jobs Bill.

August 1983 - Lester Brown of the World Watch paper foresees a race between population growth and economic growth. “As economic growth slows, the population problems change, ” Brown says “In the past, rapid population growth slowed improvements in income, but for many countries, it now precludes them. In an age of slower economic growth, improvements in living standards may depend more on the skills of family planners than on those of economic planners.”

August 1983 - Governor Anthony Earl has appointed a 15-member Wisconsin Women’s Council with a mission to “work with state agencies, conduct research, develop bills and otherwise work to eliminate the barriers which keep women in poverty and second-class status.”

Fall 1983 - A bill has been introduced in the State Assembly that would give judges the right to mandate joint custody of children in a divorce action even when one parent disagrees. The issue raises many questions, and even those who disagree on this matter believe that the solution should lie in what is best for the children.

Fall 1983 - A Council has been appointed to advise the administrator of the Department of Corrections, Walter Dickey, and the Secretary of the Department of Health and Social services, Linda Reivitz, about the adequacy of programs for women offenders. Because women offenders have not had the same treatment or access to the same kinds of educational and work programs as have men prisoners and because of the small number of women prisoners, it has been all too easy to overlook the needs of incarcerated female offenders.

Fall 1983 - A bill has been introduced by Dr. Hania Ris that would fund the production of a pamphlet to educate the public, especially women, about the dangers for pregnant women of causing fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that can cause mental retardation and learning disabilities in the child.

Fall 1983 - The State Assembly has passed two marital property bills. It was expected that legislators would support the comprehensive Munts-Adelman bill without significant amendments, but when Senator Panzer proposed making it all optional, many members decided to avoid the crucial vote and took the optional route. It is hoped that the Senate will now support the comprehensive bill.

Also see: Introduction to the 60’s & 70’s | 1960’s | 1970’s | Introduction to the late 70’s-2000 | 1977-1983 | 1984-2000