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Wage Gaps: Story of Florynce Kennedy

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

How her background influenced her to stand up against inequality:


Florence Kennedy was a lawyer who has devoted her life into standing up against inequality whether it was about race, or women’s wages. As for such audacity, her background has fueled her strongly into fighting for justice.


Growing up during the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan was still a threat to many African Americans. Her father was one of the people who were brave enough to protect himself. Buying a home in a white neighborhood, he was wanted to be driven away by the members of the KKK. In defense of himself, he stood up with a shotgun. He did make sure that his principle was also passed on to Kennedy. Reflecting on her childhood, she quoted ''We were taught very early in the game that we didn't have to respect the teachers, and if they threatened to hit us, we could act as if they weren't anybody we had to pay any attention to.”


Living by that principle, she was never afraid to speak her mind. Within a few years of graduating high school, she was involved in her first political protest, helping organize a boycott when the local Coca-Cola bottler refused to hire black truck driver. When she wasn’t accepted into Columbia Law School merely based on the fact that she was a woman, she threatened to file a lawsuit. Soon after, she was admitted and became the only African American amongst eight girls in her class. Post graduation, she worked for a Manhattan law firm and finally opened her own law office in 1954. Nevertheless, practicing law taught her the lesson that it was not the ultimate solution towards solving inequality. After a case where she represented Jazz artists, Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker Case, she wrote “I … began to question whether practicing law could ever be an effective means of changing society or even of simple resistance to oppression.” At this point, she decided to go into political activism and continue fighting for inequalities, notably, and women’s wages issues.



Political Activism:


On August 30, 1967, Florynce Kennedy along with Ti-Grace Atkinson and members of the National Organization for Women (NOW) organized a protest. A group of protesters formed a picket line at The New York Times’s classified advertisements office at 1457 Broadway. They took aim at the sex-segregated want ads in The New York Times that were blocking women from jobs that consistently paid more. At the time, one would open a newspaper to find “Help Wanted-Male” and “Help-Wanted-Female” ads that had a great difference in offerings.


Exhibit A: “Help-Wanted—Male: Airline opportunities. The aviation industry is one of the fastest-growing in the world. United Airlines, as usual, is setting the pace. The reason for our leadership is the quality of the people who make up our airline. They are intelligent, competitive, and capable. Starting salaries are among the best in the industry.”


Exhibit B: “Help-Wanted—Female: “Airline stewardess. Must be single. Age 21-26, Height 5’3” to 5’8” Weight 105 to 138 pounds. Good health. Good vision. (No glasses or contact lenses.)”


Ads for men promised family-supporting wages, opportunities for women tended to involve low-level work. Kennedy led a group of women and together, they picketed The New York Times for a week and managed to launch a national campaign to stop this discriminatory practice that resulted in a large pay gap. The National Organization for Women filed a lawsuit and as a result, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that separate employment ads for men and women violated The Civil Rights Act.


The activism of Kennedy helped abolish the discriminatory practice of keeping women out of good-paying jobs and energized feminist activists and contributed to the rising women’s movement.



What You Can Do Now:


Although sex-segregated ads are no longer legal, divisions in the job industry continue to reflect gender inequality. Many women have managed to break into ranks and have high wage jobs however, many are still represented as low wage workers where they continue to experience discrimination and a wage gap. To close this gap, we should focus on raising the minimum wage and providing increased protection for low wage earners.


Writers: Ally So and Kenny Ngo


Works Cited:

Balderas, Danielle. “4 Badass Women throughout History Who Fought for Equal Pay-and Won.” Mydomaine, www.mydomaine.com/women-who-fought-for-equal-pay.


Cranley, Ellen. “12 Surprising Women from History Who Paved the Road to Equal Pay.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 2 Apr. 2020, www.businessinsider.com/women-who-paved-the-way-to-equal-pay-2019-3#lawyer-and-activist-florynce-flo-kennedy-1 .


Martin, Douglas. “Flo Kennedy, Feminist, Civil Rights Advocate and Flamboyant Gadfly, Is Dead at 84.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Dec. 2000, www.nytimes.com/2000/12/23/us/flo-kennedy-feminist-civil-rights-advocate-and-flamboyant-gadfly-is-dead-at-84.html.

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