On December 14, 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order, creating a President's Commission on the Status of Women. The commission was called on to "review progress and make recommendations as needed for constructive action" in a number of areas, including "employment policies and practices, including those on wages, under Federal contracts."
The commission, one later observer noted, "was made up of people you would expect to find on a panel that was meant to be modestly useful but not controversial. The male members were mainly educators and cabinet officials whose interest in the subject was in some cases non-existent." Nevertheless, "the commission—-and the state commissions on the status of women it spawned-—brought together smart, achieving women who might otherwise have never met. And it required them to talk about women's rights, a subject that seldom came up in their normal work in government or academia. It created a special chemistry, a kind of synergy that made things happen."
Two sections of the commission's report, released on October 11, 1963, are excerpted here. The first, on Education and Counseling, noted that women's academic achievement begins to fall behind that of men after they enter college. But the commission's recommendations were focused more on providing continuing educational opportunities for women after they had married and raised their children. The University of Michigan's Center for the Continuing Education of Women had been under development before that; it opened its doors in the fall of 1964, serving as "an insistent, if fragile, goad to the university bureaucracy."
More importantly, in the second excerpted section, on the employment of women, the presidential commission addressed strategies for achieving greater equity in the workplace. This was a touchy subject, as union leaders, who had the ear of the Democratic administration, had long fought the Equal Rights Amendment and attempts to modify legislation designed initially to protect women from perceived dangers in the workplace. However, the commission noted that in the case of private employers holding government contracts, their record on hiring women could be evaluated when federal contracts were awarded. Further, it said, "Equal opportunity for women in hiring, training, and promotion should be the governing principle in private employment. An Executive order should state this principle and advance its application to work done under Federal contracts."
President Kennedy died a month after the commission issued its report. It would be four more years before that particular recommendation bore fruit.