Jean Ledwith King

Jean Ledwith King

Jean Ledwith King

Jean Ledwith King

Soon after graduating from the University of Michigan Law School in 1968, Jean Ledwith King became extremely active in promoting equality for women. In 1970, she played an active role in founding and establishing FOCUS on Equal Employment for Women, and organization striving to eliminate sexual discrimination. Five months after the inception of FOCUS, the group filed a complaint against the University of Michigan for sex discrimination in employment, admissions, financial aid, athletics, and a variety of other arenas. The complaint had been spurred by the comments of the chief admissions officer for the University’s College of Literature, Science, and Arts (LS&A), who admitted that they promoted a policy to keep the student body 55% men and 45% women, regardless of qualifications, in order to “prevent overbalance.” The suit led to the first comprehensive investigation of a major university by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Labor for sexual discrimination.1 When the University realized that federal funding would be diminished because of their discriminatory policies, things began to change. As a result of the work of Jean King and others, the programs and policies at the University of Michigan were permanently altered; up until that point, there had been no varsity sports for women, honor societies had been permitted to exclude women, there were no women law professors, and there was discrimination against women in graduate school admissions. These circumstances and many others were improved significantly for women in universities and colleges in Michigan and throughout the nation.

Jean Ledwith King also fought sex discrimination at the elementary and high school levels. In 1974, she drafted a complaint because of the sex discrimination in the Houghton-Mifflin textbooks used in the Kalamazoo Public Schools. The publisher almost immediately issued a 100-page supplement and began to revise its textbooks. King’s action significantly changed the publishing industry and led to a Michigan law prohibiting sex and racial stereotyping in textbooks.

King also promoted women’s equality outside of the educational setting. She argued that common law permitted Michigan women to determine their own legal names and successfully led a state-wide campaign to allow them to use their maiden names on their driver’s licenses. King also played a key role in the formation of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights in 1973, which worked to guarantee a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. With the help of five other women, King founded the Women’s Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party. This was the first women’s caucus in any major political party in the world.

Her daughter, Nancy King, described her as possessing a “keen sense of outrage” which did not allow her to put up with things that were wrong.2 Because of Jean Ledwith King’s outrage, conditions and opportunities for women in Michigan have improved significantly.

1 George, Maryanne. “Lawyer is Fearless Champ of Equality in Schools, Sports.” Detroit Free Press.
March 15, 1999. http://www.freep.com/womenhistory99/qjking15.htm.

2 George, Maryanne. “Lawyer is Fearless Champ of Equality in Schools, Sports.” Detroit Free Press.
March 15, 1999. http://www.freep.com/womenhistory99/qjking15.htm.