Shortly after Dorothy Hamill was born in Chicago in July 1956, her family relocated to Greenwich, Conn. It was here, at the age of 8, this American sweetheart would receive her first pair of ice skates as a Christmas gift and begin her journey toward becoming a figure skating champion and household name. With new skates in tow, Hamill set out on a nearby pond behind her grandparents’ house and, fueled by a desire to learn how to skate backwards, instantly urged her parents to sign her up for private skating lessons.
Just one year later, at 9 years of age, Hamill was ready to compete. At her first competition, the Wollman Open in New York City, Hamill came in second place, beating more than 100 other girls. It was clear that she had a natural talent, and that this talent should be cultivated. By the time she was 15, nearly all of Hamill’s time would be filled with skating. By 1975, she had acquired a strong winning record, but it was 1976 that became the golden year for the champion. Not only did Hamill win the U.S. National Championship and World Championship, the skater, whose charisma on the ice had become unmistakable, also took home the gold medal from the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. She won much recognition for her signature move, the "Hamill Camel," a camel spin into a sit spin.
The Olympic win catapulted Hamill to celebrity status. Clairol, the ABC network, and the Ice Capades all came knocking on Hamill’s door with contracts, making the young skater the first athlete to earn more than $2 million in each of her first two years as a professional. Her wedge hairstyle quickly became a fad among young ladies, and in 1977 a Dorothy Hamill doll premiered. Loved as a performer, Hamill’s Ice Capades agreement enabled her to skate as a headliner from 1977-1984. In 1983, Hamill won an Emmy for her performance in the Ice Capades production of Romeo and Juliet on Ice. By 1993, the Ice Capades was in financial distress, and Hamill purchased the company, outwardly demonstrating her firm belief in the transformative, uplifting and positive influences figure skating can have on the public. In 1991, she was inducted to into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. She was also inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2000.
Hamill continues to captivate America’s hearts by staying active in philanthropic affairs. It is clear that she understands the joy that sports can bring to a child’s life. In partnership with the March of Dimes, she was afforded the opportunity to teach blind children to skate. She has also become heavily involved with Figure Skating in Harlem, an organization that promotes self-confidence, physical well-being and academic achievement among inner-city girls.
In January of 2008, Hamill told America that she was battling breast cancer, a disease she had seen her mother fight. Now a survivor, Hamill continues to open up about her experience with the disease and speaks out for breast cancer awareness. She has also shared publicly about her struggles with depression in an effort to raise awareness and break the social stigma still attached to mental illness. Her two autobiographies, Dorothy Hamill: On and Off the Ice (1983) and A Skating Life: My Story (2007), describe her life and career. She continues to skate and to mentor young skaters. Through it all, Hamill has never lost hope, and a mere mention of her name continues to inspire countless fans.
During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice
Feminism in the late 1960s was aided by President Kennedy, who formed the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, and his successor, President Johnson, who backed passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Difficulties in implementing the law through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) led a group of women in 1966 to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), demanding “action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now.”
A younger group called for a more radical approach to social change than simply considering what was possible to achieve politically. “Women’s liberation” demanded freedom without limitation. Some took part in consciousness-raising groups, others demonstrated against the Miss America pageant, and many discussed their expectations of mutual enjoyment of sex. They established rape crisis centers, domestic shelters, and women’s studies programs. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act also increased pressure on universities to hire more women faculty and expand the number of female college athletes. Activist protest among gays and lesbians, such as the Stonewall Riot, symbolized this group’s potential to resist oppression.
Under pressure, many states repealed legislation prohibiting abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized its availability to women in Roe v. Wade. Also in 1973, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA, and states began its ratification.
Yet, dissension arose in the ranks of the movement, as it had earlier after passage of the 19th amendment. Feminists disagreed as to whether pornography should be banned or protected as a form of free speech, and whether lesbian identities should be kept secret or disclosed. Black women were more concerned with poverty and welfare in their communities than with personal career advancement; for them, sterilization abuse was more important than abortion, and they were deeply insulted by attacks on the African American family as matriarchal and dysfunctional.
A backlash was growing in the 1970s, along with a New Right in politics. The ERA was defeated and opposition to abortion increased. Conflicts between pro-life and pro-choice candidates have impacted every presidential campaign since then.
Still, gains have been made in many areas. From 1960 to 2000, increasing numbers of women sought entry to higher education, and bachelor’s degrees awarded to them increased from forty to sixty percent. Definitions of marriage have changed, as when courts gave full rights and responsibilities and the name of marriage to same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in 2008. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 highlighted concern about sexual harassment on the job, and the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC have increased, as have judgments in favor of the women. Finally, in 2009, women crossed the fifty percent threshold and became the majority of the American workforce. Once largely confined to repetitive manual jobs, now they are running organizations that once treated them as second-class citizens.
The Women’s Movement has changed women’s lives, influenced the economy, and made debate about their roles, family life, and sexual conventions central to national politics and American history.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.