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During a June 1966 meeting of state commissions on the status of women in Washington, D.C., Betty Friedan and other attendees felt dissatisfied with the lack of concrete forward motion. Seeing the need for a civil rights organization specifically focused on women's rights, 28 of them met in Friedan's hotel room and created the National Organization for Women (NOW) "to take action" to achieve the equality of women.
The time was ripe for such a move. In 1961, President Kennedy had established the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) to study and resolve problems experienced by women in areas like work, education, and tax laws. In 1963, Friedan had published her groundbreaking feminist classic The Feminine Mystique, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had technically outlawed sex discrimination (though many women still felt there was little or no enforcement.)
Did You Know?
Betty Friedan was elected the first president of NOW and served in that office for three years.
NOW Statement of Purpose 1966: Key Points
- women's rights as "truly equal partnership with men," "fully equal partnership of the sexes"
- focused on activism: "confront, with concrete action, the conditions that now prevent women from enjoying the equality of opportunity and freedom of choice which is their right as individual Americans, as human beings"
- women's rights seen in the context of "the world-wide revolution of human rights"; equality of women as an opportunity to "develop their fullest human potentials"
- purpose to put women in the "mainstream of American political, economic and social life"
- NOW's commitment "equality, freedom, and dignity for women" specifically defined as not being about "special privilege" for women or "enmity towards men"
Key Feminist Issues in Statement of Purpose
- employment -- the most attention in the document is to issues around employment and economics
- family including marriage and divorce laws, home responsibilities by gender role
- political participation: in parties, decision-making, candidates (NOW was to be independent of any particular political party)
- images of women in the media, in culture, in laws, in social practices
- briefly addressed issue of "double discrimination" of African American women, linked women's rights to broader issues of social justice including racial justice
- opposition to "protectiveness" in work, school, church, etc.
NOW instituted seven task forces to work on these issues: The Seven Original NOW Task Forces.
NOW Founders Included:
- Gene Boyer, 1925-2003
- Kathryn Clarenbach,1920-1994
- Inez Casiano, 1926-
- Mary Eastwood, 1930-
- Caroline Davis, 1911-
- Catherine East, 1916-1996
- Elizabeth Farians, 1923-
- Muriel Fox, 1928-
- Betty Friedan, 1921-2006
- Sonia Pressman Fuentes, 1928-
- Richard Graham, 1920-2007
- Anna Arnold Hedgeman, 1899-1990
- Aileen Hernandez, 1926-
- Phineas Indritz, 1916-1997
- Pauli Murray, 1910-1985
- Marguerite Rawalt, 1895-1989
- Sister Mary Joel Read
- Alice Rossi, 1922-More about some of these women and men: The First NOW Officers
Key NOW Activism
Some key issues in which NOW has been active:
1967 Into the 1970s
At the first NOW convention after the founding conference, 1967, members chose to focus on the Equal Rights Amendment, repeal of abortion laws, and public funding of child care. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) remained a major focus until the final deadline for ratification passed in 1982. Marches, beginning in 1977, tried to mobilize support; NOW also organized boycotts by organizations and individuals of events in states which had not ratified the ERA; NOW lobbied for a 7-year extension in 1979 but the House and Senate only approved half of that time.
NOW also focused on legal enforcement of provisions of the Civil Rights Act that applied to women, helped conceive and pass legislation inluding the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978), worked for repeal of abortion laws and, after Roe v. Wade, against laws that would restrict abortion's availability or a pregnant woman's role in choosing abortion.
In the 1980s
In the 1980s, NOW endorsed presidential candidate Walter Mondale who nominated the first woman candidate for VP of a major party, Geraldine Ferraro. NOW added activism against policies of President Ronald Reagan, and began to be more active on issues of lesbian rights. NOW also filed a federal civil suit against groups attacking abortion clinics and their leaders, resulting in a 1994 Supreme Court decision in NOW v. Scheidler.
In the 1990s
In the 1990s, NOW remained active on issues including economic and reproductive rights, and also became more visibly active on issues of domestic violence. NOW also created a Women of Color and Allies Summit, and took aim at the "father's rights" movement as part of NOW's activism on issues of family law.
In the 2000s+
After 2000, NOW worked to oppose the Bush administration's strategies on issues of women's economic rights, reproductive rights, and marriage equality. In 2006, the Supreme Court removed the NOW v. Scheidler protections that kept abortion clinic protesters from interfering with patient's access to the clinics. NOW also took on issues of Mothers and Caregivers Economic Rights and the interface between disability issues and women's rights, and between immigration and women's rights.
In 2008, NOW's Political Action Committee (PAC) endorsed Barack Obama for president. The PAC had endorsed Hillary Clinton in March, 2007, during the primary. The organization had not endorsed a candidate in the general election since the 1984 nomination of Walter Mondale for President and Geraldine Ferraro for Vice President. NOW also endorsed President Obama for a second term in 2012. NOW continued to put pressure on President Obama on women's issues, including for more appointments of women and especially women of color.
In 2009, NOW was a key supporter of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed by President Obama as his first official act. NOW was also active in the struggle to keep contraception coverage in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Issues of economic security, right to marry for same-sex couples, immigrant rights, violence against women, and laws limiting abortions and requiring ultrasounds or extraordinary health clinic regulations continued to be on NOW's agenda. NOW also became active on new activity to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).