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National Organization for Women

NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN

NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN (NOW). NOW was founded in 1966 when the third annual meeting of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) refused to consider a resolution insisting that it enforce Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawing discrimination in job advertising and hiring practices. Fifteen women who were in Washington to promote this resolution met at the suggestion of the feminist author and activist Betty Friedan to discuss founding a new feminist civil rights organization. On 29 October that year, 300 women met in Washington, D.C., as the founding convention of NOW. The convention drafted a statement of purpose that emphasized that U.S. women's demands for equality were part of an international human rights movement and challenged the United States to pay attention to women's grievances and demands. It also criticized the U.S. government for falling behind other industrialized nations in providing health care, child care, and pregnancy leave for women and labeled these as social needs, not individual problems. The convention chose Friedan as NOW's first president. In 1970, NOW members elected the African American union leader and former EEOC commissioner, Aileen Hernandez, as president.

NOW's first national convention in 1967 adopted a Bill of Rights whose demands were all aimed at dismantling institutionalized gender discrimination. These demands included passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, EEOC enforcement of laws banning gender discrimination in employment, protection of the right of each woman to control her reproductive life, and child day care centers with tax deductions for child care expenses for working parents. One of NOW's first victories came in 1968 when the EEOC finally agreed to bar gender-specific job ads.

NOW as a Political Action Group

Leaders of NOW regularly appear before Congress, lobby officeholders, and organize letter-writing campaigns. Its overall strategy has been to work to pressure the political and legal systems to promote gender equality. Its leadership has come largely from the ranks of professional women who have focused much of the organization's attention on promoting and developing the leadership and organizing skills that would make women good lobbyists, organizers, and strategists. As such, other feminist groups have challenged it for being too reformist. NOW, for instance, had sought to be gender inclusive in its statement of purpose, which began with the words "we men and women." Other feminist groups rejected this inclusivity. Minority groups have challenged NOW for being overly focused on the needs of middle-class white women. At the same time, NOW has been denounced by conservative groups as "anti-family" for its 1970 definition of marriage as an equal partnership in which both parents should share equally the economic, household, and child-care responsibilities.

NOW's persistent pursuit of its strategy of political action working within the system has produced numerous victories for women's rights. In the 1970s, it forced 1,300 corporations doing federal business to compensate female employees for past pay discrimination. It helped prevent the confirmation of a conservative nominee, Harold Carswell, to the Supreme Court by documenting a past record of discrimination. In the 1990s, it helped secure the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA; 1994) that resulted in the institution of the Violence Against Women Office in the Justice Department. The VAWA and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (1984) have also resulted in federal funding for women and family victims of violence. In 2000, NOW began a campaign to extend the VAWA to include funding to train police, law enforcement, and court personnel to better handle issues of violence against women.

As a public action organization, NOW conducts national awareness, agitation, and legal campaigns and political lobbying against discrimination of every type. In 1978 it organized a pro-Equal Rights Amendment march in Washington, D.C., that drew 100,000 participants. In 1992, 750,000 people participated in NOW's abortion rights rally in Washington. It rallied 250,000 to protest violence against women in 1995. The following year, 50,000 demonstrators marched in San Francisco in NOW's rally to support affirmative action. NOW has been a staunch supporter of lesbian rights and held a Lesbian Rights Summit in 1999.

Legal and Educational Defense Fund

NOW takes its issues to court. To pursue its legal cases, NOW established a Legal and Educational Defense Fund in 1971. One of the fund's first cases was in support of southern working women against Colgate-Palmolive and Southern Bell Telephone for job discrimination. One of its most recent legal successes came in NOW v. Scheidler (1998), when a Chicago jury convicted the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and its leader Joseph Scheidler under the statutes of the federal Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, making the group responsible for tripling the cost for damages done to women's health clinics.

NOW Funding

NOW raises the money to support its various causes and campaigns from a dues-paying membership, voluntary contributions to an equality action fund, fund-raising campaigns, and grants from national foundations. In 1986 it also established a NOW Foundation, as a tax-deductible education and litigation organization affiliated with NOW.

NOW and Politics

NOW campaigns vigorously to elect feminists to public office. In 1992, it endorsed and financially supported the election of Carol Moseley Braun as senator from Illinois. Braun was the first African American woman elected to the Senate. It formed an umbrella political action committee (PAC) in 1978 called NOW/PAC under which it has organized specific PACs to target specific campaign drives and to support both female and male candidates who have a feminist agenda. The NOW/PAC screens political candidates for their stand on feminist issues, which the organization defines broadly as abortion rights; women's economic equality, especially pay equity; and, fair treatment of poor women, especially their right to Medicaid. In 2000 NOW/PAC launched a major political drive titled Victory 2000—the Feminization of Politics Campaign.

NOW Membership

In 1978, NOW had 125,000 members. NOW reported that anger over the treatment of Anita Hill during congressional hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Hill gained the organization 13,000 new members in the closing months of 1991. In 2001, NOW elected Kim Gandy, a Louisiana lawyer and long-time NOW activist, to the office of president. By 2002 its membership had grown to 500,000 contributing members and 550 chapters across the country.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ford, Lynne E. Women and Politics: The Pursuit of Equality. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

Hartmann, Susan M. The Other Feminists: Activists in the Liberal Establishment. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.

Rosen, Ruth. The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America. New York, Penguin, 2000.

Maureen A.Flanagan

See alsoEqual Rights Amendment ; Women, President's Commission on the Status of ; andvol. 9:NOW Statement of Purpose .

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National Organization For Women

National Organization For Women

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Founded in 1966, the National Organization for Women (NOW) has approximately 500,000 contributing members and roughly 550 chapters across the United States. NOW maintains a diverse policy agenda and tactical repertoire. It has employed legal, legislative lobbying, electoral, and protest tactics, leading campaigns not only for the legal equality of women and for the equal rights amendment but also against sexual harassment, for the maintenance of womens access to abortion clinics and against clinic violence, against domestic violence and rape, and for poor womens rights.

Many individuals contributed to the organizations founding, including activists in the union movement and the civil rights movement as well as men and women working within the federal bureaucracy. They shared a common concern that the newly created Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was refusing to enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination against women in the workplace. Womens rights advocates like Richard Graham and Aileen Hernandez, both EEOC commissioners, sought a spokesperson to lead an organization similar to the NAACP, an advocacy organization for African Americans, that would be dedicated to womens equality issues.

Betty Friedan was one individual recruited to take on this role. A freelance writer who often wrote on womens and labor issues, Friedan had gained significant media attention as a result of The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963. NOW was formed after members of the National Conference of the Commission on the Status of Women (and Friedan, who attended with a press pass) attended a frustrating annual meeting in 1966 where attendees were stymied in their attempts to pass resolutions demanding changes at the EEOC. Twenty-eight women and men constituted the original founders, and Friedan became NOWs first president. She and Pauli Murray wrote the organizations original statement of purpose, which said in part that the purpose of NOW was to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men (Carabillo, Meuli, and Bundy Csida 1993, p. 47). From NOWs inception its leaders were determined that the organization would operate independently from established political institutions, such as political parties, which they believed had paid only lip service to womens equality. They also insisted that the group must be an activist rather than an educational organization. Organizationally speaking, NOW is among the most democratic of progressive social organizations. All members are eligible to become voting delegates to vote for national board members and officers at national conventions and to vote on resolutions pertaining to NOWs goals and strategies.

NOWs earliest actions centered on pressuring the EEOC to uphold Title VII. Drawing largely on the resources and talents of the organizations founders, NOW initially focused on attracting media attention and on lobbying executive agencies and legislators on this issue. Soon, however, the groups members (now including members of the womens liberation movement) and some leaders argued that these tacticslong used by organizations like the NAACPhad failed to produce results. Consequently over the course of its founding period (19661971), NOW began to incorporate mass mobilization and protest activities into its tactical repertoire along with legislative lobbying, the campaign to ratify the equal rights amendment, and electoral activism. NOW also began to focus on broader goals, including abortion rights and lesbian rights.

The campaign to ratify the equal rights amendment (ERA) is one of NOWs best-known endeavors. NOWs leaders were not immediately successful in convincing members to participate in this challenge, however, and as a result the organization did not focus intently on the measure until 1978. The ERA was not ratified by its 1982 deadline, falling short by only three states. The campaign nevertheless proved a potent mobilizing force, swelling NOWs ranks to over 200,000 members and exposing members and leaders to multiple tactics, including lobbying, protest, state-level politics, electoral politics, mobilization, and fund-raising, that for many were their first experience in politics.

Among the longest-serving of NOWs presidents is Eleanor Smeal, who was elected three times and presided from 1977 to 1982 and from 1985 to 1987. Smeal led the organization during the latter stages of the equal rights amendment campaign and spearheaded NOWs increased investment in electoral politics, coining the term gender gap. She founded the Feminist Majority Foundation in 1987. Patricia Ireland led NOW for ten years (19912001) and extended the organizations involvement in elections, most notably during the 1992 Year of the Woman. She also led campaigns against sexual harassment and in 1996 worked against the revocation of welfare benefits for poor women. Irelands priorities also included lesbian and gay rights. In 2001 Kim Gandy became president of NOW.

SEE ALSO Friedan, Betty; Women and Politics; Womens Liberation; Womens Movement

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barakso, Maryann. 2004. Governing NOW: Grassroots Activism in the National Organization for Women. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Carabillo, Toni, Judith Meuli, and June Bundy Csida. 1993. Feminist Chronicles, 19531993.Los Angeles: Womens Graphics.

Freeman, Jo. 1975. The Politics of Womens Liberation: A Case Study of an Emerging Social Movement and Its Relation to the Policy Process. New York: David McKay.

Mansbridge, Jane J. 1986. Why We Lost the ERA. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Maryann Barakso

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National Organization for Women

NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN

The National Organization for Women (NOW) is the largest organization of feminist activists in the United States, numbering more than 500,000 members. A nonpartisan organization, it has more than 550 chapters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It receives its funding from membership dues and private donations. NOW has used both traditional and nontraditional means to push for social change. Traditional activities have included extensive electoral and lobbying work, and the filing of lawsuits. NOW also has organized mass marches, rallies, pickets, counter-demonstrations, and nonviolent civil disobedience. Its headquarters are located in Washington, D.C.

NOW was established in 1966 in Washington, D.C., by people attending the Third National Conference of the Commission on the Status of Women. Among the 28 NOW founders was its first president, betty friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique (1963). In its original statement of purpose, NOW declared to "take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men."

As part of its efforts to pursue economic equality and other rights for women, NOW launched a nationwide campaign in the 1970s to pass the equal rights amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution. Though the ERA ultimately failed to be ratified, NOW efforts helped the organization. NOW became a huge network of more than 200,000 activists and began operating with multimillion-dollar annual budgets. Leaders organized political action committees, NOW/PAC and NOW Equality PAC, that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for pro-ERA candidates.

NOW priorities are promoting economic equality, including an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that will guarantee equal rights for women; championing abortion rights, reproductive freedom, and other women's health issues; opposing racism and opposing bigotry against lesbians and gays; and ending violence against women. The organization has proved effective in many of these areas. NOW points to sweeping changes that put more women in political posts; increased educational, employment, and business opportunities for women; and the enactment of tougher laws against violence, sexual harassment, and discrimination.

Its 1992 "Elect Women for a Change" campaign sent an unprecedented number of feminist women and men to the U.S. Congress. NOW has combated harassment and violence by organizing the first "Take Back the Night" marches and establishing hot lines and shelters for battered women. NOW has also successfully prosecuted lawsuits against antiabortion groups that bombed and blocked clinics and laws that deprived lesbian women of custody of their children. NOW has also consistently sought economic equality for women in the workplace, exposing both the "glass ceiling" that professional women face in advancing in the workplace and the difficult circumstances that poor women face in the United States.

further readings

Friedan, Betty. 1963. The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell.

Haney, Eleanor Humes. 1985. A Feminist Legacy: The Ethics of Wilma Scott Heide and Company. Buffalo: Margaret-daughters.

National Organization for Women. Available online at <www.now.org> (accessed July 29, 2003).

cross-references

Equal Rights; " National Organization for Women Statement of Purpose" (Appendix, Primary Document); Women's Rights.

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National Organization for Women

National Organization for Women (NOW), group founded (1966) to support "full equality for women in America in a truly equal partnership with men." Its founder and first president was feminist leader Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique (1963). Through a program of legislative lobbying, court litigation, and public demonstrations, NOW seeks to end sexual discrimination in employment. The largest women's rights group in the United States, it also supports the establishment of child-care centers for working mothers, legalized abortion, and paid maternity leave, as well as adoption of the equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution. NOW works to elect women to office, and seeks the abolition of alimony laws. It consists of approximately 250,000 members, including men, in 800 local chapters affiliated with the main office, located in Washington, D.C.

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