National Organization for Women

views updated Jun 08 2018

National Organization for Women

United States 1966


Unionists played a prominent role in forming the National Organization for Women (NOW) in October 1966, but middle-class, professional women dominated NOW in its early years. Unlike radical feminists of the period, NOW members sought change through the political system. One of their first campaigns was to get the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964's ban on sex discrimination. NOW argued that protective laws for women no longer served women's best interests.

Women union leaders differed with NOW's position on key issues. They were ambivalent about Title VII's strong enforcement and sought to retain at least some protective measures for women. Although NOW was one of the chief supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment, unionists struggled to explain how its enactment might harm women in low-wage service and industrial jobs. They charged that NOW did not consider the needs of working-class women. Moreover, unionists opposed NOW when it sought to safeguard the recently won employment gains of women and minorities in the face of a deep recession in the mid-1970s by calling for a modification of the traditional seniority concept of "last hired, first fired." The Coalition of Labor Union Women argued that such a change would be divisive to workers and punish veteran employees unfairly.

The two organizations grew considerably closer by the later 1970s, when NOW began to devote more resources to economic concerns such as the minimum wage and full-employment legislation. Reacting to pressure from rank-and-file women unionists who sought gender equality, union leaders reversed their long-standing opposition to the ERA.


  • 1946: First true electronic computer, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), is built.
  • 1951: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are convicted and sentenced to death for passing U.S. atomic secrets to the Soviets.
  • 1956: Workers revolt against communist rule in Poland, inspiring Hungarians to rise up against the Soviets. Soviet tanks and troops crush these revolts.
  • 1959: Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev engage in their famous "kitchen debate" in Moscow. Later in the year, Khrushchev visits the United States, signaling an improvement in U.S.-Soviet relations.
  • 1962: Publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring heightens Americans' awareness of environmental issues. A year later, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan helps to usher in a feminist revolution.
  • 1966: As a result of the Supreme Court's decision in Miranda v. Arizona, law officers are now required to inform ar-restees of their rights.
  • 1966: In August, Mao Zedong launches the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution," which rapidly plunges China into chaos as armed youths plunder the countryside, rooting out suspected foreign collaborators and anti-Chinese elements. Along with rifles and other weapons, these Red Guards are armed with copies of Mao's "Little Red Book."
  • 1969: Assisted by pilot Michael Collins, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin become the first men to walk on the Moon on 20 July.
  • 1971: Pentagon Papers, based on a secret Defense Department study of the Vietnam War, are published.
  • 1976: Striking a blow in favor of affirmative action, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that minorities are entitled to retroactive job seniority. The Court also holds that the death penalty is not necessarily cruel or unusual punishment, thus reversing a decade-old ruling.
  • 1981: President Reagan nominates Sandra Day O'Connor of Arizona to become the first female Supreme Court justice.

Event and Its Context

NOW's Stance on Employment Issues in Its Early Years

The wider, national battle for gender equality gathered political force only with the emergence of the second-wave feminist movement in the late 1960s. Unionists played a fundamental role in defining the shape and character of this movement. Union women, joining with upper-class women from the small, conservative National Woman's Party (NWP), and younger, liberal activists, formed the National Organization for Women (NOW) in October 1966. The Equal Pay Act and the report of the President's Commission on the Status of Women, both of which appeared in 1963, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 energized this new wave of feminists to protest what its members viewed as the EEOC's unwillingness to provide equal employment conditions for women. Among its founding members were unionists Aileen Hernandez, Dorothy Haener, Caroline Davis, Betty Talkington, and others. Despite the presence of these unionists in the early years of NOW, the organization was dominated by middle-class, professional women who were often at odds with unionists over such issues as continued enforcement of protective laws, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and maintaining union seniority systems. NOW and labor movement leaders viewed each other warily: the former were hostile to unions, often viewing them as nothing more than bastions of male supremacy; the latter saw feminists as unappreciative of the importance unions played in the lives of working women. Some key figures in NOW, such as Betty Friedan, had radical union and left-wing pasts, but they did not make feminist claims as unionists.

In general, mainstream feminists considered women's economic status in a gender rather than in a class context. Unlike the radical feminists of the period, NOW members sought to use the political system to effect reform. There was cause for optimism in the heady days of the 1960s. Responding to NOW pressure, for example, President Lyndon Johnson in 1967 amended an executive order banning discrimination on the basis of race by government contractors to include a prohibition on sex discrimination as well. More than any other issue at the time, feminists sought a full enforcement of Title VII. They argued that the protective laws for women, many of which dated back to the early twentieth century, hindered the ability of women workers to gain access to equal pay, seniority, and job assignment with men. The EEOC's commissioners balked, maintaining that some protective laws might override Title VII's seemingly clear mandate that there be no discrimination.

Despite pressure on EEOC officers to reevaluate their Title VII guidelines, feminists were unable to meet with most commissioners. The two identifiably feminist commissioners at the EEOC, Aileen Hernandez and Richard Graham, left in 1966. These were temporary setbacks, however. By 1968 the cumulative effect of EEOC data pointing to the prevalence of sex discrimination and the pressure of feminists forced the recalcitrant commission to modify its policies. Commissioners returned to their original practice of determining the legality of protective laws on a case-by-case basis instead of ignoring the issue altogether; they ruled that separate retirement ages for men and women violated Title VII. Separate want ads became unlawful. The next year, EEOC policymakers finally bowed to pressure and released new guidelines mandating that Title VII superseded all state protective laws for women.

NOW and Organized Labor

The relationship between NOW and the labor movement during NOW's first decade of existence was characterized by distrust. Whereas rank-and-file women were in accord with many of NOW's positions, older female union activists continued into the 1970s to argue the need for protective laws. They underestimated the new economic and social forces that were shaping working women's lives. Most of these unionists were approaching middle age by 1969; they had been out of the workforce for at least a decade, often in appointed union staff positions in Washington, D.C.

Rank-and-file women unionists, however, rejected protective laws and fully embraced Title VII. The nearly 2,500 women charging sex discrimination against their unions and employers during the EEOC's first year alone (27 percent of the total complaints) did not create a formal association. They helped to change the labor movement's stance on gender equality and to legitimize NOW's efforts by unloosing an avalanche of discrimination charges. A minority of older activists joined them in their quest for equality, most notably EEOC commissioner Aileen Hernandez. Before her appointment to the commission, Hernandez had been the West Coast education director for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. After she left the EEOC, Hernandez was elected NOW president.

NOW's championing of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) put it at odds with most of labor's leadership as well. The ERA had existed in one form or another since the 1920s but had failed to gather significant support when it came up for annual renewal in Congress. Most reform groups and labor unions opposed it on the grounds that it would negate protective laws and threaten the economic status of working women. When it reappeared in the late 1960s, it found new life as a key component in the battle for gender equality. With the passing of the pro-ERA baton from the NWP to a new generation of feminists, the amendment took on a different meaning in the context of second-wave feminism. For the vast majority of feminists, the ERA was the centerpiece of their agenda, the ultimate expression of gender equality. The EEOC and judicial decisions against protective laws, the failure to interest courts in testing the Fourteenth Amendment as a substitute for the ERA, and the Nixon administration's Women's Task Force energized receptive feminists. For the first time the ERA gained grassroots support, passed the U.S. Senate (1972), and went to the states for ratification.

Union leaders did not flood the pro-ERA camp during this period, and many came to back the amendment by the mid-1970s reluctantly, and some not at all. They resisted supporting the ERA long past the point at which it had become clear that state protective laws for women were invalid. They risked alienating longtime allies over the matter, arguing that justice for working women came in the form of protective laws, not in measures demanding equal treatment. Despite evidence to the contrary, union activists continued to view the ERA as the work of conservative NWP members. Those having the most to lose from the elimination of protective laws for women rejected the ERA in the fiercest manner. This was especially true for unionists in organizations with a high percentage of women members, such as the Garment Workers, Amalgamated Clothing Workers, and the Hotel and Restaurant Workers unions. They presented their case against the ERA in what they asserted were practical terms: their members needed at least some of the protective measures to make their difficult working lives a bit easier.

Rank-and-file women unionists used public protests and worked through their own unions and ultimately proved decisive in bringing their labor organizations to back the ERA. At hearings in 1970, most labor leaders present testified against the ERA while women from various unions protested their unions' stance at a press conference. Labor leaders gave their approval to the amendment: by the time the AFL-CIO convention delegates backed a resolution approving the ERA in 1973, most large labor unions had made the ERA's passage a their goal.

Although they were in accord with middle-class feminists on key issues and at odds with their own leaders, NOW seemed to win few working-class members in this period, however. What little research there is on rank-and-file women unionists' relationship with NOW indicates that, with the exception of local chapters such as one in Chicago, there was little working-class support for NOW. Union women saw it as too removed from their own concerns and communities. Union leaders criticized NOW's efforts on behalf of women workers through the 1970s. They charged that NOW did not expend enough resources on economic issues affecting lower-paid working women. When they did—for example, advocating strong EEOC enforcement—they ignored the valuable role labor played in educating its members on equality and offering the grievance procedure as a tool to fighting discrimination. The debate over seniority and affirmative action points to the fault lines among union women and NOW leaders in the mid-1970s. With the massive layoffs during the economic recession, the EEOC, NOW, and other liberal and civil rights organizations proposed that the traditional collective bargaining guarantee of "last-hired, first-fired" be suspended so as to preserve the recent hiring gains of women and minorities. This plan met with scorn from male and female unionists alike on the grounds that it would undercut labor's already diminished strength.

NOW and unionists averted a damaging break over the issue with the Supreme Court's Franks v. Bowman Transportation ruling in 1976, in which the justices left the traditional seniority system intact but ordered that measures be taken to provide a "rightful-place" remedy (i.e., retroactive seniority to the date of discrimination) for victims of unequal treatment. The Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), formed in 1974 by industrial, service, skilled trades, and government unionists, and NOW worked together on the ERA and comparable-worth campaigns. For their part, CLUW delegates supported abortion rights at their 1977 convention. With an even greater number of women in the workforce, NOW leaders gave greater attention to workplace issues such as minimum wage legislation and National Labor Relations Act reform, two items of key importance to organized labor.

Key Players

Friedan, Betty (1921-): Friedan, who is best known as the author of The Feminine Mystique and was NOW's first president, was a labor journalist in the 1940s and early 1950s. She began writing under her maiden surname Goldstein while at0Smith College; she later worked for the United Electrical Workers, a left-wing union.

Haener, Dorothy (1917-2001): Haener was a high-level staff member in the United Automobile Workers' (UAW) Women's Bureau in the 1960s and a founding member of NOW. Along with fellow UAW member Caroline Davis, she lobbied the EEOC for ful| enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Hernandez, Aileen (1926-): Hernandez was a union organizer and West Coast Education Director of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union before being appointed as the only woman commissioner of the EEOC in 1965. She was the only African American woman serving as a commissioner until the arrival of Eleanor Holmes Norton in the late 1970s. Hernandez was a founding member of NOW and the organization's president in the late 1960s.

See also: Civil Rights Act of 1964; Coalition of Labor Union Women; Equal Pay Act; Equal Rights Amendment and Protective Legislation.



Deslippe, Dennis A. "Rights, Not Roses": Unions and the Rise of Working-Class Feminism, 1945-80. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Gabin, Nancy F. Feminism in the Labor Movement: Women and the United Auto Workers, 1935-1975. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.

Harrison, Cynthia. On Account of Sex: The Politics of Women's Issues, 1945-1968. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

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

Horowitz, Daniel. Betty Friedan and the Making of "The Feminist Mystique": The American Left, The Cold War, and Modern Feminism. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

Additional Resources


"Step by Step: Building a Feminist Movement, 1941-1977."Joyce Follet, producer; Mimi Omer, coproducer. Close-captioned video. Worthington, MA: Step-by-Step, 1998.

—Dennis A. Deslippe

National Organization For Women

views updated Jun 08 2018

National Organization For Women


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


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

National Organization for Women

views updated May 17 2018

National Organization for Women

Complete text of "Bill of Rights for Women in 1968"
Originally issued at NOW convention, 1968.
Reprinted from "Takin' It to the Streets:" A Sixties Reader, 2003; also available online at

"We demand that women be protected by law to ensure their rights to return to their jobs within a reasonable time after childbirth without loss of seniority or other accrued benefits, and be paid maternity leave as a form of social security and/or employee benefit."

The National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded on June 30, 1966, in Washington, D.C., by twenty-eight participants in the Third National Conference of the Commission on the Status of Women who were angered by the conference's dismissal of equal rights issues. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had been established to enforce Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title VII made it illegal for employers to discriminate against people based on their gender. Within its first five years, it received fifty thousand sex discrimination complaints, but at the conference it became known that the EEOC had done little to address these complaints.

NOW was formed to push the government to enforce the protections it had established for women, and more. Betty Friedan (1921–), author of The Feminine Mystique (1963), was elected NOW's first president. The organization dedicated itself to making legal, political, social, and economic change in order to eliminate sexism or stereotyping people according to sex roles and to eliminate other forms of inequality that deny rights or privileges to certain groups. NOW worked toward its goals by organizing marches, rallies, pickets, counter-demonstrations, and nonviolent civil disobedience protests. (Civil disobedience is the peaceful expression of objection to certain laws by refusing to obey them.) NOW also developed political lobbying efforts and litigation, including class-action lawsuits, which are lawsuits brought by a group of people who have been harmed in a similar way. To get one of its points across to the public, the group popularized the slogan, "Every Mother Is a Working Mother."

Friedan and Rev. Pauli Murray, the first African-American woman Episcopal priest, co-authored NOW's original Statement of Purpose which begins: "The purpose of NOW is 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." At its national conference in 1967 NOW adopted a "Bill of Rights for Women in 1968" that listed the group's goals for Congress and society. The "Bill of Rights for Women in 1968" highlights how different life was for women in the 1960s than it was in the early 2000s.

Things to remember while reading the National Organization for Women's "Bill of Rights for Women in 1968":

  • NOW was formed as the women's liberation movement and civil rights movement were reaching their peaks.
  • In Bowe v. Colgate-Palmolive Company, in 1969, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that women who met the necessary physical requirements could work in jobs once open only to men.
  • In the 1971 ruling in Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corporation the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited private employers from refusing to hire women with preschool children.

National Organization for Women Bill of Rights in 1968

(Adopted at the 1967 National Conference)

I. Equal Rights Constitutional Amendment

II. Enforce Law Banning Sex Discrimination in Employment

III. Maternity Leave Rights in Employment and in Social Security Benefits

IV. Tax Deduction for Home and Child Care Expenses for Working Parents

V. Child Day Care Centers

VI. Equal and Unsegregated Education

VII. Equal Job Training Opportunities and Allowances for Women in Poverty

VIII. The Right of Women to Control their Reproductive Lives


I. That the U.S. Congress immediately pass the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution to provide that "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex" and that such then be immediately ratified by the several States.

II. That equal employment opportunity be guaranteed to all women, as well as men, by insisting that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces theprohibitions against sex discrimination in employment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the same vigor as it enforces the prohibitions against racial discrimination.

III. That women be protected by law to ensure their rights to return to their jobs within a reasonable time after childbirth without loss of seniority or other accrued benefits, and be paid maternity leave as a form of social security and/or employee benefit.

IV. Immediate revision of tax laws to permit the deduction of home and child-care expenses for working parents.

V. That child-care facilities be established by law on the same basis as parks, libraries, and public schools, adequate to the needs of children, from the pre-school years through adolescence, as a community resource to be used by all citizens from all income levels.

VI. That the right of women to be educated to their full potential equally with men be secured by Federal and State legislation, eliminating all discrimination andsegregation by sex, written and unwritten, at all levels of education including college, graduate and professional schools, loans and fellowships and Federal and State training programs, such as the Job Corps.

VII. The right of women in poverty to secure job training, housing, and family allowances on equal terms with men, but without prejudice to a parent's right to remain at home to care for his or her children; revision of welfare legislation and poverty programs which deny women dignity, privacy and self-respect.

VIII. The right of women to control their own reproductive lives by removing frompenal codes the laws limiting access to contraceptive information and devices, and by repealing penal laws governing abortion.

What happened next…

Once formed, the National Organization for Women grew at a quick rate. Using political strategies that resembled those used by civil rights groups, NOW campaigned for equal rights for women in education, employment, and politics. The tactics ultimately worked for many of NOW's demands. The Equal Rights Amendment that stated that "men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and in every place subject to its jurisdiction," was first proposed in 1923, just after women were granted the right to vote. Although the amendment had been presented to Congress for twenty years, it was the political pressure of the women's liberation movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s that finally passed the amendment through Congress in 1972. By 1973 thirty states had ratified the amendment, and only eight more were needed. Even though Congress extended the ratification deadline until 1982, the amendment never gained the votes needed. Although the Equal Rights Amendment ultimately was not added to the Constitution, the political efforts of NOW and other women's groups had brought the social and political inequality of women, children, blacks, and other groups to the public's attention. By the end of the 1970s, court decisions and laws granted women more equality and society began to accept the idea that women were more than mothers and wives.

By 2004 NOW continued to be the largest women's political activist organization. NOW remained focused on its goals and helped push several influential legislative bills through Congress and brought many class-action suits to court that resulted in more freedoms for women and others.

Did you know…

  • In 1967 NOW became the first national organization to work toward the legalization of abortion and for the repeal of all anti-abortion laws.
  • NOW launched a nationwide campaign to pass an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution in the 1970s.
  • As part of the campaign, NOW distributed buttons reading "59¢" to draw attention to the figure that represented the median wage then paid to women for every dollar paid to men.
  • NOW, in 1971, became the first major national women's organization to support lesbian rights (the social and legal rights of homosexual women for equal treatment).
  • In the 1973 decisions of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the U.S. Supreme Court made abortion legal in the United States.
  • NOW grew to become a network of more than five hundred thousand grassroots activists with members in each of the fifty states.

Consider the following…

  • NOW placed an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution high on its list of priorities in 1968. Some people, including the executive vice chairman of the President's Commission on the Status of Women, Esther Peterson, thought an Equal Rights Amendment would do more harm to women than good. Describe your opinion.
  • Although the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution ultimately failed to be ratified by enough states, NOW succeeded in securing many of the ERA's objectives for women in various separate laws. Some people think these separate laws are more powerful securities for women than a sweeping amendment to the Constitution. What do you think?
  • Women, gays, and racial minorities worked together to change laws in the 1960s and 1970s. How would they have had to change their strategies to succeed without each other's help?

For More Information


Blau, Justine. Betty Friedan. New York: Chelsea House, 1990.

Hurley, Jennifer A. The 1960s. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 2000.

Web sites

National Organization for Women. (accessed on August 1, 2004).

National Organization for Women

views updated May 23 2018


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.


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 .

National Organization for Women

views updated May 23 2018


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 <> (accessed July 29, 2003).


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

National Organization for Women

views updated May 17 2018

National Organization for Women

The National Organization for Women (NOW) was one of the major forces in the revival of the women's movement in the United States during the 1960s. Founded in 1966, NOW champions women's rights and tries to influence legislation and public policy that affects women, providing an important public voice for women in the United States.

The creation of NOW is tied to author and activist Betty Friedan (1921–), whose best-selling 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, is considered the wake-up call that re-energized the women's movement. Friedan's book highlighted the problems of inequality women were encountering in American society and that these problems were shared by millions of other women. At a 1966 convention, while discussing their common concerns, Friedan and others felt the time was right for a national women's organization that would pool the efforts of many women around the country to fight for women's rights. As a result, NOW was born. Friedan became its first president and was later succeeded by activist Gloria Steinem (1934–).

In the years since its founding, NOW has fought for women's rights on many issues. One of the most important has been reproductive rights, the right of women to control when and how they have children, including their right to abortion services. They have also fought for equal pay and for equal access to promotion at work. The organization also sought to put more women into elective office, figuring that if more women were in government, these women would make laws benefiting women. Issues of domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment have been important concerns for NOW. Over the years, NOW was instrumental in promoting greater equality for women. That success proved challenging for the group by the 1990s. As women achieved greater equality in American life, many saw less of a need to support NOW. Nevertheless, by the end of the twentieth century, NOW had chapters in all fifty states and had more than 250,000 members. Since it began in 1966, NOW has proved to be an effective force for positive change in women's lives.

—Timothy Berg

For More Information

Berkeley, Kathleen C. The Women's Liberation Movement in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.

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

National Organization for Women. (accessed March 21, 2002).

Rowbotham, Sheila. A Century of Women. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.

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National Organization for Women