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National Organization for Women

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National Organization for Women

National Organization for Women
Type 501(c)(3)
Founded 1966
Founder(s) 28 men and women, including Betty Friedan, Pauli Murray, and Shirley Chisholm
Key people Terry O'Neill, President; Bonnie Grabenhoffer, Action Vice-President; Chitra Panjabi, Membership Vice-President;[1]
Focus(es) Women's rights, feminism, racism/anti-racism, homophobia and LGBT rights, reproductive rights[2]
Motto "Taking Action for Women's Equality Since 1966"

The National Organization for Women (NOW) is a feminist organization founded in 1966. It has a membership of 550,000. The organization consists of 550 chapters in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.[3]


NOW was founded on June 30, 1966, in Washington, D.C., by 28 women and men attending the Third National Conference of State Commissions on the Status of Women, the successor to the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.[4] The Statement of Purpose declares that "the time has come to 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, and as human beings."[5]

The founders included Betty Friedan (the author of The Feminine Mystique (1963), who was also NOW's first president), Rev. Pauli Murray, the first African-American female Episcopal priest, and Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for President of the United States of America. Betty Friedan and Pauli Murray wrote NOW's Statement of Purpose[6] in 1966; the original was scribbled on a napkin by Friedan.

There were many influences contributing to the rise of NOW. Such influences included the President's Commission on the Status of Women, Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique, and passage and lack of enforcement of the Civil Right Act of 1964 (prohibiting sexual discrimination).[7]

The President's Commission on the Status of Women was established in 1961 by John F. Kennedy, in hopes of providing a solution to female discrimination in education, work force, and Social Security. Kennedy appointed Eleanor Roosevelt as the Head of the organization. The goal of action was to compromise those wanting to advance women's rights in work force (such as advocates of Equal Rights Amendment) and those advocating women's domestic importance/role needing to be preserved (such as organized labor groups). The commission was in a way to settle the tension between opposing sides.[8]

Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique in response to her own experiences. She was a feminist long before her book, by educating herself and deviating from the domestic female paradigm. The book's purpose was to fuel movement to a women's role outside of domestic environment. Acknowledging some satisfaction from raising kids, cooking, rearranging house decor was not enough to suffice the deeper desire for women to achieve an education.[9] In an interview, Friedan specifically notes,

“there was no activism in that cause when I wrote Feminine Mystique. But I realized that it was not enough just to write a book. There had to be social change. And I remember somewhere in that period coming off an airplane [and] some guy was carrying a sign... It said, "The first step in revolution is consciousness." Well, I did the consciousness with The Feminine Mystique. But then there had to be organization and there had to be a movement. And I helped organize NOW, the National Organization for Women and the National Women's Political Caucus and NARAL, the abortion rights [organization] in the next few years.”[9]

Even for the feminist activist, her book signified a moment in history that was enough to galvanize action toward an official organization."

In 1968 NOW issued a Bill of Rights which they had adopted at their 1967 national conference, which advocated the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, enforcement of the prohibitions against sex discrimination in employment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, maternity leave rights in employment and in Social Security benefits, tax deduction for home and child care expenses for working parents, child day care centers, equal and non-gender-segregated education, equal job training opportunities and allowances for women in poverty, and the right of women to control their reproductive lives.[10]

In 1969 Ivy Bottini designed the logo for NOW which is still their logo today.[11]

Advocation of the Equal Rights Amendment was a pertinent issue to NOW. The amendment had three primary objectives, which were:

“Section 1. Equality of Rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex. Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”[12]

Efforts were proven successful when Congress passed the amendment in 1972. However, simply passing the amendment in the two houses of Congress did not mean the work was finished. NOW had to direct the efforts of getting the amendment ratified in at least three-fourths of the states (38 out of the 50 states).[13]

In response to opposing states denying the ratification of the amendment, NOW encouraged members to participate in marches and economic boycotts. “Dozens of organizations supported the ERA and the boycott, including the League of Women Voters, the YWCA of the U.S., the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Auto Workers (UAW), the National Education Association (NEA), and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).”[13]

As strong as the support was, it was to no avail to the opposition from various groups. These groups included select religious collectives, business/ insurance interests, and most visibly was the Stop-ERA campaign led by antifeminist Phyllis Schlafly. Schalfy argued on the premise of creating equality in work force or anywhere else would hinder the laws that are instilled for the mere protection of these women. The safety of women was a higher priority than ensuring there is equality in financial and social scenarios. Interestingly enough, the predicament over the Equal Rights Amendment was not a fight between men and women who abhor men, but rather two groups of women advocating different perspectives on the nature of their lives. The rivalry was sparked in speeches, such as that of Schlafly who began her dialogue by thanking her husband for allowing her to participate in such an activity.[14]

Even though efforts did not prove to be enough to have the amendment ratified, the organization remains active in lobbying legislatures and media outlets on feminist issues.

Abortion being an individual woman's choice has come into the forefront since the Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade in 1973. The decision of the court was that it ultimately was the woman's choice in reproduction. However according to National Organization for Women, decisions following the 1973 landmark case had substantially limited this right, which culminated their response to encourage the Freedom of Choice Act. The controversy over the landmark case ruling was initiated in the two cases, Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood and Gonzales v. Carhart. These two cases consequently banned abortion methods after 12 weeks of pregnancy.[15]

Gonzalez v. Planned Parenthood and Gonzalez v. Carhart both dealt with the question of whether the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was unconstitutional by violating the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment expressed in the Roe v. Wade case. This act ultimately meant that the “concept of partial-birth abortion as defined in the Act as any abortion in which the death of the fetus occurs when "the entire fetal head [...] or [...] any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother” is banned. The Supreme Court ultimately decided 5-4 that it was not unconstitutional and did not hinder a woman's right to an abortion.[16]

National Organization for Women claimed it was a disregard to a basic principle stemming from Roe v. Wade, which was to only have legislative restriction on abortion be justified with the intention of protecting women's health. Hence, the support for the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) which primary purpose was to safeguard a woman's access to abortions even if the Roe v. Wade ruling is further disregarded. As of 2013, there are seven states that have made the Freedom of Choice Act state law. FOCA will consequently supersede any other law prohibiting abortion. They are: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Nevada, Wisconsin, Maine, and Washington. In addition, Maryland, Nevada, and Washington were the only three states to adhere via ballet initiative.[15]

Succeeding in the enactment of FOCA would ultimately mean fulfilment of three goals for the National Organization for Women. First, asserting a woman's reproductive right. Second, disseminate information to the public audience about threats posed in the two court cases mentioned above. Third, through the dissemination of information to the public, this in return would mobilize efforts to support female rights in multiple areas that will be presented in the future.[17]


Betty Friedan and Pauli Murray wrote the organization's Statement of Purpose[6] in 1966. The statement described the purpose of NOW as "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." The six core issues that NOW addresses are abortion and reproductive health services access, violence against women, constitutional equality, promoting diversity/ending racism, lesbian rights, and economic justice, with these issues having various sub-issues. The organization goes about creating these changes through laborious lobbying, rallies, marches, and conferences. NOW focuses on a variety of issues deploying multiple strategies, causing it to be an organization in which a comprehensive goal is envisaged and performed. [18]

Priorities mentioned above were pursued to ultimately secure constitutional amendments guaranteeing these rights. Through litigation, political pressure, and physical marches, NOW members held an authoritative stance leading to recognition in court cases, such as NOW v. Scheidler and Weeks v. Southern Bell.[19]

NOW v. Scheidler revolved around the issue of racketeering to gain support for anti-abortion groups. NOW was suing the groups for utilization of violence and the threat of violence for garnering support. The violence varied from physical barriers into entrances of abortion clinic to arson and bombings of those clinics. The plaintiff accused the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN) for unethical seizing the right of women to make decisions about their own bodies, and that this right needed to be defended. The case was a success in terms of the class action suit “brought against terrorists by those they had terrorized”.[20]

However the case was dismissed based on the mere definition of racketeering because racketeering must have an economic inclination, and there was no evidence to prove PLAN had this financial intention. This does not mean it was not a significant case. It brought light and recognition to National Organization for Women and its goals. If anything, it galvanized the organization to strengthen its tactics.[21]

Weeks v. Southern Bell had the same effect, but this is an example where those galvanized efforts proved beneficial. This concerned discriminatory practices against women in the workplace. Lorena Weeks, employee of Southern Bell, claimed she was being discriminated against via exclusion to higher paying positions within the company. Sylvia Roberts acted as her attorney, supporting Week's grievances with the accusation of the company's violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964). Title VII is enabled to "protect individuals against employment discrimination on the bases of race and color, as well as national origin, sex, and religion". With this premise, Weeks, with the aid of Sylvia Roberts, succeeded in 1969 after making an appeal. The trial not only served as the triumph of National Organization of Women, but brought to life legislation made to the intentions of organizations, such as NOW.[22]


The following women have led the National Organization for Women:[23]

  1. Betty Friedan (1966–1970)
  2. Aileen Hernandez (1970–1971)
  3. Wilma Scott Heide (1971–1974)
  4. Karen DeCrow (1974–1977)
  5. Eleanor Smeal (1977–1982)
  6. Judy Goldsmith (1982–1985)
  7. Eleanor Smeal (1985–1987)
  8. Molly Yard (1987–1991)
  9. Patricia Ireland (1991–2001)
  10. Kim Gandy (2001–2009)
  11. Terry O'Neill (2009– )


NOW has been criticized by various pro-life, conservative, and fathers' rights groups.[24][25][26] During the 1990s, NOW was criticized for having a double standard when it refused to support women who made accusations of sexual misconduct (sexual harassment charged by Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey and rape charged by Juanita Broaddrick) against former Democratic President Bill Clinton while calling for the resignation of Republican politician (Bob Packwood) who was accused of similar offenses.[27]

NOW has also been criticized by feminists who claim it is too inclusive, and focuses on liberal policy issues rather than women's rights. NOW has been criticized for not supporting pro-life feminists,[28][29] as well as other liberal issues, and support the Iraq War. Some members, such as LA NOW chapter president Tammy Bruce left NOW, saying they oppose putting liberal and partisan policy positions over equality for all women. Tammy Bruce has attacked NOW for not doing enough to advocate for international women's rights, but instead attacking the George W. Bush White House for their conservative positions.[30] Accusations of putting politics over feminism began in 1982, the year the ERA was defeated, when NOW, under President Judy Goldsmith, fiercely opposed Reaganomics, and endorsed Republican feminist Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick's Democratic opponent in a New Jersey Senate race due to her support of Ronald Reagan's economic agenda.[31][32][33]

Additionally, Deborah Watkins, who was once the President of the Dallas Chapter of NOW, left NOW in 2003 to found, in the same year, the Dallas-Fort Worth Chapter of the National Coalition for Men, stating she grew tired of what she considered "hypocrisy" and "male bashing" at NOW.[34]

See also


External links

  • National Organization for Women, Official website
  • Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
  • Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.


  • Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections. Contains records from Latourell's service as a leader of the National Organization for Women between 1970 and 1980.
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