The Herstory of the National Organization
The National Organization for Women is
the largest organization of feminist activists in the United States. NOW has
500,000 contributing members and 550
chapters in all 50
states and the District of Columbia. Since its founding in 1966, NOW's goal
has been "to take action" to bring about equality for all women. Both the
actions NOW takes and its position on the issues are often unorthodox,
uncompromising and ahead of their time.
NOW activists use both traditional and non-traditional means to push for
social change. NOW activists do extensive electoral and lobbying work and
bring lawsuits. They also organize mass marches, rallies, pickets,
non-violent civil disobedience and immediate, responsive "zap" actions. NOW
re-instituted mass marches for women's rights in the face of conventional
wisdom that marches were a technique that went out with the 1960s. A march
in support of the
Equal Rights Amendment drew more than 100,000 people to Washington, D.C.
in 1978. NOW's March for
Women's Lives drew 750,000 supporters to Washington, D.C. in 1992, for
the largest abortion rights demonstration ever. In 1995, NOW organized the
demonstration to focus on the issue of
violence against women --
and drew a quarter million people to the Mall. The 1996
March to Fight the
Right in San Francisco drew more than 50,000 activists to kick off an
electoral season focused on efforts to defend
These ongoing efforts established NOW as a major force in
the sweeping changes that put more women in political posts; increased
educational, employment and business opportunities for women; and enacted
tougher laws against violence, harassment and discrimination. NOW's official
priorities are winning economic equality and securing it with 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
fighting bigotry against lesbians
and gays; and ending
violence against women.
One of NOW's strongest concerns is gaining recognition of the value of
women's work, both in the home and the paid labor market. NOW first
popularized the slogan, "Every Mother is a Working Mother" and the phrase,
"women who work outside the home." In the 1970s NOW's lobbying and pickets
of newspapers and the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission forced newspapers to eliminate sex-segregated
"Help Wanted" ads, opening up more diverse and high-paying jobs to women.
NOW also pressed landmark lawsuits against sex discrimination in employment,
winning millions in back pay for women. For example, in the 1969 case
Weeks v. Southern Bell, attorney Sylvia Roberts, NOW's Southern Regional
Director, won a U.S.
Fifth Circuit ruling that it was a violation of
Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act to bar women from jobs that involved lifting more than 30 pounds.
This landmark decision was the first to apply Title VII to sex
discrimination. NOW continues to expose and address both the glass ceiling
and sexual harassment
employed women face and the dire situation of poor women in this country.
http://www.now.org/issues/wfw/ for information about current campaigns
against sexual harassment.
Equal Rights Amendment
In order to pursue economic
equality and other rights for women, NOW launched a nationwide campaign
in the 1970s to pass an
Amendment (ERA) to the
U.S. Constitution. As part of the campaign, NOW leaders distributed
buttons reading "59¢" to draw attention to the
wage gap; that
figure represented the median wage then paid to women for every dollar paid
to men. When the ERA was not ratified by the original deadline Congress set,
NOW succeeded in its campaign to extend the time limit for ratification by
more than three years.
In the course of its high-profile ERA work, NOW became a huge network of
more than 200,000 grassroots activists and began operating with
multi-million dollar annual budgets. Leaders organized two political action
committees, NOW/PAC and NOW Equality
PAC, that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for pro-ERA candidates.
The work toward constitutional equality for women continues. Part of
NOW's strategy is to build support for a comprehensive amendment for the
For more information, type the words "Constitutional Equality Amendment"
into the search engine on
our web site or connect to
Although NOW activists did not win their first campaign to secure a
amendment, they established the political structures and strategies that
live on to this day. Most significantly, they began to focus less on trying
to influence men in power and more on electing feminists to replace them.
The seeds sown during the Equal Rights Amendment campaigns gave root to the
current -- and expanding -- crop of women elected officials.
Elect Women for a Change campaign in the 1992 elections sent an
unprecedented number of feminist women and men to the U.S. Congress and
state capitals. NOW contends that in addition to its strong get-out-the-vote
efforts, two major factors contributed to those electoral victories: the
threat to abortion rights and women's anger over the
U.S. Senate's treatment of law
Hill and its confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
NOW's record-breaking abortion rights
march kicked off its
1992 electoral work.
Just as the events preceding the 1982 and 1992 elections helped motivate
women to run for newly open seats, we are busy filling up the pipeline for
the next big opportunity -- 2002 when re-apportionment again hits
congressional and state legislative districts, opening up new seats for
women. NOW's Victory
2000 campaign aims to play a significant role in that effort. The
campaign calls for electing 2000 feminists by 2000.
The NOW PACs web site address is
Sexual Harassment and Violence
NOW's work on harassment
and violence dates back to
its earliest days. NOW activists organized the first Take Back The Night
marches. They founded hot lines and shelters for battered women and lobbied
for government funding of programs aimed at stopping violence against women,
winning passage of a new ground-breaking federal
Women Act in 1994. Sexual harassment was one of the key issues that
motivated students across the country to form high school
chapters of NOW in the
early 1990s. In 1998, NOW activists are organizing in support of new,
comprehensive federal legislation focused on prevention, state-level
programs for poor women who face violence and legal recognition of
hate crimes based on
sex and sexual orientation.
Promoting Diversity and Ending Racism
Since its founding in 1966, NOW has worked to oppose racism and support
diversity. The late Rev.
Pauli Murray, an African American woman and Episcopal minister, was a NOW
founder who co-authored its
Statement of Purpose.
Aileen Hernandez became the second president of NOW in 1971, and two years
later NOW established its first task force on women of color. In 1980 NOW
instituted an affirmative action program, which today means that women of
racial and ethnic diversity make up one-third of the organization's national
board and 19% of staff. NOW has been a co-sponsor and organizer of three
marches commemorating the 1963 civil rights march when the late
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave
his "I Have A Dream"
In February 1998, NOW organized a
Women of Color and
Allies Summit, entitled "Linking Arms in Dangerous Times." More than 600
activists came to the summit to build coalitions and develop strategies for
eliminating racism, classism and sexism.
NOW works closely with other groups on civil rights,
immigration reform, bilingual education, migrant worker and tribal issues.
http://www.now.org/issues/diverse/index.html, there is more information
about NOW's work to eliminate racism.
Abortion Rights and Reproductive
In 1967 NOW became the first national organization to call for the
legalization of abortion and for the repeal of all anti-abortion laws. Since
then NOW has been fighting for full
reproductive rights for all
women, including poor women and young women. NOW won a pivotal U.S. Supreme
Court victory in the 1994 case
NOW v. Scheidler.
The ruling affirmed NOW's right to use federal racketeering laws against
anti-abortion extremists who organize campaigns of fear, force and violence
to deny women their right to abortion. In April 1998, a federal jury
returned a unanimous verdict confirming NOW's charges that
Operation Rescue and other defendants are
racketeers. NOW's litigation and lobbying are part of
Project Stand Up
for Women, which has trained thousands of abortion rights supporters to
serve as clinic defenders. Find several documents related to this case at
NOW's advocacy efforts to ensure access to abortion for all women include
lobbying against restrictions on Medicaid funding, parental involvement,
elimination of abortion from federal government and military health
insurance coverage and
abortion procedure bans. Likewise, NOW's commitment to full reproductive
rights led to work against child exclusion measures in the 1996 federal
welfare repeal and coerced sterilization.
NOW's web site includes more information about this work.
In 1971 NOW became the first major national women's organization to
support lesbian rights. It has
been one of the organization's priority issues since 1975 and was the theme
of national conferences
in 1984 and 1988. A national summit on this issue is planned for the coming
year. Through the years, NOW activists have challenged anti-lesbian and gay
laws and ballot initiatives in many states. Over 15 years ago, NOW gave
strong support to a landmark 1979 case, Belmont v. Belmont, that
defined lesbian partners as a nurturing family and awarded a lesbian mother
custody of her two children. The plaintiff in that case,
Rosemary Dempsey, served
as NOW's Action Vice-President from 1989 to 1997. Click Here to go to:
The section of the web site with details on NOW's lesbian
rights work is
NOW, Inc., was established on June 30, 1966 in Washington, D.C., by women
attending the Third National Conference of the Commission on the Status of
Women. Set up in 1961, the Commission reported in 1963 that despite having
won the right to vote, women in the United States still were discriminated
against in virtually every aspect of life. Among NOW's 28 founders was its
first president, Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique (1963).