This post was written by Andrea Hetley, student at Simmons College and intern at the AAPB.
June 30th, 2016 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW) at the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women. Betty Friedan, one of the founders and the first president of NOW, wrote the name of the organization and its original statement of purpose on a paper napkin during a meeting in her hotel room, creating an organization that would have a profound influence on the second wave feminist movement. The 28 founding members of NOW were inspired to create this organization out of frustration with the failure of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) to enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Title VII prohibited discrimination in employment discrimination on the basis of sex, and the EEOC was formed in 1965 to implement it. However, despite the efforts of commissioners Aileen Hernandez and Richard Graham (both of whom became leader in NOW), the commission voted 3-2 that it was permissible for job advertisements to be segregated by sex. This practice was a significant source of employment discrimination, as it allowed employers to advertise different types of work for men and women. An example of a sex segregated help wanted section can be found here. Note the types of jobs available to men: supervisor, manager, engineer, superintendent, and pharmacist, to name a few. Now note the types of jobs available to women: waitress, bookkeeper, assistant, machine operator, and Office “Gal Friday” are a few examples. The jobs available to women tended to be for positions of a more menial sort, and at lower pay rate. After this decision, Dr. Pauli Murray denounced the EEOC’s decision to continue to allow sex segregated job advertising. Betty Friedan contacted Dr. Murray in support of her position.
In June 1966, hundreds of representatives (including Friedan and Murray) gathered at The Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women, whose theme was “Targets for Action.” Many delegates present had a specific action in mind: the passage of a resolution demanding that the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) fulfill its legal mandate to put an end to sex discrimination in employment. Representatives were told that they had no authority to accomplish this goal, and that they could not even pass a resolution.
Despite this setback, they were determined to put the theme of the conference into action. 15-20 women assembled in Friedan’s hotel room, wrote a draft statement of purpose, and discussed the best way to move forward. By the end of the conference, 28 women had joined creating a new civil rights organization “to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, assuming all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.”[i] By October 1966, when NOW held its organizing conference in Washington DC, 300 men and women had become charter members.
NOW went on to work on many important causes, many of which are discussed by Karen DeCrow in this 1974 appearance on the talk show “Woman.” She discusses NOW’s achievements and their goals for political, economic, and social change.
This video, along with many others, will be part of a curated exhibit on women in public media, coming soon to the AAPB website!
Andrea Hetley is a graduate student at Simmons SLIS, and an exhibitions intern at the American Archive of Public Broadcasting.