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Eleanor Smeal

About the Feminist Majority Foundation


Eleanor Smeal President Feminist Majority Foundation

Feminist Majority Foundation President, Eleanor Smeal

Audio welcome to first-time visitors from FMF President Ellie Smeal


Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal

Recognized throughout the nation as a women’s rights leader, Eleanor Smeal appears frequently on television and radio, testifies before Congress on a wide variety of women’s issues, and speaks to diverse audiences nationwide on a broad range of feminist topics. For over two decades, she has played a leading role in both national and state campaigns to win women’s rights legislation and in a number of landmark state and federal court cases for women’s rights.

One of the architects of the modern drive for women’s equality, Smeal is known as a political analyst, strategist, and grassroots organizer. She has played a pivotal role in defining the debate, developing the strategies, and charting the direction of the modern day women’s movement. Smeal was the first to identify the “gender gap” -- the difference in the way women and men vote -- and popularized its usage in election and polling analyses to enhance women’s voting clout. Smeal is the author of How and Why Women Will Elect the Next President (Harper and Row, 1984), which predicted that women’s votes would be decisive in presidential politics.

For over 30 years, Smeal has been on the frontlines fighting for women’s equality. She has been at the forefront of almost every major women’s rights victory – from the integration of Little League, newspaper help-wanted ads, and police departments to the passage of landmark legislation, such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Equal Credit Act, Civil Rights Restoration Act, Violence Against Women Act, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, and Civil Rights Act of 1991. She has pushed to make Social Security and pensions more equitable for women, and to realign federal priorities by developing a feminist budget. She has campaigned to close the wage gap and to achieve pay equity for the vast majority of women who are segregated in low-paying jobs.

As President of the National Organization for Women, Eleanor Smeal led the drive to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), the largest nationwide grassroots and lobbying campaign in the history of the modern women’s movement. The ERA campaign reshaped the contours of women’s political participation in the U.S. and demonstrated the strength and breadth of public support for women’s rights. Ultimately, the ERA’s defeat exposed the entrenched interests opposed to women’s equality.

Emboldened by the ERA campaign, Smeal called for the women’s movement, despite much controversy in both the media and the movement itself, to return to the streets in the mid-1980s to dramatize popular support for abortion rights. When many said it could not be done, she led the first national abortion rights march in 1986, drawing more than 100,000 participants to Washington, D.C.

When violence threatened to close the nation’s women’s health care clinics, Smeal developed FMF’s National Clinic Access Project, which is the largest program of its kind in the nation. The Feminist Majority Foundation has trained over 45,000 clinic defenders in some 26 states in non-violent clinic defense techniques. Smeal was also the chief architect of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s landmark 1994 U.S. Supreme Court case upholding the use of buffer zones to protect clinics, Madsen v. Women’s Health Center.

Throughout her career, Smeal has promoted the involvement of young women in the feminist movement. Smeal initiated the Choices Campus Leadership Program, a groundbreaking organizing effort on college campuses throughout the country. This program is comprised of a nationwide network of campus-based feminist activist groups called Feminist Majority Leadership Alliances. Leadership Alliances are based on the Feminist Majority Foundation’s innovative study and action model which focuses on four critical “choice” issues: Reproductive Choices, Career Choices, Leadership Choices, and Saving Choices: Fighting the Backlash. Smeal’s innovative campus program has energized young feminist leaders on hundreds of public and private, two and four-year, large and small college campuses in 32 states and the District of Columbia.

Smeal also pioneered the use of the Internet as a feminist organizing and research tool by launching the Feminist Majority Foundation Online ( in 1995. The site receives up to 300,000 hits daily, with an especially strong following among women ages 18-24, has garnered dozens of awards, and is widely recognized as an unparalleled resource for feminist news, research, actions, and events.

Smeal was one of the first women’s leaders to bring to the attention of women in the U.S. and worldwide the significance of mifepristone (formerly known as RU 486) as a medical breakthrough for women. Decrying what she termed the “medical McCarthyism” of withholding the drug from U.S. women, Smeal led a successful 12-year fight to bring mifepristone to American women. On September 28, 2000, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the drug for early abortions. Now, Smeal is leading efforts to increase research on mifepristone’s other potential use as a treatment for serious conditions and diseases primarily afflicting women.

For decades, Smeal envisioned bringing together all sectors of the women’s movement under one roof to show the strength and diversity of the movement. In 1996, her vision became a reality when the Feminist Majority Foundation held the first-ever national feminist exposition, Expo ‘96 for Women’s Empowerment. Co-sponsored by more than 400 women’s organizations, Expo ‘96 drew some 3,000 people to Washington, D.C. to help save affirmative action, to develop a national feminist budget, and to visualize a feminist future.

Smeal extended that vision into the next millennium with Feminist Expo 2000 attended by over 6,000 feminists from the U.S. and around the world. Expo 2000 showcased the power of the feminist movement, its ideas and vision for the 21st Century, as well as the diversity of its work, constituencies, and accomplishments. Feminist Expo 2000 ignited the women’s movement by addressing the cutting-edge issues of our time.

As President of the Feminist Majority, Smeal shifted women's organizations' strategies on electing women from a philosophy of carefully targeting a few races to the need for recruiting record numbers of feminists to run for political office. Two-awarding videos, Abortion for Survival and Abortion Denied: Shattering Women's Lives, which Smeal co-authored and co-produced, helped reframe the abortion debate by documenting importance of abortion as a global public health issue and the devastating impact of parental consent and notification laws.

Smeal helped lead the campaign to save affirmative action at the national level and to defeat California's Proposition 209. She re-framed the debate by mobilizing women's groups to demand the inclusion of women and provided a compelling analysis of the impact of affirmative action attacks on women's opportunities and sex discrimination law.

Expanding feminist activism to a global level, Smeal in 1997 launched the international Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan to counter the Taliban’s abuse of women, which included edicts that banished women from the work force, closed schools to girls, prohibited women from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative, and forced women to wear the burqa. Smeal and the Feminist Majority were the first to draw world attention to the Taliban’s brutal treatment of women in Afghanistan. The Campaign helped stop the U.S. and United Nations from officially recognizing the Taliban. Since the fall of the Taliban, Smeal has been leading efforts to increase reconstruction and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and expand peacekeeping troops outside the capital of Kabul to ensure stability and progress in women’s rights.

In December 2001, Smeal, feminist author and activist, Gloria Steinem, and Ms. magazine joined forces and FMF became the sole publisher of Ms. magazine. Smeal's commitment to achieving equality for women and her vision for Ms. as the voice of the feminist movement brings new life into the 30-year trailblazing history of the magazine. Through this combination, Ms. will continue to be a forum for challenging conventional ideas and a springboard for the development and dissemination of feminist ideas throughout the world.

A variety of well-known publications have acknowledged Smeal's leadership. The World Almanac for 1983 chose her as the fourth most influential woman in the United States; she was named as Time Magazine's as one of the "50 Faces for America's Future" in their August 6, 1979 cover story; she was featured as one of the six most influential Washington lobbyists in U.S. News and World Report. Smeal has appeared on most network news and talk shows including "The Today Show," "Nightline," "Good Morning America," "The Larry King Show," and "Crossfire."

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Duke University, Smeal holds an M.A. in Political Science from the University of Florida and an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Duke University. Eleanor Smeal has a son, Tod, who is a Ph.D. in molecular biology, and a daughter, Lori, who is an attorney.