The Feminist Chronicles, 1953-1993
A number of people, aside from the authors, have made significant contributions to the creation of this book.
The first pass at creating the chronology on which the Feminist Chronicles is based was begun in 1980, when volunteers then working on the National NOW Times assembled a draft covering 1966-1979.
Those volunteers included Marj Jensen, Bonnie Sloane, Mary Margaret Smith, Gloria Windell, and Bede Urich, as well as Chronicle authors Carabillo and Meuli.
Long-time feminist activist David Dismore helped develop and enlarge the chronology by entering the original typewritten draft and hundreds of new entries into a data base on a PC, a major technological advance that became available to us in 1981.
Dolores Alexander, NOW’s first executive director, now a copy editor at People magazine and a friend since 1969, volunteered to take vacation time to come to California and copy read the manuscript for which we are deeply grateful. The project was longer than her vacation so any remaining errors are ours, not hers.
Another friend and colleague, Peg Yorkin, has been involved in the process of getting the computer-generated book into print-in the contemporary printers’ lingo “from disk to film”-and participated in the many production decisions.
No one has been a more enthusiastic supporter of the project as a tool for educating future feminist generations and as a resource for feminist writers as well as the media than Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority.
She has given generously of her time and knowledge, tirelessly reading one draft after another and contributing ideas and information to ensure its comprehensiveness and accuracy. We have been allies and often writing partners in the feminist movement and friends for some 20 years now, yet we still marvel at how much she gives of herself and how rich her contributions are.
These Feminist Chronicles 1953 – 1993 are actually excerpted from a larger work in progress, the Feminist Chronicles of the 20th Century.
This larger work documents the feminist movement primarily in the United States from the turn of the century national convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, (NAWSA), when Susan B. Anthony retired as president and turned the organization over to the younger Carrie Chapman Catt, to “the present,” which may well be the year 1100.
Both Chronicles dramatize the ever-on-going, day-by-day, year-by-year effort of feminist women to improve the lives and status of all women and to empower them as equal players in the world’s affairs. This book documents not just the work of highly visible leaders who became famous but the efforts of the thousands of women (and sometimes men) whose names never became familiar, and without whom there would have been nothing that could be labeled a national movement.
What becomes obvious is that for the prominent and the unknown, advances have required extraordinary persistence, commitment, and faith in a vision of what might be that transcends the many near misses and defeats and the incredible backlash such efforts seem to inspire.
The format of the chronology, unlike a narrative history, makes it easier to recognize and track the multiple issues that were being pursued simultaneously across the country. Though the media might picture it otherwise, the feminist movement has never really narrowed its focus to a single issue.
The Chronicles 1953-1993 use the National Organization for Women (NOW) justifiably as the organizing focal point of the movement in these years.
Though there was a slowly awakening consciousness among the young women of the New Left and Peace movements, in SNCC and the SDS, in the 60s, it was in fact the founding and organizing of NOW that became the public kickoff of the revitalized movement of these last three decades.
Though Women’s Liberation groups emerged and flourished across the country for a few passionate years-for example, Radical Feminists, Redstockings, Witch- they lacked national coordination, goals, an accepted leadership, and, not the least, an effective fundraising mechanism. Many disappeared; others became service organizations, dedicated to providing assistance to women in a single area, such as battered women’s shelters.
Many other organizations, old and new- the National Woman’s Party (NWP), the Business and Professional Women (BPW), the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the League of Women Voters (LWV), the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, later the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) – nurtured the movement and its successes and shared in its failures. But NOW has remained – as NAWSA and the National Woman’s Party before it – central to its existence and vitality.
The press has written many premature obituaries for the feminist movement of these decades. But then NOW (which seems to be uniquely capable of the task) organizes a march in Washington to which hundreds of thousands come, giving visible proof that feminism lives and flourishes in numbers always superior to its opposition. And the obituary becomes merely another expression of the opposition’s wishful thinking or disinformation.
The feminist movement and NOW are no longer the novelties on which the media continue to practice pack journalism, as they did in the early years. And perhaps with the exception of the massive marches, NOW itself is not always as militantly visible.
But on one day in October on opposite coasts, NOW was there for women in two different cases reported respectively in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
In Newark, New Jersey, members of Essex County NOW were seated in a courtroom monitoring the case of four high school football players charged with sexually assaulting a mentally impaired young woman with a baseball bat, a broom handle and a stick, and forcing her to perform masturbation and fellatio in the basement of the home of two of the boys. As defense lawyers argued that the woman was the aggressor, the Essex County NOW Coordinator charged that “this is a second gang rape” of the victim.
In Newport Beach, California, five women, current and former employees of the police department, charged the police chief and a police captain with rape and sexual harassment. Defense lawyers described the women as employees who had a grudge because they had been disciplined. The Bayview Chapter of NOW released a statement declaring, “Every woman in Orange County should be outraged when charges of this magnitude are dismissed by city-paid attorneys as ‘frivolous.’ It is not surprising that women are reluctant to come forward when, as in the case of Anita Hill, the accuser is portrayed from the outset as mentally unstable or as a ‘disgruntled employee.’ “
As the Chronicles demonstrate, NOW Chapters remain ubiquitous across the country as the watchdogs of women’s rights on a broad agenda of issues – not only in the big cities but also in the suburbs, in the small towns and in the countryside, in fact, wherever sex discrimination or misogyny surfaces. And women who have never been involved in any movement organization and who never called themselves feminists, who find themselves at wit’s end in a crisis, call NOW for help.
Its national leadership in Washington, D.C., often moving in advance of colleagues in other generally like-minded women’s organizations and even over their resistance, have often framed the new issues and set the tone and pace of the movement at the next cutting edge.
The fact is, if the National Organization for Women were to collapse and disappear, it would be taken as a signal of the end of this era of feminism.
Thankfully, the era has not ended.
Furthermore, the emergence of the Feminist Majority in 1987, a new, lean organization unencumbered by structural layers or an internal political process, has provided the movement with a fresh source of ideas and initiatives. Concentrating on the acquisition of power for women, the Feminization of Power Campaign crisscrossed the country beginning in 1987, jump-starting a process that climaxed in the so-called Year of the Woman in 1992. Rather than begging men to address the issues and needs of women, the feminist movement shifted its emphasis to taking power itself. The timing was right. Some 685 women’s organizations in the late ’80s endorsed the concept.
EMILY’s List, launched in 1985 to raise early political money for Democratic pro-choice women through a technique long-used informally by the “boys,” became the first political action committee to “bundle” money for candidates. Through bundling, EMILY’s List could maximize women’s political power by legally directing more than the federal political action committee’s limitation of $5,000 per candidate. By 1992, EMILY’s List had successfully raised $6 million for the presidential election and tens of thousands of dollars each for some targeted feminist candidates. So successful was the technique that it was instantly copied: pro-choice Republican women formed the “WISH List.”
The spontaneous reaction to the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings by millions of women showed that the feminist movement still packed a mighty wallop throughout the country at both the grassroots level and on the asphalt streets of the inner cities. So mighty was the reaction to an all-white male Judiciary Committee’s insensitive handling of Professor Hill’s sexual harassment charges that it became a major contributing factor to the 1992 Congressional wins for women. All leading feminist organizations reported massive gains in fund raising, membership, and support immediately after the hearings.
Not only did the Anita Hill reaction attest to the strong pull of the feminist movement among women to its existing formal organizations, but it also resulted in the spinning off of new, nonhierarchical organizations reminiscent of the late 1960s. In New York City, the Women’s Action Coalition (WAC), formed in the wake of the hearings, was reporting hundreds of women in attendance weekly at meetings. Its founders, Mary Dorman, a lawyer, Ann Philbin, a curator, and Deb Kass, a visual artist, were stirred to activism by what they witnessed of the televised hearings. WAC soon spread to other cities.
But perhaps nowhere is the current strength of feminism more noticeable to the power establishment than in pop culture. The 1991 movie Thelma and Louise struck such a chord among women, and took men by such surprise, that it made the cover of Time magazine. To this day, Thelma and Louise T-shirts are a brisk seller to feminist women.
In 1992-1993, Susan Faludi’s Backlash and Gloria Steinem’s Revolution From Within , both best-sellers, showed not only the tremendous popularity of feminism but also that it was still cross-generational in its appeal. And nowhere was the movement more radical than among its very young members, as evidenced in the music of the Riot Girls and the all-women rock bands. In the ’70s, the anthem for women was the consciousness-raiser of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman.” For the ’90s, the lesser-known but prophetic anthem is feminist Kay Weaver’s “Take The Power.”
As we go to press, a headline in the Washington Post reads, “Sisterhood of the Hill: Shaking Up the Place.” In the spirit of Anita Hill, African-American women more than doubled their numbers in 1992 in Congress, led by the only African-American in the U.S. Senate, Carol Moseley-Braun, and in the House of Representatives, veteran lawmaker Cardiss Collins and the youngest of the group, Cynthia McKinney. All are being seen and heard as they take on the right- wing, antiwoman Congressional neanderthals led by Senator Jesse Helms and Representative Henry Hyde.
As we near the beginning of the 21st century, the feminist movement, dedicated to equality for women and a more just society, has firmly grasped the vision that to achieve its goals, women must become at least 50% of the decision-makers of our nation and world.In the vernacular of the day, from a prophetic anthem by Annie Lennox, “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.”
-Los Angeles, August 1993