The Feminist Chronicles, 1953-1993
The telegrams agreed upon were sent to the Commissioners and read:
“We respectfully urge the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to rescind its ruling permitting employment advertisements in newspapers under separate help-wanted male and help-wanted female column headings and to adopt in its place the language recommended by Representative Martha Griffiths, which appears in the Congressional Record for June 20, 1966.”
It was signed by the 28 women and was so temperate in tone that it hardly sounded like a clarion call to revolution.
But the dissidence actually went beyond just the 28 women. In the Title VII workshop, 80 of the representatives to the conference voted for a resolution anyway that demanded that President Johnson reappoint Richard Graham to the EEOC. There was also a discussion of protective labor legislation in which some union women joined other conference participants in criticizing the laws. One participant reported that this discussion “created the impression that labor is either divided or no longer concerned about these labor standards.”
“Justice Delayed. . .”
Aileen Hernandez who (although a speaker at the conference) had not been present either in Friedan’s hotel room or at the lunch the next day, was continuing her own struggle within the EEOC in a worsening environment. The Commission’s chairman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., who had not distinguished himself as a champion of women’s rights, had resigned in May 1966, and the Johnson Administration had named no successor. Richard Graham had not been reappointed to the Commission and had left as scheduled on July 2. This left the EEOC with only three functioning commissioners to deal with the mushrooming piles of new complaints pouring in for action and earlier ones as yet undecided.
On August 25, 1966, the General Counsel’s office finally submitted two draft opinions on the BFOQ requested by the airline industry for the job of flight attendant, one opinion supporting and one opposing the grant of an exemption.
Hernandez had been pressing for the Commission to act for months, and sometime in June “had gone to the White House” with her concerns about the entire performance of the Commission, the slowness of the Administration in naming Commission replacements and the high turnover in the support staff, which, in her opinion, clearly signaled a burgeoning morale problem.
On September 6, immediately after reviewing the General Counsel’s two opinions “and making minor revisions in the proposed finding that sex was not a BFOQ for the flight attendant position (which was the recommended decision of the General Counsel),” she dispatched the following compelling memorandum to all the remaining other Commissioners and to relevant staff members:
“Cases have been pending before us since November of 1965. New cases are being filed each month and will continue to be filed until the decision is reached. It is still valid to remind ourselves that ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’
“This Commission has both long-range and short-range responsibilities. In the short range, we are required by law to make determinations on cases before us-to assess whether or not the charging party has been discriminated against because of race, color, national origin, sex or religion. We have no right to determine that we will not be as forthright in attacking one kind of discrimination as we are in attacking another kind. I confess that I am basically oriented to eliminating the centuries old discrimination against Negroes, but I cannot close my eyes to the obvious inequities of treatment of other groups in our society. If we are to win our fight for equality, we have to do it by erasing all irrelevant barriers to advancement. Therefore, in our short-range responsibility, we must seek to eliminate discrimination as we find it-without regard to whether sex cases should have lower priority than race cases or religious cases or national origin cases. Our law does not provide for such priorities. The rigid time limits imposed on us require that we dispose of cases within 60 days. It is appalling to realize that we are approaching the one-year mark since some of the airlines cases were filed with us. Such callous disregard for the charging parties and the respondents is difficult to condone. I cannot help but wonder when that disregard will extend to other areas of our jurisdiction.
Attitudes are significant in determining action. I am well aware that there is a difference of opinion within this agency as to the extent and kind of discrimination against women. I don’t think there is any difference of opinion on the fact that there is discrimination. That brings me to our long-range responsibility-assuming the role of attitude-changer. We have been somewhat successful in changing the attitudes on the race, religion and national origin questions. The more than 20 years of work by state and local FEPC’s, by civil rights organizations, religious groups and Federal government have changed behavior and have begun to change attitudes. The old ‘accepted’ roles of the Negro in American society are neither accepted or acceptable today. We have broken out of the ‘conventional wisdom’ on the race question because that wisdom was challenged by those who rejected its obvious inequities. There are obvious inequities in the role of women in our society and the ‘conventional wisdom’ is strong. Congress has given us the responsibility, by law, to find and eliminate those inequities based on sex. We have the responsibility to change attitudes, deep though they may be, which limit the opportunity for women to seek their full potential. Just as in race, we can start the change in attitude by forcing a change in behavior. Implicit in this request for a BFOQ are all the limiting stereotypes (benevolent or gallant as they may appear) which dictate the second class status of women workers. By rejecting this BFOQ, I think we will have begun the long uphill road to equality of opportunity for women and will indicate that our Commission recognizes the multiple roles women may and should play in our society.
“I am disappointed that we have chosen to vacillate on this issue on the specious argument that we are not completely informed. I do not believe that there has been a single issue before this Commission which has been so fully aired. Because of this, I urge that the decision be made as rapidly as possible so that justice can be done-to our complainants, our respondents and to our integrity as a Commission. I request that the matter be set for the agenda on the first day in the first week of October that all members of the Commission can be present.” 49
A few weeks later, President Johnson finally appointed a new chair of the EEOC, Stephen Shulman, and on September 23, the EEOC’s General Counsel submitted finished drafts of the two positions on the BFOQ. But the meeting of the commission on October 1 that Hernandez had requested did not occur. On October 4, she fired off another memo requesting action, but the decision-making session was again delayed.
“Finally,” Hernandez declared, “in frustration over the inaction on this issue and other cases which had drifted on for more than a year in spite of the time requirements of Title VII, I submitted my resignation on October 10 to become effective November 10.”50
On October 28, 1966, legal counsel for the airline industry wrote to the new chairman of the Commission requesting new hearings on the BFOQ request for airline attendants, citing the changed composition of the Commission.
This time Commissioner Jackson fired off a memo to the new chairman of the EEOC, declaring, “I’m shocked at the effrontery of the Air Transport Association’s request for a re-hearing in the airline stewardesses cases. . . . Our Commission has 92 cases pending that involve this question, as well as the request for a BFOQ finding by Northwest Airlines. . . . Indeed, some airlines have already changed their policies as a result of their anticipation of the Commission decisions. The Commission has had a hearing. We have transcripts of the hearing, as well as numerous briefs by Commissioners and by all parties concerned, and exhibits, surveys, Commission decisions, etc. as a basis for making a decision on the question.”51
Jackson urged the Chairman to let the Commission make its decision and then those unhappy with it “could exercise their right to challenge the decision in the appropriate Federal court.”52 He asked that it be the first item on the agenda for November 1. However, it was scheduled for November 9, one day before Hernandez’s resignation was to take effect.
Getting NOW Together
While this was all taking place within the EEOC, a temporary steering committee consisting of Kay Clarenbach (its chair who was given the authority to appoint such a committee), Dorothy Haener, Esther Johnson, Pauli Murray, Inka O’Hanrahan, Betty Talkington and Caroline Ware was engaged in laying the groundwork for the new organization.
Friedan seemed conspicuous by her absence from this committee, considering her pivotal role in NOW’s conception. In her book, It Changed My Life, Friedan made a brief allusion that may provide a clue: “I started out suspicious of Kay as an agent of the Women’s Bureau, and she surely saw me as a wild New York radical.”53
There are additional hints of an underlying conflict among the activist founders suggested by Hole and Levine, early researchers of the movement: “In spite of the general agreement on the ‘main purpose’ of NOW, it should be remembered that at this point in time, Friedan’s avowed feminist position coupled with her flamboyant and combative personal style had made her extremely controversial and, in some corners, greatly feared. Several observers have interpreted the sudden urgency to organize the new action group ‘on the spot,’ even before the Conference had adjourned, as an attempt to circumvent Friedan, and keep control of any new women’s group in less militant hands. Apparently the endeavor to keep NOW firmly within the ‘establishment’ continued over the summer as charter members were being recruited. While Friedan and the ‘East coast contingent’ tried to interest feminists and potential feminists in joining, the ‘Midwestern and Western contingents’ strove to attract more conservative members, reportedly through the recruiting efforts of Women’s Bureau staff members in the Midwest. In addition, it was only after a certain amount of haggling between the East and Midwest factions that the formal organizing conference was scheduled to be held in the East.”54
Since Hole and Levine did not attribute these observations to their source, it’s impossible to evaluate their validity. Even if such difference really existed between the East and Midwest/West, they did not seriously impede progress. It also seems highly unlikely that Clarenbach was any government bureau’s agent and most likely that differences in the personal style of an academic woman from a Midwestern university (she was director of Continuing Education at the University of Wisconsin, very prominent and highly regarded in her own milieu) and a Manhattan-based, media-oriented celebrity-author (Friedan) of a best-seller, (even one who had been born in Peoria, IL), were real, natural, replicated to greater or lesser degrees among other founding members, and that only time and experience in working together could bridge or exaggerate them.
In any case, membership recruiting, even if it was competitive, went on, and by October, some 300 women and men had become charter members; the organizing conference was scheduled for October 29-30 in Washington, D.C. and by October 26, a slate of nominees for national officers and board members had been prepared.
The slate offered the following nominees as officers: Chairman of the Board, Kathryn Clarenbach; President, Betty Friedan; Executive Vice President, Aileen Hernandez (“Subject to nominee’s acceptance, following the effective date of her resignation as Commissioner of the EEOC”); Vice President, Richard Graham; and Secretary/Treasurer, Caroline Davis (from Michigan and director of the Women’s Department of the United Automobile Workers).
The slate made clear that, sometime before October 29, consideration had been given to some elements of the structure of the new organization. Certainly a very pragmatic appraisal had been made of the skills of the principals, specifically Clarenbach and Friedan.
Friedan was a public figure already and her name had national recognition value that would be a critical asset in attracting the attention of the media. She also came with a built-in constituency – the hundreds of thousands of women who had already read her book and who would flock to hear her impassioned speeches. But she had absolutely no experience or natural skill in organizing and no patience for the bread-and-butter work it would take to build an organization. Despite her long tenure as president of the fledgling organization-four years-and the fact that the by-laws required the president to preside at national conferences, she never learned to chair an orderly meeting, small or large.
Kay Clarenbach, though widely known and highly respected in Wisconsin and much of the Mid-west, especially in the academic community, and in more limited circles in Washington, D.C., was not naturally media-oriented, but she had all the other experience and skills that Friedan lacked. The reality is that without her the mechanisms for making the organization functional might not have been constructed soon enough for it to survive. She also attracted a significant portion of NOW’s membership that Friedan’s name alone would not have drawn, and they came with skills comparable to her own. The role she played-and her tenure in office was as long as Friedan’s-has nowhere yet been adequately described or appreciated.
The division at that time of the top leadership between a chair of the board and a president was clearly an astute stroke.
The fact that both Clarenbach and Caroline Davis, the Secretary/Treasurer, had offices and staff that could be pressed into service to assist them with the development and processing of basic organizing materials and functions was also an enormous asset.
Nominating Hernandez as Executive Vice President – though it was to have major repercussions yet to be described – was another organizing coup. She brought with her not only an enormous range of skills, but experience from the Black civil rights movement, trade union organizing, government service and – despite her resignation as EEOC commissioner – connections and credibility in government as well as industry and labor that she could and ultimately did use time and again to advance NOW’s purposes.
There’s no question that as a national celebrity, Friedan was able to recruit as working members a far different set of women than the academics, government service, union, and professional women from the East, Midwest, or West could have attracted. However, many of us who later read the news story about NOW’s formation might not have been so quick to join without the impression of stability and the different kind of prestige the names of Clarenbach and Hernandez conveyed.
The Few Seemed Many
When the organizing conference of NOW opened in the John Phillip Sousa Community Room of the Washington Post building in the nation’s capital, there were actually only about 30 of the 300 charter members present, though many of us who joined later long had the impression the whole 300 had been in attendance. NOW’s flair for making the few seem many apparently began with this first formal meeting.
According to Friedan’s account, Clarenbach was not present, though if this had any political significance it has never been alluded to, and the likelihood is that a university commitment prevented her attendance.
The slate of officers was elected as originally nominated, including Clarenbach as chair of the Board. Hernandez was also elected in absentia, though Anna Arnold Hedgeman agreed to serve as Acting Executive Vice President until her consent to take the office could be obtained.
The board of directors that was elected included some names already familiar, others that soon would be, and a few that apparently served with NOW only briefly.
In alphabetical order, NOW’s first board included:
- Coleen Boland, president of Transport Workers Union Local 550 (the flight attendant’s union);
- Inez Cassiano, who had to resign the following March because she took a position with the EEOC;
- Catherine Conroy of United Automobile Workers (UAW);
- Dr. Carl N. Degler, historian;
- Sister Mary Austin Doherty, Alverno College;
- Dr. Elizabeth Drews;
- Muriel Fox, vice president of Carl Byoir public relations firm;
- Betty Furness, then more famous as a television personality than as the consumer affairs expert she later became;
- Dorothy Haener, of UAW;
- Jane Hart, militant advocate for women, including the involvement of women in the space program, and wife of Senator Philip Hart;
- Anna Arnold Hedgeman, professionally a social worker with a long career in government service;
- Phineas Indritz, a Washington, D.C. attorney;
- Reverend Dean Lewis, prominent Presbyterian church leader;
- Inka O’Hanrahan, clinical biochemist, lifelong feminist, active in many women’s organizations;
- Graciela Olivarez, attorney;
- Dr. Patricia Plante;
- Eve Purvis;
- Sister Mary Joel Read, Alverno College;
- Charlotte Rowe;
- Dr. Alice Rossi, Goucher College;
- Dr. Vera Schletzer;
- Edna Schwartz;
- Dr. Gretchen Squires, physician; and
- Herbert Wright.
Looking at NOW’s first officers and board members more analytically, they consisted of seven university professors or administrators; five state and national labor union officials; four federal and local government officials; four business executives; four who had served or were serving on state commissions on the status of women; in addition to one M.D., seven held Ph. D.’s; four were men; three were in religious vocations.
Six vacancies on the board remained after the first elections were over, which were to be filled from “regions and groups not yet reached, notably the business community and the South.”
A major task of the conference was the adoption of a “Statement of Purpose.” Friedan reported in a memorandum to members issued shortly thereafter that it “was debated and approved sentence by sentence, by the 32 men and women attending the conference. . . .”At the Founders’ Dinner at NOW’s 1971 national conference, public credit for much of the writing of the Statement of Purpose was given to Pauli Murray.
A Passionate Concern
The NOW Statement of Purpose adopted by the conference addressed a far wider spectrum of the population than the narrow segment of middle and upper class, college-educated, largely suburban women with whom Friedan had been concerned in The Feminine Mystique. It addressed broader concerns than most state commissions had yet addressed; and certainly implied that more radical solutions might be needed than any proposed by the President’s Commission.
It rang – and still does – with a passionate concern for “the worldwide revolution of human rights now taking place within and beyond our national borders.” It pointed out with a sensitivity few Caucasian women had yet acquired that Black women were “the victims of the double discrimination of race and sex” and two-thirds were employed “in the lowest paid service occupations.”
It recognized that “women’s problems are linked to many broader questions of social justice” and that “their solution will require concerted action by many groups.” It unequivocally declared that “human rights for all are indivisible” and pledged “to give active support to the common cause of equal rights for all those who suffer discrimination and deprivation.” It called upon “other organizations committed to such goals to support our effort toward equality for women.”
It was and remains in many ways a timeless document, almost elastic enough to encompass the enlarged agenda of women’s issues that emerged in the next 10 years.
According to Friedan’s report, the conference also “approved targets for action for six task forces to be set up by the executive board to address themselves to Equal Opportunity in Employment; Education to Full Potential; Social Innovations for Equal Partnership Between the Sexes; New Image of Women; Equal Political Rights and Responsibilities; and a War for Women in Poverty. The exact scope, title, priorities of targets and strategy for each task force will be worked out by its members, with the approval of the Executive Board.”
“We debated virtually every comma of our Statement of Purpose,” Friedan added later in her report, “but were not divided on any of its substance nor on the targets for action to which we committed ourselves in setting up the task forces.”
It was apparently easy for the organizing conference to decide on Washington, D.C. “for NOW national headquarters,” but though there was agreement on the basic principles to be contained in NOW’s Constitution, it had not been possible to complete the task at the conference. A Constitution Committee was established to incorporate these principles in a draft which was to be presented to the Executive Board for submission to the membership.
Parenthetically, Friedan explained, “This will be, in effect, our third try at a Constitution to mesh NOW’s specific needs and the democratic will of its members. Previously, the Steering Committee and the National Organizing Conference were not able to agree on draft constitutions modeled after other organizations such as the American Veterans Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union, and national labor unions, nor did we want to model ourselves after women’s organizations whose constitutions preclude the action to which we are dedicated. The structure we have now agreed upon,” she wrote, “gives the basic power to the membership as a whole, in annual national conferences, which will decide major policy and elect board and officers-with provisions to prevent domination by any one group or region, to provide representation for those unable to attend, and to insure continuity. Between such conferences, the national board of 35, including the five national officers, will be free to act, meeting every three months; between its meetings, the five officers will be free to execute agreed policy. It was agreed that NOW will basically function as a national organization of individual members, with provisions, however, for setting up local chapters where desired.”
Plan For Action
The conference approved immediate action on efforts to get enforcement of Title VII. It also authorized the board to set up a legal committee (which soon consisted of the extraordinary history-making team of Marguerite Rawalt, Mary Eastwood, Carruthers Berger, and, somewhat less actively, Phineas Indritz) to first take action on behalf of the airline attendants and a California case that offered the possibility of resolving the conflict between Title VII and the so-called protective labor legislation.
At the first meeting of the new board immediately after the adjournment of the conference, it was decided that meetings would be sought with President Johnson, the current Chair of the EEOC, the Attorney General and the head of the Civil Service Commission.
It was, all in all, what soon came to be regarded as a typical NOW conference. In the original document mailed to the charter membership in 1966 as a report on the conference, Friedan wrote: “We wasted no time on ceremonials or speeches, gave ourselves barely an hour for lunch and dinner. . . kept going until we had to vacate our meeting room . . . met in Task Forces over breakfast. . . Throughout, in order to accomplish what we did, we had to keep our eyes on the clock, and keep pushing ourselves and each other on with it. At times we got very tired and impatient, but there was always a sense that what we were deciding was not just for now ‘but for a century.’
“Shortly before we adjourned Sunday afternoon. . . we shared a moving moment of realization that we had now indeed entered history. Pauli Murray passed on to us a medallion that had been handed down to her by one of the survivors of the battle for the vote for women in America half a century ago – a woman who had been imprisoned, and starved herself in protest in a jail near where we were meeting. And Alice Rossi recalled that exactly 100 years ago, two British women took the first petition for the vote for women to the British Parliament- and did not know how to get it inside except by hiding it in the bottom of a cart of apples being taken in for the members to eat. We suddenly realized the confidence and courage we must all now share-to confront the complex unfinished business of the revolution they started so long ago, to launch this new movement for full equality for all women in America, in truly equal partnership with men.
“So NOW begins. . . .”
Telling The World
The conference had been closed to the press so the participants could be free to hammer out policy and structure with no holds barred. But now it was time to tell the world that a revolution had begun.
Friedan had met Muriel Fox while giving an address to American Women in Radio and Television (which Fox then headed), on the image of American women in radio and television. Fox had scribbled a note then, “If you ever start an NAACP for women, count me in.” Friedan remembered the contact some weeks before the conference, had contacted her, and Fox had been as good as her word: she had come.
“The night after we adopted the Statement of Purpose in Washington,” Friedan wrote in It Changed My Life, “Muriel Fox, and a half-dozen women economists and lawyers stayed up till five a.m. running off NOW’s first press releases on Senator Hart’s mimeograph machine, and taking them by hand to the newspaper offices.”All of the principals who provided NOW with incredibly vigorous leadership in its early years were now in place save one: Hernandez.
The “unauthorized gesture,” as she has described it, of nominating and electing her Executive Vice President, even though it had been qualified with the phrase, “subject to her consent,” on the slate and in the first press releases and news stories that ran about NOW’s formation had serious consequences.
Charge of Impropriety
The EEOC decision on sex as a BFOQ for the job of flight attendant was finally scheduled to be made on November 9, 1966, the day before Hernandez’s resignation became effective. On November 8, by hand delivery, the airlines directed a letter to each commissioner, challenging the propriety of their making any decision in view of the press announcement of Hernandez’s “imminent employment in an executive capacity by an organization which has already publicly advocated an adversary position in respect to an issue now sub judice before the Commission” and demanding that “she refrain in the few days remaining of her official tenure from participating further in any Commission action with respect to that issue.”
An emergency meeting of the Commission was called in response to the letter and, when asked if she wished to disqualify herself, Hernandez was “emphatic in my decision to participate as scheduled. . . .” The Commission held the decision session on November 9 and voted, but the Air Transport Association sought, and was granted, a restraining order forbidding the Commission to issue its decision “until the propriety of my (Hernandez) participation was determined by the court.”
Affidavits were subsequently taken from Hernandez when she arrived in California after leaving the Commission, and from Betty Friedan, as president of NOW. On February 27, 1967, the judge ruled in favor of the airlines and the commission was ordered not to release its decision.
Rather than appeal, the Commission decided to make a new determination. As a result, the Commission did not make a decision until February 23, 1968-27 months after the first cases were filed and nearly a year after the restraining order-when it finally decided that “sex is not a bona fide occupational qualification for the position of flight cabin attendant.”
Fulfillment of a Dream
Hernandez did not accept the vice presidency of NOW until March of 1967, but in the interim she wrote to Clarenbach, “In many ways, NOW represents for me the beginning of the fulfillment of a dream I have long had that the women of the United States and the many racial and ethnic minorities which face similar discrimination would unite in their common cause. I was, therefore, delighted to see the Statement of Purpose reflect this same idea. I am wholeheartedly in support of NOW . . . .”
For every one of these women, so prominent in the first days of the movement, there were hundreds of others in towns and cities across the country who responded to that Statement of Purpose as the first brief words appeared in newspapers around the country.
The announcement of NOW’s formation did not make the front pages. It was often buried pretty far back in a much-abbreviated version of the press release that had been issued. The Washington Post, in whose building it had been born, gave the story five inches. The Los Angeles Times was more generous with 12.
And yet, we found the story and responded, because, brief though it may have been, it aroused in us that same passion for the possible.
So we joined, and became ourselves carriers of that contagious passion, inflaming still others. Feminism became epidemic across the United States, and the rest is our history.