Part II – 1977

1953 | 1954 | 1955 | 1956 |1957 | 1958 | 1959
1960 | 1961 | 1962 | 1963 | 1964 | 1965 | 1966
1967 | 1968 | 1969 | 19701971 | 1972 | 1973
1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980
1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987
1988 | 1989 | 1990 | 1991 | 1992 | Epilogue, 1993


NOW president Karen DeCrow delivered a Women’s State of the Union Address in Washington, D.C. (01/13/77)

NOW’s new bylaws were reported as ratified after mail ballots were counted. The new bylaws provided for paid officers, a delegate system and modern, streamlined management. (01/29/77)

The Tenth National Conference of NOW in Detroit, MI, elected Eleanor Cutri Smeal as its new president by an overwhelming majority. Among more than 20 resolutions, the delegates authorized the creation of a NOW ERA Strike Force to make the ratification effort a national campaign and and pledged an all-out fight for ratification of the ERA; the establishment of a NOW Political Action Committee; and voted to join the boycott of J.P. Stevens, the second largest textile manufacturer in the country. (04/22/77)

Alice Paul, militant suffragist and author of the Equal Rights Amendment, died at the age of 92. Of her lifetime dedication to achieving equality for women she once said, “I always thought once you put your hand on the plow, you don’t remove it until you get to the end of the row.” (07/09/77)

The first House hearings on the Hyde Amendment prohibiting the use of Medicaid funding for abortion were held. (06/17/77)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that neither the Constitution nor federal Medicaid law required the government to pay for abortions that were not medically necessary. Commenting on this decision, President Carter made his famous “life is not fair” statement. (06/21/77)

The National Women’s Conference in Houston, TX, chaired by Bella Abzug, adopted a National Plan of Action to be submitted to the President and Congress. NOW’s President, Eleanor Smeal, was on the 45 member Commission and led the effort to include gay rights in the plan of action. Some 20,000 women attended the conference. Ten years before, the Second National Conference of NOW had endorsed the ERA and a woman’s right to abortion in a landmark “Bill of Rights for Women.” The plan of action adopted by the Houston Conference and approved by more than 80% of the delegates attending with only a few additions (that in the intervening years NOW had also already adopted) echoed the NOW “Bill of Rights” proposed a decade earlier. The “radical” goals advanced by NOW in 1967 had by 1977 become the national objectives of the majority of American Women. The Conference was attended by Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, and the wives of three U.S. Presidents Rosalyn Carter, Betty Ford, and Ladybird Johnson. A Roper Poll conducted a week before the conference revealed that only 19% of the general public felt that their views were represented by Phyllis Schlafly, almost the same percentage as anti-delegates, indicating that the Plan of Action passed by the delegates in Houston truly represented the will of the majority. (11/18-20/77)


Marjorie Wyngaarden, a NOW Coordinator, and other NOW activists won a three-year battle with AT&T for dual phone book listings for husbands and wives without an extra charge. Ms. Wyngaarden had taken her case to the AT&T shareholders, the Public Utilities Commission, the Securities Exchange Commission and the FCC. (01/11/77)

Joanie Caucus, the runaway housewife made immortal in the comic strip Doonesbury, “graduated” from Law School. (05/21/77)

The U.S. Army announced it was restoring the Medal of Honor to Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a front-lines Civil War surgeon and the only woman among 3,000 medal winners in American history. (06/10/77)

Janet Guthrie became the first women to race in the Indianapolis 500. After the race she publicly thanked her parents “for not bringing me up thinking I couldn’t do something because I was a woman.” (05/31/77)

By a vote of 56-to-42, the Senate voted to forbid the use of public funds to pay the cost of elective abortions for the nation’s poor, except where the woman’s life may be endangered. (06/29/77)

By a vote of 201-to-155, the House voted for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited the use of federal money for Medicaid abortions. (06/29/77)

Calling the Social Security System, “one of the worst example of institutionalized sexism in our society,” NOW president Eleanor Smeal testified before the House Subcommittee on Social Security in support of legislation which would remove the need for a dependency test and establish a system by which homemakers would have their own individual social security records not linked to spousal accounts. (07/21/77)

The Wichita, KS, Commission passed a gay-rights bill by a 3-2 vote. The bill prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual or affectional preference and marital status in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.(09/06/77)

Rosie Jiminez, 27, a single mother with a five-year-old daughter and a scholarship student six months away from receiving her teaching credential, died in agony from septicemia after an illegal abortion, the first known victim of the Hyde Amendment blocking Medicaid funding for abortion. (10/03/77)

A number of cities passed laws banning anti-gay discrimination in 1977. They were: Wichita, KS; Tucson, AZ; Iowa City, IA; Champaign, IL; and Aspen, CO. (12/77)

Quebec, Canada passed legislation outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations. (12/77)

After nearly five months of bitter debate and painstaking negotiations in Conference Committee, the House of Representatives and the Senate reached a “compromise” on wording to restrict access to elective abortions by poor American women who rely on Medicaid funds for their medical care. Said NOW President Eleanor Smeal, “The final resolution is totally unacceptable. Even though the Senate conferees were strong enough to win wording that will assure Medicaid funds for at least a third of those who need them, it leaves hundreds of thousands of women with no choice.” (12/07/77)

NOW Membership 53,500; NOW Annual Budget $1,373,524 (1977)


An equally divided U.S. Supreme Court upheld a decision approving sexually separate public high schools for academically superior boys and girls in the case, Vorcheimer v. Philadelphia. (04/19/77)

The Air Force graduated its first 10 women pilots. (09/02/77)

The Project of Equal Education Rights (PEER) of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund charged that the Department of Health, Education and Welfare was allowing school districts all over the country to continue discrimination based on sex, despite a 1972 law prohibiting such practices. (11/07/77)


Los Angeles NOW became one of the plaintiffs in the huge class-action suit filed against Hughes Aircraft Company for sex discrimination in employment and hiring. Hughes was one of the largest employers in Southern California. (04/77)

NASA chose the first women as astronaut candidates. (1977)

NOW President Eleanor Smeal testified in support of the Labor Law Reform Act of 1977 before the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Labor-Management Relations. The proposed legislation guaranteed that workers would be able to attain rights denied them due to inadequacies in existing laws. Smeal said: “Women, concentrated in the lowest paying, unorganized occupations, have the most to gain through collective bargaining.” (09/08/77)

World War II women pilots-the WASPs-were finally granted veterans’ benefits by an act of Congress after 34 years of seeking veteran status. About 800 surviving women pilots were affected by the new law. (11/03/77)

After nearly a year of trying to reach a settlement with the Citizen’s National Bank of Wilmar, MI, to correct discrimination in salaries, opportunity for promotion and union representation, eight women employees went out on strike. It was the beginning of a bitter, grueling and ultimately losing three-year struggle by the women, who came to be known as the “Wilmar 8.” Director Lee Grant portrayed their struggle in a documentary film. (12/16/77)


Jacqueline Means, a 40-year-old nurse and prison chaplain, became the first woman officially admitted to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church in America. (01/01/77)

An 18-page declaration prepared by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and personally approved by Pope Paul VI, flatly ruled out the admission of women to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church because women lacked a “natural resemblance which must exist between Christ and His Minister.” (01/28/77)

NOW’s Task Force on Women and Religion published a pastoral letter and sent it to every Roman Catholic bishop and newspaper in the country, urging the church hierarchy to “purge itself of sexism and related forms of idolatry” or “forfeit its right to a serious hearing on the great social and moral issues of our day.” The letter also admonished the bishops to petition the Pope for ordination of gays and the recognition of reproductive freedom. (04/24/77)

Pope Paul VI agreed to halt, retroactively, the automatic excommunication of divorced and remarried Catholics in the U.S.A. The action was taken in response to the near unanimous request for the change made by the American Catholic bishops at their semi-annual meeting in May 1977. (11/09/77)

In the first year in which women were eligible to become priests in the Episcopal Church, over 90 took advantage of the option. (1977)


Joe Smith, chair of the board of Elektra-Asylum (EA) records, met with representatives of California NOW and Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) in response to the group’s growing boycott of Warner, Atlantic and EA record covers that used women in subservient poses. Smith agreed that such depictions should not be part of EA’s normal artistic standards and promised to meet with his counterparts at Warner and Atlantic records to “discuss the situation.” (02/77)

Games Mother Never Taught You, (Corporate Gamesmanship for Women) by Betty Lehan Harrigan was published. (1977)

U.S. District Judge Harry Pregerson certified as a class action a lawsuit filed against KNXT, Los Angeles, and CBS by a former female writer and producer who alleged the station and network discriminated against women in employment. Melinda Cotton alleged in the suit that the station discriminated against women with respect to hiring, job placement, promotions, salary and other conditions of employment. (08/29/77)

The U.S. Civil Rights Commission accused the FCC of issuing rosy “window dressing” reports on the progress of women and minorities in TV. Screen Actors Guild findings showed that employment for women and minorities in the entertainment industries was worse than two years previously. (08/77)


Two NOW members studying law at Whittier College in California, Catherine Timlin and Alice Bennett, proposed to NOW national board members Judith Meuli and Toni Carabillo that NOW seek an extension of the deadline for ratification of the ERA from Congress based on the fact that the Constitution imposed no time limit for the ratification of amendments. The idea was passed on to Eleanor Smeal. (03/11/77)

In Salinas, CA, Inez Garcia, who had become a feminist symbol of a woman’s right to self-defense, was acquitted of second-degree murder after a retrial for killing the man who stood guard while a second man raped her. (03/04/77)

At the New York Chapter’s Tenth Anniversary dinner at the Biltmore Hotel, Ellie Smeal was seated next to N.Y. Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (who had replaced longtime ERA foe Emmanuel Celler in Congress) and outlined the idea of extending the ERA deadline to her. Holtzman, an attorney, sat on the House Judiciary Committee. She was fascinated with the idea and offered her help instantly. (03/12/77)

Timlin and Bennett delivered their paper on the extension of the deadline for ratification of the ERA to Carabillo and Meuli. They located Smeal in Tallahassee working on the doomed ratification campaign in Florida. The paper was mailed to her on March 31. About this time, Smeal discussed the concept of the extension with Jean Witter, another longtime NOW member who had been a leader in the campaign for ratification by Congress in the early 70s and who had also gone on to become an attorney. Witter wrote the first extensive and validating legal memorandum on the concept, which was presented to Elizabeth Holtzman. (03/30/77)

Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman received the first of a series of opinions from the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress concurring in the opinion of the Timlin-Bennett paper and the Witter memorandum that it was indeed within the power of Congress to extend the ratification deadline. (04/28/77)

At the opening of the hearings on the ERA extension resolution, the Justice Department advised Congress that it had the right to extend the deadline for ratification of the ERA or, for that matter, any other amendments. Furthermore, according to the Justice Department, “the extension would not give rise to any right of recision and furthermore, Congress cannot give to the states a right to rescind by any means short of amending Article V of the Constitution.” (11/02/77)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Satty v. Nashville Gas Company that pregnant employees could be denied sick pay. It also ruled unanimously that seniority rights could not be taken away from women who were on leave to give birth to children. (12/06/77)


Indiana became the 35th state to ratify the ERA, despite frantic last-minute efforts by Phyllis Schlafly and her supporters to kill the amendment. The ratification followed intensive action on the part of national NOW, directed by NOW’s Chair of the Board, Eleanor Smeal, and Indiana NOW under the leadership of state coordinator Sue Errington, capped by a huge ERA rally January 9 in a raging blizzard. NOW members kept vigil in the Capitol rotunda during the entire voting process. (01/18/77)

The Virginia Senate came within one vote of ratifying ERA. The vote was 20 to 18 in favor of ratification, but the rules required a majority of the 40-member Senate, or 21, for passage. (01/27/77)

The ERA was ratified in the Nevada Senate by the tie-breaking vote of Lt. Gov. Bob Rose after a parliamentary maneuver devised by NOW Chair Eleanor Smeal. Since a pro-ERA vote in the Assembly was regarded as a foregone conclusion, ERA backers celebrated. (02/08/77)

The Nevada Assembly rejected the ERA by a vote of 24-15. Eleven of the 24 negative votes were cast by Democrats pledged to support their party’s platform. They had run for office as pro-ERA candidates, used pro-ERA people as campaign workers, accepted contributions from pro-ERA individuals and organizations, and some had even voted in favor of ERA when it passed the Assembly in 1975. The vote switch was attributed to unprecedented pressure from the Nevada Legislature’s Mormon Bishops who held key positions in the state’s power structure. (02/11/77)

In New Hampshire, efforts by NOW helped to defeat an attempt to abolish the state’s ERA. Women’s groups through-out the state responded to the NOW alert with legislative testimony, phone calls and letters to counteract the misinformation circulated by New Hampshire’s branch of the Eagle Forum and the State Commission on the Status of Women. (02/15/77)

The NOW National Board approved an economic sanctions campaign against unratified states at its meeting in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Also approved was participation in the J.P. Stevens boycott. (02/19/77)

Vermont was the site of the first International Woman’s Year (IWY) state meeting in preparation for the National Women’s Conference. More than 1,000 men and women braved cold and snow to attend and pass resolutions supporting ERA, affirmative action, scholarships for older women students, and others. Forty-five percent of those attending had never before attended a meeting on women’s rights. (02/26/77)

With three states already having voted recision of ERA (Idaho, Tennessee, and Nebraska), the Justice Department informed President Carter’s counsel that in the Department’s opinion, recision was illegal and unconstitutional. (03/77)

California NOW began a boycott of Nevada because of its refusal to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. In addition to NOW, California Women Lawyers asked lawyers in California to stay out of Nevada and called on attorney’s groups not to schedule meetings there. (03/05/77)

The Florida Senate voted against ERA ratification 21-19. Chair of the NOW Board, Eleanor Smeal, who participated in NOW’s ratification campaign in Tallahassee, noted that it was two long-time supporters who made a last-minute switch to the opposition that blocked ratification, following the Nevada pattern. (04/13/77)

The American Association of University Women adopted a resolution directing that regional conventions not be held in states that had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. (06/29/77)

Four thousand people, representing 60 national organizations, commemorated the 57th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, with a precision march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Marchers demanded that President Carter take an active and vigorous part in the effort to gain ratification of the ERA. The idea of the march as a tribute to Alice Paul was conceived by the NOW Executive Committee the day following her death and NOW organized the march. This was the first ERA march. (08/26/77)

On Women’s Equality Day, ERA Walkathons throughout the country raised $150,000 for the NOW ERA Strike Force. (08/29/77)

Wisconsin Judge Archie Simonson, who described the rape of a 16-year old girl in a high school stairwell as a “natural reaction” by a gang of boys, was defeated in a recall election and replaced by Moria Krueger, the first female judge elected in Dane County history after an intense NOW campaign. (09/07)

James M. Thompson, majority leader in the Virginia House of Delegates, was defeated by pro-ERA Republican challenger Gary Myers after an intensive NOW-directed campaign. (11/08/77)HJ 638 calling for a seven-year extension of the deadline for ratification of the ERA was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-NY). (10/20/77)

After NOW won in the 1976 elections, removing anti-ERA state legislators and replacing them with ERA supporters, women were robbed of ERA victories with key vote switches in Nevada, North Carolina and Florida. (1977)

The Backlash

Anita Bryant reported that she was “divinely” inspired to testify against a proposed Dade County (FL) ordinance prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals. (01/77)

In a unanimous decision, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled that the activities of the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year could not be challenged in Federal court by members of Stop-ERA. In their suit against the commission, the plaintiffs – represented by Fred Schlafly – alleged that federal funds were being spent for lobbying activities. The court agreed that the commission had engaged in a variety of activities pursuant to its broad Congressional mandate, but that none of these activities were shown to harm the plaintiffs’ interests. (02/24/77)

By a margin of more than two to one, the Dade County (FL) ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual preference was repealed in the referendum vote, following intense public agitation against the ordinance by Anita Bryant and her group, Save Our Children. (06/07/77)

Life Advocates was formed in Texas by a Phyllis Schlafly associate, Margaret Hotze. (1977)

The Life Amendment PAC was established by Roman Catholic activist Paul Brown. (1977)

The National Pro-Life PAC was set up in Chicago by Father Charles Fiore and Peter Gemma. (1977)

Mormons attempted to take over IWY in Ellensburg, WA. Mormon men with walkie-talkies instructed their women on which meetings to attend and how to vote. (07/08/77)

The Consumer Alert Council, an anti-union, pro-business group, was set up and headed by Barbara Keating. (1977)

Approximately 14,000 Mormon women and men crowded the International Women’s Year (IWY) Conference in Salt Lake City. They voted down all proposals including ERA and world peace. (06/24/77)

The IWY conference in Hawaii was taken over by anti-ERA Mormons. An anti-ERA slate was elected to go to Houston for the IWY meeting. (07/09/77)

Anti-feminists at IWY National Woman’s Conference in Houston, TX, led by the ubiquitous Phyllis Schlafly, were only 20% of the delegates. Most resolutions adopted were passed by 90% of the delegates, indicating splits in the unity of the opposition, though one, on Equal Credit, passed unanimously. During one of her press conferences about why she and her followers opposed establishing shelters for battered women, she said, “It’s just beyond me how giving a wife who’s been beaten an ‘R & R’ at taxpayers expense is going to solve her problem. . . . She needs a divorce lawyer and she can get that through the legal aid society.” (11/18-20/77)

The ACLU asked the Rhode Island Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that a married woman must use her husband’s last name. The appeal resulted from a ruling in which Superior Court Judge Thomas Needham said that the state Registry of Motor Vehicles could force a woman to use her husband’s surname on her driver’s license, even if she was divorced. (12/08/77)

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