Part II – 1981

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


Washington D.C. was the scene of more than the Presidential Inauguration. Thousands also came to the city to remind President Reagan of the continued and determined support for the Equal Rights Amendment. Two days of ERA actions preceded the one at the Inauguration itself. (01/20/81)

President Reagan endorsed a proposed Human Life Bill (HLB), the latest step in a series of attempts by anti-abortion foes to undermine the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion. Reagan also endorsed the most extreme “paramount” version of the Human Life Amendment (HLA), a constitutional amendment which would ban abortion, the IUD, and some forms of the birth control pill. (02/81)

Almost 25% of the female employees at the United Nations (UN) reported that they had been sexually harassed and pursued for sexual favors in return for a promotion or other job benefit according to the Ad Hoc Group of Equal Rights for Women, based at the U.N. Most vulnerable were lower income level women, many of whom were on visas that permitted them to stay in the U.S. only if they worked at the U.N. (03/81)

Kathryn Sullivan, NASA astronaut who had flown higher than any other woman, and Sylvia Earle, who had dived deeper than any other human, added to their list of achievements their unprecedented-and totally unexpected-admission to the previously all-male Explorers Club. Two members of the Board of Directors immediately predicted that 300 members might resign as a result of the vote. “You have no idea how strongly some men feel about this,” said one board member. (03/81)

The National Academy of Sciences declared that the question of when human life begins was not a scientific one and that the proposed bill by Jesse Helms and Henry Hyde to define life as beginning with fertilization “has no scientific validity.” (04/28/81)

The Reagan Administration dropped the judicial selection process inaugurated by former President Carter, which had dramatically increased the number of women judges named to the bench since 1976. The new policy marked a return to the traditional policy of recommendation by Senators or, in everyday parlance, a return to the “old boy” network method of appointing the friends of Senators, normally men. (05/81)

NOW President Eleanor Smeal testified against proposed cuts in Social Security by the Reagan Administration, charging, “The net effect. . . is to create massive holes in the safety net for the aged poor women in this country.” (06/03/81)

In a 6-3 ruling in Rostker v. Goldberg, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of an all-male draft registration as passed by Congress. The majority opinion, written by Justice William H. Rehnquist, declared that, under the constitutionally authorized powers to raise an army, Congress was not required to “engage in gestures of superficial equality.” (06/25/81)

President Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor, 51, to fill the seat on the U.S. Supreme Court vacated by Associate Justice Potter Stewart. (07/07) NOW President Eleanor Smeal testified in favor of her appointment. O’Connor was sworn in by Chief Justice Warren Burger, the 102nd Supreme Court Justice and the first woman on the court. (09/25/81)


The Human Life Bill (HLB) was introduced in the Senate by Jesse Helms (R-NC) as S. 158, and in the House by Henry Hyde (R-IL) as H.R. 900. NOW opposed both bills at hearings held before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Separation of Powers. (01/19/81)

Honolulu (HI) NOW and over a dozen other organizations joined forces on Opening Day of Hawaii’s Legislature by releasing thousands of brightly colored balloons, each bearing a pro-choice message. The balloons were inflated and distributed in the open-air rotunda of Hawaii’s beautiful Capitol Building. Anti-choice advocates annually bus hundreds of people to the Capitol for the occasion. (03/81)

San Diego (CA) NOW sponsored a demonstration aimed at stopping the San Diego Unified Port District Board of Commissioners from granting the Playboy Club a lease until the year 1103. (03/17/81)

New York NOW held a May 3rd brunch on the lawn of the University Club, NYC, to protest the club’s policy of excluding women. “All the business that gets conducted at these stag clubs is simply too important to exclude women,” said Sheila Feiger, President of NOW-NYS. (05/03/81)

ERA activist Alan Alda quietly donated $11,000 to help buy and preserve the home of women’s rights leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The National Park Service announced that Alda’s contribution was part of a drive to raise the $43,000 needed to organize a Women’s Rights Historical Park in Seneca Falls, NY, as authorized by Congress in December, 1980. (06/81)

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, chaired by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), held hearings during October and November on the “Human Life Amendments” pending before the Senate, including Hatch’s “Legislative Authority Amendment.” Thirty-six witnesses, only four of them women, testified during the seven days of hearings. (10/81)

Los Angeles NOW officers Sally Rosloff and Susan Van Trees headed for Florida by car to work in the ERA Countdown Campaign in that state. (11/16) Other members, like Marnie Delaney, an advertising executive, quit their jobs to take subsistence salaries working in the Countdown Campaign office in Los Angeles. (1981)

Philadelphia (PA) NOW’s immediate past president, Lillian Ciarrochi, left her job to work full time for the ERA in Florida and become part of the team coordinating ratification efforts. (09/81)

Deborah DeBare of Brown University and Jennifer Jackman and Deborah Davis-Anthonyson, both of Smith, who said ratification of the ERA was more important than going to college, and Tamar Raphael, suspended their studies to work for passage of the ERA, launching NOW’s ERA College Campus Project. (10/81)


Milwaukee (WI) NOW’s Task Force on Gender Equity in Education checked for compliance with Title IX when the Milwaukee Public School System joined the Milwaukee Suburban Conference Athletic Association. They investigated seven school systems with which the Milwaukee schools would compete in the association’s athletic (02/81)

In the last session of their State legislature, Alaska NOW finally succeeded in passing legislation nicknamed “Mini-Title IX.” The bill, which had been lobbied for years by Alaska feminists, provided that discrimination on the basis of sex was prohibited in all areas related to employment at all educational levels, including opportunities for advancement, counseling and guidance services in public education, recreational and athletic activities, course offerings, and textbooks and instructional materials. (07/81)


Indianapolis (IN) NOW observed Secretary’s Day by distributing “rose notes” to women being taken to lunch by their bosses. The card front featured a long-stemmed red rose. Inside the message read “For every $1 a man earns, women earn 59 cents. You’re worth more than 59 cents.” Stuffed in the card were NOW’s “Dollars and Cents Feminism” pamphlet and a membership application. (04/22/81)


NOW members gathered at the National NOW Action Center for a pilot training program for the Mormon Missionary Project. The trainees were from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana, and Utah. Feminist missionaries were being trained and sent to Utah for a door-to-door ERA education program and as a non-violent protest of the Mormon Church’s systematic blocking of ERA ratification in Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Missouri, Virginia and Florida. (04/04/81)

San Diego (CA) NOW distributed pro-ERA brochures outside of San Diego area Mormon Churches. About 110 of the brochures, “The ERA is a Moral Issue,” written by Mormons for the ERA, were distributed by the chapter. (04/05/81)


Employment discrimination against women in pay, hiring, promotion, training, and termination were the charges of the Honolulu (HI) NOW chapter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Honolulu NOW asked the FCC to deny the license renewal of Shamrock Broadcasting Company for television station KITV, an ABC affiliate. (01/81)

Johnson County/Iowa City (IA) NOW and members of other feminist organizations picketed the film “Dressed to Kill” when it was shown on the University of Iowa campus. Approximately 100 men and women participated in the silent picket each night the film was shown. Leaflets were distributed which stated NOW’s position against films using violence toward women as “entertainment.” (03/81)

The Second Stage by Betty Friedan was published accusing feminists of distorting the goals of the movement by disparaging men, marriage and the family. Activists, besieged by the backlash, fighting for the lost causes of child care, homemakers rights and the ERA, felt betrayed. (1981)

Boston (MA) NOW’s campaign against discrimination at a local television station resulted in changes in employment practices at the station. In February, Boston NOW asked viewers to turn off the station in order to lower its ratings and reduce its profits. As a result, when the chapter pointed out discriminatory practices at the station, women’s salaries were upgraded and some women received raises. At least one woman was promoted to management, and a female reporter hired at the end of February began anchoring weekend broadcasts. (05/81)

Over 5,000 women listed the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment as their number one “message to President Reagan,” in a poll sponsored by Glamour magazine and reported in their May issue. Thirty three percent of respondents picked ERA as their top concern out of 19 possible categories; second choice was women’s right to a safe, legal abortion, chosen as top concern by 13% of the respondents. (05/81)

Syndicated columnist Beverly Stephens reported that there was a growing “backlash” of articles in newspapers and magazines that essentially advocated that women leave their careers for the joys of motherhood and home. Said Stephens, “Perhaps it reflects wishful thinking that women will eliminate the problems involved in adjusting to equality by going back home. In any case, it’s beginning to look like selling women out is as sure a path to the best seller list as a fad diet.” (09/81)


In response to Judge Marion Callister’s second refusal to disqualify himself as the presiding judge in the ERA extension/ recision lawsuit, the National Organization for Women petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse this decision. The petition, in the form of a request for writ of mandamus, was filed in the Appellate Court. (03/06/81)

At the request of NOW and on the strength of the Missouri decision in NOW’s favor, Judge Roger D. Foley dismissed all charges brought against NOW by the state of Nevada. The dismissal brought to an end three years of defense by NOW against charges that it violated anti-trust laws in promoting the boycott of states which had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. (03/81)

Florida NOW Boycott Committee members returned to their posts at the entrance to Disney World, Orlando, FL, after winning a legal battle with the opposition. The controversy arose when Disney officials and local authorities insisted that NOW members needed a permit for “commercial advertising” while picketing along this particular site. (03/31/81)

Women scored an important legal victory when the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Jaycees is a public accommodation, prohibited by state law from excluding women from full membership on the basis of their sex. The NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund filed the amicus brief on behalf of Minnesota NOW. (05/08/81)

Michigan NOW began an organizing effort to remove Judge Donald Halstead, a Juvenile Court Judge in Kalamazoo, MI. Halstead ruled against allowing an abortion for an 11-year-old girl who was pregnant by her mother’s boyfriend, who had physically abused both the girl and her 10-year-old-sister. (10/81)


NOW launched a nationwide woman-to-woman campaign aimed at stopping the so-called Human Life Amendment. NOW chapters across the country scheduled leaflet campaigns, neighborhood walks and other efforts to get people to realize that if passed, the HLA would not only prohibit all abortions, but would also ban the use of some contraceptive pills and IUDs. (01/22/81)

Albuquerque (NM) NOW thought of a unique way to counteract the anti-choice group’s “parade of roses” campaign on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion. The anti-choice group always gave red roses to individual members of New Mexico’s state legislature. This year in addition to their annual demonstration, NOW members and members of the New Mexico Coalition for Abortion Choice gave state legislators bud vases which were stamped with the word “choice,” designed and executed by Albuquerque Chapter President Jenny White. (01/22/81)

Los Angeles (CA) NOW opened 1981 with a new service for members: Issues Briefing Sessions held each month on the Equal Rights Amendment and on the misleadingly named Human Life Amendment (HLA). The meetings were designed to equip members with all of the knowledge on issues that a speaker’s bureau training would provide, minus the concentra-tion on formal speech making. (01/88)

San Francisco (CA) NOW had Ed Asner of “The Lou Grant Show,” former Congressperson Bella Abzug and Mormon Sonia Johnson speak at their very successful Sixth Annual Day in the Park for Women’s Rights. “Equality Shall Not Be Silenced” was the theme and more than 15,000 people attended the rally at Golden Gate Park. (02/81)

San Fernando Valley (CA) NOW found that their HLA information booth was one of the most popular attractions in the Sherman Oaks Fashion Square as people waited in line, at times five and six deep, to sign the STOP HLA petitions and to receive information. (03) San Fernando Valley (CA) NOW found that their HLA information booth was one of the most popular attractions in the Sherman Oaks Fashion Square as people waited in line, at times five and six deep, to sign the STOP HLA petitions and to receive information. (03/81)

Tucson (AZ) NOW members, dressed in suffragist costumes, marched in Tucson’s Fiesta de los Vaqueros Rodeo Parade carrying a “Votes 1920, ERA 1982” banner. They were joined by members of the Southern Arizona Coalition for the ERA. (03/81)

Rocky Mountain, Arapahoe, and Ft. Collins (CO) NOW chapters were instrumental in defeating two state legislature bills that sought to define a fetus as a person, one of which would have changed the definition of “child” to “a person from the time of conception to 18 years of age.” The chapters inundated the Colorado House Judiciary Committee with POMs, phone calls and letters, held a “Never Again” demonstration on the capitol steps, packed the hearing room with NOW members, and identified all pro-choice people with “Never Again” stickers. In addition, NOW members presented testimony against the bills. The victory was especially significant since it represented one of the first defeats for a “redefinition” bill. (03/01/81)

The North Dakota legislature defeated three anti-choice resolutions and joined New Mexico, Wyoming, Montana, and Arizona as the fifth state in a month to reject repressive reproductive measures. The successful votes represented a major victory for the pro-choice movement, particularly at a time when the right wing had mounted a nationwide campaign to restrict reproductive freedom. (03/10/81)

Lincoln (NE) NOW sponsored a three-mile run for the ERA. The $5 registration fee for each runner went to National NOW’s ERA fund. (03/31/81)

NOW President Eleanor Smeal announced at a Los Angeles luncheon that former First Lady Betty Ford would be the National Honorary Chair of the ERA Countdown Events, and Alan Alda would serve as Co-chair. (06/10/81)

Tens of thousands of ERA supporters all around the country joined with NOW President Eleanor Smeal and ERA Countdown Honorary Co-Chairs Betty Ford and Alan Alda to kick off the ERA Countdown Campaign. In rallies numbering over 170, in 42 states, ERA supporters again gathered in the traditional green and white for a day of stirring speeches, music, and proclamations from mayors and governors, with green-and-white balloons filling the skies. Major rallies were held in Washington, D.C., Springfield,IL; Denver, CO; Los Angeles; Boston; and New York City. (06/30/81)

NOW opened ERA Countdown Campaign Offices in St. Louis, MO; Tulsa,OK; Oklahoma City, OK; Tallahassee, FL; Miami, FL; Springfield, IL; Chicago, IL; Fayetteville, NC; and Raleigh, NC. The pace of the entire Countdown Campaign was accelerating daily. All local and state ERA Countdown offices established phone banks, message brigades, missionary projects, and generally maintained a massive outreach to their communities. (08/81)

NOW President Ellie Smeal traveled to several unratified states, key districts, and cities on a speaking tour and ERA Countdown organizing drive. The response from the standing room-only audiences was so enthusiastic that at each stop record numbers of people signed up for ERA campaign work. (08/81)

ERA was at its highest support level in history, with solid majorities in every population category in the country. A Gallup poll survey showed that 63% of Americans “who have heard or read about the ERA” supported it and 32% opposed it. In previous Gallup surveys conducted since 1975, ERA support never exceeded 58%. (08/09/81)

The “Last Walk for ERA,” one of the largest fund-raising efforts held on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment, raised close to a million dollars, more than tripling the proceeds from ERA Walks in any of the previous four years. One of the largest Events was in Los Angeles, which combined a parade of 12,000 on the Avenue of the Stars in Century City, led by Betty Ford, Maureen Reagan Los Angeles chapter president Toni Carabillo, and an array of celebrities, with a feminist fair and walkathon in which 5,000 participated raising $300,000 for the national campaign. Los Angeles NOW Vice President Jane Guthrie was coordinator of the day, Susan Van Trees and Barbara Rose organized the Fair, and Cooper Zale coordinated the Walk. (08/22/81)

Linda Furney, Ohio NOW President, drove the Ohio “Stop HLA Caravan” into the Knox County Fairgrounds on opening day to help build momentum for activities during the week and to draw attention to the NOW booth. Booth exhibits included information on the ERA, teenage pregnancy, battered women, the HLA, sexual harassment, abortion, and women’s economic status. (09/81)

Covering 27 colleges in 5 weeks, the ERA Countdown Campus Campaign moved through the colleges and universities of northeastern United States from Wellesley to Mount Holyoke to Quinnipiac College to Yale to Rutgers to Bryn Mawr on a whirlwind tour, with rallies, speeches, and recruiting tables. (09/81)

ERA activists in Illinois, Florida, and Oklahoma were energized by the dedicated campaign work done by Betty Ford, Esther Rolle, and Marlo Thomas. (10/81)

The National Organization for Women and the American Public Health Association (APHA) were the only groups to testify against the confirmation of Dr. C. Everett Koop for U.S. Surgeon General. (10/01/81)

Teams of activists canvassing in towns and cities across the country recruited thousands of new members to the ERA Message Brigade on National Message Brigade Day. (10/01/81)

Former First Ladies Betty Ford and Lady Bird Johnson, NOW President Ellie Smeal, and other nationally prominent speakers addressed a cheering crowd of 3,000 at a “Call to the Nation’s Conscience,” on the final day of the NOW National Conference. The ERA rally was held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. (10/12/81)

New York (NY) NOW raised funds for the ERA ratification campaign through profits from an art exhibit and sale. More than 40 artists, including Louise Nevelson, Claes Oldenburg, Betty Parsons, Diane Keaton and Chuck Close donated art which went on sale at the Zabriskie Gallery in New York City. (11/81)

The Backlash

The Mormon Church dropped its trespassing charges against members and supporters of Mormons for ERA who were arrested November 17. The “Bellevue 21” had chained themselves to the gates of the new Mormon Temple in Bellevue, WA, near Seattle. (01/12/81)

The Heritage Foundation’s Mandate for Leadership, released two weeks after Reagan’s election victory, was used as a guide by his Administration. At the end of the first year, more than 2,000 of its specific recommendations had been adopted. (1981)

San Francisco (CA) NOW joined a picket line at the University of San Francisco to protest the appearance of Congressman Henry Hyde and Nellie Gray, a leader of the “right to life” movement. More than 600 people picketed. (03/17/81)

To the acute embarrassment of Georgia Republicans, the leader of the Ku Klux Klan’s Invisible Empire in West Georgia said that three of its chapters had “hung up their robes” because the Reagan administration was expected to do the Klan’s job in Washington. The Klan endorsed the Republican Party platforman endorsement immediately disowned by GOP officials. (03/81)

President Reagan said that a constitutional amendment banning abortion would not be necessary if Congress determined that a fetus was a human being, because it would already be protected by the 14th Amendment. (03/06/81)

George Gilder’s book, Wealth and Poverty, was published and became a handbook of the Reagan Administration. In it, he repeated his Sexual Suicide theory on the necessity for women’s subservient role, as well as expounding on the virtues of supply side economics. (1981)

Dr. Willard Cates, chief of abortion surveillance at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA, was to have testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee that legalized abortions had reduced abortion-related disease and death among American women and significantly reduced the incidence of teenage marriages and out-of-wedlock births. His anti-choice superiors, including HHS Secretary Richard S. Schweiker, replaced Cates at the hearing with another official, Dr. Carl W. Tyler, who presented a three-page report omitting most of the favorable effects of legalized abortion described by Cates. (05/20/81)

The Reagan Administration announced plans for the most sweeping rollbacks to date on federal anti-discrimination regulations, the effect of which was to undo twenty years of progress for women. Promising a step-by-step improvement in women’s rights, instead the Administration delivered an unprecedented assault on advances for women, ranging from proposals to ease job bias regulations affecting 30 million American employees to weakening guidelines that protected women from sexual harassment, and undermining protections against sex discrimination in educational institutions. (07/81)

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced a new anti-abortion constitutional amendment (S.J. Res 110) that would give the Congress and the states concurrent authority to restrict or prohibit abortion. (09/21/81)

The nation’s Catholic Bishops closed ranks and united behind a Constitutional Amendment proposed by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), which would overturn Roe v. Wade and give each state the right to recriminalize abortion. (11/18/81)

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