Part II – 1986

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


Astronaut Judith Resnick and teacher Christa McAuliffe died with five male crew members in the explosion of the spacecraft, Challenger, as millions of Americans watched on television. (01/28/86)

Corazon Aquino was inaugurated as the first woman President of the Philippines. (02/86)

The largest march for women’s rights in U.S. history occurred on March 9th in Washington, D.C. The March for Women’s Lives, called and coordinated by NOW, to keep abortion and birth control legal drew 125,000 in D.C. One week later (03/16) a companion march in Los Angeles attracted 30,000 (the largest march in Los Angeles since 1968) in a driving rain and thunderstorm. There were a total of eight such marches for women’s lives in 1986-in D.C.. Los Angeles, Denver (some 5,000; the largest march in Denver’s history); Harrisburg, PA; Trenton, NJ; Boston; Seattle, WA; and Portland, OR. (03/09/86)

Simone de Beauvoir, philosopher and author of The Second Sex, died at age 78. (04/14/86)

Gro Harlem Brundtland, an active women’s rights advocate, became Prime Minister of Norway for the second time in six years. (05/86)

The U.S. Supreme Court, 5-4, in Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists overturned a Pennsylvania law designed to discourage women from seeking abortion, marking the first time that the Court explicitly stated “A woman’s right to make that choice freely is fundamental.” (06/11/86)

In a 5-4 decision the Court ruled against the right to privacy for gay men and lesbians in Bowers v. Hardwick, thereby upholding a Georgia statute which criminalized consensual sodomy. The concept guaranteeing the right to privacy – the basis of the Roe and Thornburgh decisions – survived with only a one vote margin, and the reasoning by which it could be vitiated is all laid out in the Hardwick decision. (06/30/86)

Exhibiting a not to be believed degree of sexism, President Ronald Reagan’s Chief of Staff Donald Regan asked rhetorically if the women of America were prepared to give up their diamond jewelry to impose sanctions against South Africa. (07/86)

William Rehnquist was confirmed as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and Antonin Scalia as Associate Justice. Both held radical positions against legal abortion, affirmative action, and other basic women’s rights. (08/86)

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether states could require girls under 18 years old who seek abortions either to wait 24 hours after the doctor has notified their parents of their plans or to obtain a judicial exemption from the notification requirement. (09/86)

NOW led the campaign for the Vermont Equal Rights Amendment referendum, which was defeated narrowly after Schlafly forces alleged a connection between ERA and AIDS. (11/04/86)

The National NOW Board moved to establish “NOW Foundation, Inc.” a 501 (c)3 foundation. (1986)

NOW celebrated its 20th Anniversary with a benefit gala, produced by Peg Yorkin, in Los Angeles’ Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the largest array of celebrities and media personalities (over 100) ever assembled for women’s rights. The two-hour show, directed by Anne Commire, was both a serious and humorous look at women’s lives over the past 20 years through the use of archival film, film essays, short landmark anecdotes read by the celebrities, and musical numbers. The landmark events were based on the 20-year chronology of NOW’s history by Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli. The show, which kept an audience of 3,000 cheering, was videotaped and released in shortened form as a videocassette. (12/01/86)


NOW had demonstrations in support of the Roe v. Wade decision in 97 cities nationwide. Pro-choice demonstrations and events included rallies, speakouts, marches, benefit lunches and dinners ranging from New York to Los Angeles. Some of the largest rallies with estimates near 1,000 were in New York City in Bryant Park and Boston where the rally filled the Church of the Covenant. (01/22/86)

The Right-to-Life movement showed signs of losing steam. To mark the 13th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the anti-abortion march on Capitol Hill , estimated at only 35,000 by police, featured President Reagan’s pledge (via a telephone hook-up from the White House): “I’m proud to stand with you in the long march for the right to life.” There were 40 arrests, mostly stemming from an attempted sit-in by anti-abortion militants at the Hillcrest Women’s Surgi-Center, two miles from the Capitol. According to D.C. police estimates, the demonstration was much smaller than previous years’ events. Even more stunning, the anti-abortion march scheduled for May 1st in D.C., which its organizers had promised would be larger than the NOW march, was cancelled. In June, Vice President George Bush cancelled a previously scheduled appearance at the National Right to Life Convention. (01/22/86)

The Charleston (WV) NOW Chapter staged a “Back Alley” rally to recall the days before the January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade ruling. The rally was scheduled three days before the state’s House Constitutional Revisions Committee had scheduled a public hearing on a proposed amendment to bar abortions in the state except when needed to save the life of the mother. “We’re going into an alley because we want to remind ourselves and the public of the harsh reality faced by women before Roe v. Wade,” said Nahla Nimeh-Lewis, local NOW action vice president. “Then, illegal abortion was the leading killer of pregnant women in the U.S.” (01/21/86)

Facing rising costs, declining membership, and imminent passage of a bill by the City Council which would have required them to admit women, the Union League of Philadelphia voted to permit women to become members. (05/86)

The University Club of Pasadena, CA, voted to admit women after 60 years of men only. The last two eating clubs at Princeton University integrated after losing a seven-year old lawsuit. Rotary Clubs in California integrated after losing a unanimous decision before the California Supreme Court. Rotary International planned to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. (1986)

Kiwanis International rejected admission of women members for the 11th year in a row. A federal district judge ruled it must integrate. The case was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. (06/86)

NOW’s Woman of Achievement award was presented to Oprah Winfrey at the National conference in Denver. Winfrey held the conferees spellbound with her rendition of the famous Soujourner Truth “Ain’t I A Woman” speech. The First Lady of Greece and President of the Women’s Union, Margaret Papandreou and Rep. Patricia Schroeder were keynote speaker at the conference. A few blocks away from the NOW Conference, the National Right To Life Committee held its annual meeting addressed by Sen. Robert Dole, Pat Robertson and Rep. Jack Kemp. A number of anti-abortion protesters were arrested when they tried to disrupt the NOW March for Women’s Lives of 5,000 people to a rally at the Capitol. (06/13-15/86)

In the first all-girl final of the Soap Box Derby, Jo Sullivan, 13, won the race and Rhonda Smith came in second. Since 1971, when the Derby integrated, girls won six times. (1986)

Patricia McGowan Wald, 57, moved up to Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Wald became the first woman to preside over the D.C. Court and only the second woman to be elevated to Chief Judge in any circuit. (07/86)

Representatives Patricia Schroeder (CO) and William Clay (MO) introduced the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1986 that would guarantee 26 weeks of unpaid medical leave for a serious health problem, including pregnancy, and 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave to either parent. (08/01/86)

NOW Annual Budget: $6,300,000; NOW PAC – $450,000. (1986)

Twenty-three NOW Founders met in Washington, D.C. for the 20th anniversary of the founding of NOW in October, 1966. (10/86)

Possibly the first report on RU-486 was issued by a World Health Organization (WHO) official, Dr. Jose Barzelatto, director of WHO’s program on human reproduction, who noted that if a woman wished to avoid pregnancy after intercourse, or if she had missed a menstrual period and believed she might be pregnant, a single pill would initiate menstruation, sweeping the egg cell out of her system. (10/19/86)

Anti-abortion forces failed to obtain the necessary number of signatures to qualify measures for the ballot in California and Washington State. All four (RI, MA, OR, AR) anti-abortion state measures that did qualify were defeated. (11/04/86)


More than 33% of U.S. medical school students are women, up from 9% in 1969, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. (04/86)

NOW President Eleanor Smeal was banned from speaking on the Campus of the Catholic University of America(01/22). Subsequently, Smeal was banned from speaking at Catholic DePaul University. (04) She eventually spoke off-campus for Catholic University students, and on-campus at DePaul (05/12) after students and faculty waged a successful protest. (1986)As Harvard University celebrated its 350th Anniversary, only 54, or 7%, of the 787 tenured faculty were women. Forty-two percent of the undergraduates were women. (09/86)

As women outnumbered men on college campuses, the American Council on Education found that female freshmen attitudes had shifted since 1966: the number of potential business majors had jumped from 11% to 24% while probable humanities majors had dropped from 25% to 7.3%. (09/86)

Only 11.4% of all professors were women; 23.5% were associate professors and 37.3% were assistant professors. Many of these women were grouped in the traditional fields of the humanities and home economics. (1986)

NOW president Ellie Smeal and other civil rights groups organized by FairTest met to strategize on how to make SAT tests less biased. FairTest contends the standardized tests typically refer to males and male experiences about twice as often as they refer to females and female experiences. (12/86)


Pay equity settlements continued in 1986. The largest award was to 35,000 employees of Washington State in female dominated jobs who on April 1 began to receive $41 million in pay equity salary adjustments. In a July ruling (Bazemore et al. v. Friday, et al), the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed two essential pay equity concepts: (1) past practices of discrimination can be used to analyze current systems of pay, and (2) statistical evidence is permissible. The decision would encourage more pay equity cases. In November, clerical workers won a pay equity settlement of $5.75 million from the State of Connecticut. (1986)

After 13 years of litigation and a lack-luster performance by the Reagan Administration’s Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal district judge in Chicago dismissed the $20 million sex discrimination case against Sears. The Reagan Administration’s EEOC, headed by Clarence Thomas, had not made a secret of the fact that they really wanted to lose the case. (02/03/86)

NOW chapters across the country joined picket lines in support of the Independent Federation of Flight Attendants’ strike against TWA. Carl Icahn, chairman of TWA, had demanded greater concessions by the flight attendants because, he said, their jobs were a source of “extra income” and they didn’t have families to support. (04/12/86)

The 20-year-old United Airlines lawsuit was finally resolved when a U.S. district court judge approved a $37 million back- pay settlement for 1,725 flight attendants and the reinstatement of 475 attendants. (10/07/86)

Congress enacted into law six of the 22 provisions of the Economic Equity Act, including pension rights for military spouses, private pension reforms, child care services for low-income, first-time college students, continued health insurance coverage for widows, divorced spouses and their children, an increase in the tax deduction for single heads of households, and an increased tax credit for low-income families. (10/86)

When American Airlines Flight 412 from Washington, D.C., touched down at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport at 8:52 a.m. , it did so without a man in the cockpit. The landing marked the first time in American history-and possibly in commercial aviation history- that an all-female flight crew was in command of both the cockpit and the cabin of a Boeing 727 jetliner. The crew, all of whom wore red roses in their lapels as they were greeted at the gate by some 150 passengers and spectators, consisted of Capt. Beverly Bass, co-pilot Terry Claridge and flight engineer Tracy Prior. Six weeks earlier, Bass became the first woman to win her captain’s stripes for a commercial airline. Most women who flew in the cockpit had reached only the rank of co-pilot or flight engineer. (12/29/86)


Mary Ann Sorrentino, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood in Rhode Island, was notified that she had been excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church for her pro-abortion activities. (01/22/86)

Bishop Anthony Bevilaqua of Pittsburgh decreed that women couldn’t have their feet washed on Holy (Maundy) Thursday because no women had their feet washed at the original Last Supper. (03/27/86)

Roman Catholic religious orders were between $2.5 billion and $3.5 billion short of funds to finance even modest retirement programs for aging nuns and brothers, forcing some orders to sell property or seek public assistance for retiring nuns, said Msgr. Daniel Hoye of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. (05/31/86)

The fate of two Notre Dame nuns, Barbara Ferraro and Patricia Hussey (who in 1984 both signed two New York Times ads asserting there was a diversity of views among Catholics on abortion and also spoke at the NOW March for Women’s Lives), remained undecided by the Vatican, with expulsion from their order a continuing threat. (1986)

Another victim of Pope John Paul’s crackdown on liberal Catholics, Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle announced that the Vatican had stripped him of his authority in several areas, including the liturgy, ministry to homosexuals, moral issues in church medical facilities, marriage annulments, the training of new priests, and dealings with priests who have left the ministry. (09/06/86)


Christine Craft lost her four-year lawsuit against Metromedia when the U.S. Supreme Court denied a writ of certiorari. TV anchorwoman Craft had previously been awarded more than $300,000 by two different juries. The lone dissent to the decision came from the only woman on the Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. (03/04/86)

The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel by Margaret Atwood, described life in what was once the United States, but which became a theocracy. Called the Republic of Gilead, it reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birth rate by taking the Book of Genesis literally with bizarre consequences, particularly for women. (02/86)

A Newsweek poll showed 56% of all women considered themselves feminists; 71% believed the movement had helped them; only 4% considered themselves anti-feminist. (03/31/86)

A University of Michigan survey released in May showed significant growth in support for the women’s movement since 1977. (05/86)

General Mills gave a sixth make-over to Betty Crocker, transforming her from a traditional homemaker to a well-dressed, 30ish, career woman. (05/86)

The third edition of Arthur Janson’s History of Art, the standard college art history textbook, incorporated female artists for the first time. (05/86)

The New York Time’s finally adopted usage of the title “Ms.” (06/86)


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional an Indianapolis ordinance authored by Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, that had defined pornography as discrimination against women. (02/86)

Bias against women in the New York State court system was so pervasive that “they are often denied equal justice,” according to the New York Task Force on Women in the Courts’ 3l3-page report which concluded “gender bias against women litigants, attorneys and court employees is a pervasive problem with grave consequences.” The report was issued by the 23-member panel appointed by the state’s Chief Judge after a two year study. (04/22/86)

NOW President Eleanor Smeal announced that the organization would file civil suits in federal courts against the attackers of abortion clinics, charging violation of federal anti-racketeering and anti-trust laws and for personal damages. Smeal said the first suit would be filed in Pensacola, FL, against the six people who invaded The Ladies Center. (04/02/86)

NOW filed suit in Wilmington, DE, under the Sherman Anti-trust and Clayton Acts asking a nationwide injunction against anti-abortion leaders who had been traveling around the country organizing harassment, invasions and violence at clinics where abortions were performed. A principal defendant named in the suit was Joseph Scheidler, head of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League and author of Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion. The suit also named John Ryan of St. Louis, MO, and Joan Andrews of Newark, DE as well as the Pro-Life Action League and the Pro-Life Direct Action League. According to the National Abortion Federation, there were 224 reported acts of violence in 1985 against clinics throughout the country. (06/10/86)

The U. S. Supreme Court affirmed for the first time in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, that sexual harassment on the job is sex discrimination and a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In two other rulings, the Court reaffirmed the legality of affirmative action to remedy past discrimination. (06/19/86)

NOW LDEF filed a lawsuit against Jacksonville Shipyards on behalf of welder Lois Robinson, charging sex harassment stemming from the pictures of nude women and the sexual slurs that pervaded the work environment. (09/86)

NOW President Ellie Smeal, testified against the confirmation of Judge Antonin Scalia as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Only a handful of American leaders testified against Scalia, who was confirmed by the full Senate by a 100-0 vote despite his opposition to minority rights, abortion, and women’s rights. (08/06/86)

In Steele v. FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, declaring its initial ruling unconstitutional, asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to remand its women/minority preference policy back to the agency. The outcome could be the withdrawal of a seven-year FCC policy to advance minority and women’s ownership in the broadcasting industry. (09/86)

Pennsylvania NOW filed a lawsuit with the state Insurance Commissioner against the five top insurers in Pennsylvania charging the use of sex-biased flat insurance rates was sex discrimination in auto insurance pricing. (09/23/86)

The Boulder (CO) City Council passed an ordinance making it illegal for abortion clinic demonstrators to come within four feet of clinic patients. The “buffer-zone” ordinance, possibly the first of its kind in the nation, passed after a public hearing at which only one person opposed it. (10/22/86)

Congress approved stricter federal rape laws. The single crime of rape was now replaced by four gradations; penalties were based on the severity of the crime; and the marital rape exemption was abolished. (10/86)


NOW’s National Conference in Denver, CO, adopted a resolution supporting reform of marital property laws in the 50 states, including a fiduciary duty between spouses and equal ownership/management rights over marital property. (06/13-15) In California, a bill initiated by NOW Task Force Chair Dorothy Jonas requiring open financial disclosure between husband and wife took effect. However, the bill’s original high standard of fiduciary duty (with stiff penalties for its breach) did not survive the amending process, robbing the new law of much of its impact. (1986)

NOW President Ellie Smeal testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Judiciary to oppose the nomination of Justice Rehnquist as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. (07/31/86)

Democrat Barbara Mikulski was elected to the U.S. Senate from Maryland, joining the only other woman member, Nancy Kassebaum, (R-KS). (11/04/86)

Congresswoman Mary Rose Oakar’s (D-OH) Pay Equity Bill, Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder’s (D-CO) Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Civil Rights Restoration Act were blocked. (1986)

The Backlash

Jerry Falwell announced he was disbanding the Moral Majority as a subsidiary of the Liberty Federation. Falwell, admitting he was having trouble fund-raising on abortion and pornography, decided to go international, with the initial targets of shoring up “the democracies” of Ferdinand Marcos, South Africa, and the Contras. (01/86)

An abortion clinic was damaged in Toledo, OH, by a fire that federal investigators attributed to arson, the third Ohio clinic hit by arsonists in a week. “The only statement we’re making is that it appears to be arson,” said Robert Stellingworth of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Two other Toledo abortion clinics reported bomb threats and city police put them under surveillance. (01/01/86)

The Cincinnati (OH) City Council passed a “fetal burial” ordinance requiring the “humane” disposal of aborted fetuses. Akron, OH, approved a similar fetal disposal law in 1983 but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was too vague. (01/08/86)

Six invaders, including Joan Andrews and John Burt, stormed into The Ladies Center in Pensacola, FL, damaging equipment and injuring two women at the center, one of whom was the local NOW chapter president. The same clinic was bombed twice in 1984. Police arrested the intruders, half of whom witnesses said had to be carried out. Joan Andrews was later given a prison term for her role in the invasion. At the time of the invasion, Joe Scheidler was present on the lawn of the clinic. (03/27/86)

A large pipe bomb ripped a 10-foot hole in the front of a clinic in Wichita, KS. (06/10/86)

A Lesser Life, The Myth of Women’s Liberation in America, Sylvia Hewlett’s anti-feminist treatise, was published by William Morrow with an unusual 110,000 advance hardcover copies printed.

The Vatican revoked the authorization of Rev. Charles E. Curran, a major liberal theologian, to teach theology at Catholic University of America. Curran, a popular lecturer at the university in Washington, had argued that the Church’s opposition to divorce, birth control, homosexual acts, and abortion should not be absolute. (08/19/86)

The Stamford (CT) Advocate ran a front-page, Valentine’s Day report on the results of a survey done by three sociologists based at Harvard and Yale, estimating that single, white, college-educated woman at 30 had a 20-to-1 chance of getting married. The article generated a storm of stories in the media. Jeanne Moorman and Robert Fay of the Census Bureau, using more recent data, issued different figures ( over the interference of the Reagan Administration): women at 30 had a 66 to 1 chance at marriage; at 40, a 23-to-1. The media ignored the new study. (02/86)

Shortly after 1 a.m. EST, a bomb exploded in the waiting room of a midtown Manhattan clinic – the Eastern Women’s Center – blowing out windows and injuring two pedestrians who were struck by flying glass. The clinic was licensed by the state and advertised birth control services, pregnancy testing and abortions. (10/29/86)

Terry Dolan, co-founder and long-time head of the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) died of AIDS. Gay baiting had been a favorite tactic of NCPAC used against progressive candidates for office. Despite the revelation about Dolan, it continued to be a right-wing tactic against the feminist movement. NCPAC helped fund the Stop ERA Campaign in Vermont that used an ERA/AIDS Connection brochure as a scare tactic. (12/28/86)

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