The National Organization for Women (NOW) was born June
30, 1966 out of the fury and frustration of 28 women attending
the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status
of Women in Washington, D.C.
Their fury was understandable. The Commission had been
set up by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt and three full years had passed since
it had first reported (in American Women, The Report of the
President's Commission on the Status of Women, in I963) that,
despite having won the right to vote, women were discriminated
against in virtually every aspect of life. These findings had been
reinforced by the reports of the state commissions that had also
come into being in the intervening years.
Nevertheless, the I966 Conference delegates were prohibited
by the Administration's rules for the conference from even passing resolutions recommending that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforce its legal mandate to end
Betty Friedan, a conference guest and author of The Feminine Mystique, invited a group of women to her hotel room one
night to discuss alternative strategies. It was decided that the
only solution was to form a seperate civil rights organization
dedicated to achieving full equality for women. It was Friedan
who christened it NOW.
Kathryn Clarenbach, head of the Wisconsin Commission on
the Status of Women, was named temporary coordinator and
the women drafted a statement of purpose:
"To take action to bring women into full participation in
the mainstream of American society NOW, assuming all the
privileges and responsibilities thereof in fully equal partnership with men."
Thus was born the new feminist movement—and not unlike
the way that the original suffragist were inspired to launch their
revolution after being frustrated in attempts to take their rightful places as delegates to the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London.
In addition to Clarenbach and Friedan, NOW's 28 founding
mothers were: Ada Allness, Mary Benbow, Gene Boyer, Ana-
loyce Clapp, Catherine Conroy, Caroline Davis, Mary Eastwood,
Edith Finlayson, Dorothy Haener, Anna Roosevelt Halstead,
Lorene Harrington, Mary Lou Hill, Esther Johnson, Nancy
Knaak, Min L. Matheson, Helen Moreland, Pauli Murray, Ruth
Murray, Inka O'Hanrahan, Pauline Parish, Eve P. Purvis, Edna
Schwartz, Gretchen Squires, Mary Jane Snyder, Betty Talking-
ton, and Caroline Ware.
NOW's first organizing conference was held October 29-30,
1966 in Washington, D.C. More than 300 women and men from
all parts of the country assembled in the John Phillip Sousa
Community Room of the Washington Post building to formulate an organizational structure and philosophy for the united
front of the new feminist movement, or as Friedan termed it,
"the unfinished revolution."
Kathryn Clarenbach was elected NOW's first chairone of the
Board and Betty Friedan, NOW's first president. Richard Graham, former EEOC Commissioner, was elected vice president
and Caroline Davis, of the United Auto Workers, secretary-
Other members of NOW's first National Board were: Colleen
Boland, Catherine Conroy, Carl Degler, Sister Mary Austin
Doherty, Elizabeth Drews, Muriel Fox, Betty Furness, Dorothy
Haener, Jane Hart, Anna Hedgeman, Phineas Indritz, Dean
Lewis, Inka O'Hanrahan, Patricia Plante, Sister Mary Joel Read,
Charlotte Roe, Alice Rossi, Vera Schletzer, Edna Schwartz and
NOW was incorporated officially in Washington, D.C. on
February 10, 1967, after finalization of its National Constitution and By-Laws by an appointed committee.
The watch word was "action" as NOW waged war on all aspects of sex discrimination. Task forces were set up to deal
with the problems of women in employment, education, religion, poverty, law, politics and their image in the media. Committees were also organized to handle finance, membership,
public relations, legislation and legal activities.
Somehow, without one paid staff member and no budget,
NOW started raising the consciousness of the nation. Closet
feminists began to expound their beliefs in public and NOW
chapters emerged all over the country.
By the time NOW held its second National Conference in
Washington, D.C, in November, 1967, membership had risen to
1200. That was the year NOW startled the media and lost some
members by declaring its support for repeal of all abortion laws
and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Today, of course, the Equal Rights Amendment is supported
by such old-line organizations as the League of Women Voters,
the Girl Scouts and the Y. W. C. A. Even more significantly,
Congressman Emanuel Cellers, arch foe of the ERA for 50 years,
was defeated for office in 1972 by a woman. He partially blamed—or credited—the women's movement for his defeat.