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[Pic Title]
Protesters at Miss America Pagent, 1968.
Photo: Jo Freeman

National Organization for Women (NOW)

NOW comes into being in the late '60s, just as many revolutionary movements are reaching a peak. As a leading voice for the women's movement, NOW gets involved with a variety of issues which are of special concern for women. Overlap with other movements sometimes leads to controversy and criticism, but the organization endures.

In June 1966, a Washington ballroom is packed with intelligent, articulate, and very angry women. They are delegates to the government's Third National Conference of the Commissions on the Status of Women. Arriving at the conference, they are told they can't pass resolutions-meaning no real action will come from the meeting. On the final day, June 30, as bureaucrats deliver endless speeches, the women simply sidestep the government. "I joined other furious women at the two front lunch tables, passing along notes written on napkins," Betty Friedan recalls, "We were putting together the National Organization for Women under the noses of the people who wanted to put us off."

"It was a feeling of power, that if there's a sisterhood—that we all want to change society—we can do it."

Jacqui Michot Ceballos
NOW Activist

Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, is drafted by the 28 founders to serve as NOW's first president. Among the scribbled napkins is the group's objective, "to take the actions needed to bring women into the mainstream of American society now, exercising all privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly [also cited as fully] equal partnership with men."

For the rest of the decade, NOW lobbies against labor laws that prevent women from working in certain jobs, and ads that limit job applicants by gender. Moving into the '70s, NOW turns to the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which promises equal justice to all citizens, regardless of gender. The ERA is almost 50 years old before Congress passes it in 1972. To become law, three quarters of the states (38) must ratify the Amendment within 10 years. When the deadline arrives, the ERA is three states short.

Today, four decades after inception, NOW continues to seek social change through political and judicial channels.

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