NOW in the 1970s

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NOW was a strong political action group in the 1970’s.

NOW's first national convention in 1967 adopted a Bill of Rights whose demands were all aimed at dismantling institutionalized gender discrimination. These demands included passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, EEOC enforcement of laws banning gender discrimination in employment, protection of the right of each woman to control her reproductive life, and child day care centers with tax deductions for child care expenses for working parents. One of NOW's first victories came in 1968 when the EEOC finally agreed to bar gender-specific job ads.

NOW as a Political Action Group

Leaders of NOW regularly appear before Congress, lobby officeholders, and organize letter-writing campaigns. Its overall strategy has been to work to pressure the political and legal systems to promote gender equality. Its leadership has come largely from the ranks of professional women who have focused much of the organization's attention on promoting and developing the leadership and organizing skills that would make women good lobbyists, organizers, and strategists. As such, other feminist groups have challenged it for being too reformist. NOW, for instance, had sought to be gender inclusive in its statement of purpose, which began with the words "we men and women." Other feminist groups rejected this inclusivity. Minority groups have challenged NOW for being overly focused on the needs of middle-class white women. At the same time, NOW has been denounced by conservative groups as "anti-family" for its 1970 definition of marriage as an equal partnership in which both parents should share equally the economic, household, and child-care responsibilities.
NOW's persistent pursuit of its strategy of political action working within the system has produced numerous victories for women's rights. In the 1970s, it forced 1,300 corporations doing federal business to compensate female employees for past pay discrimination. It helped prevent the confirmation of a conservative nominee, Harold Carswell, to the Supreme Court by documenting a past record of discrimination. In the 1990s, it helped secure the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA; 1994) that resulted in the institution of the Violence Against Women Office in the Justice Department. The VAWA and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (1984) have also resulted in federal funding for women and family victims of violence. In 2000, NOW began a campaign to extend the VAWA to include funding to train police, law enforcement, and court personnel to better handle issues of violence against women.

As a public action organization, NOW conducts national awareness, agitation, and legal campaigns and political lobbying against discrimination of every type. In 1978 it organized a pro-Equal Rights Amendment march in Washington, D.C., that drew 100,000 participants. In 1992, 750,000 people participated in NOW's abortion rights rally in Washington. It rallied 250,000 to protest violence against women in 1995. The following year, 50,000 demonstrators marched in San Francisco in NOW's rally to support affirmative action. NOW has been a staunch supporter of lesbian rights and held a Lesbian Rights Summit in 1999.

Legal and Educational Defense Fund

NOW takes its issues to court. To pursue its legal cases, NOW established a Legal and Educational Defense Fund in 1971. One of the fund's first cases was in support of southern working women against Colgate-Palmolive and Southern Bell Telephone for job discrimination. One of its most recent legal successes came in NOW v. Scheidler (1998), when a Chicago jury convicted the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and its leader Joseph Scheidler under the statutes of the federal Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, making the group responsible for tripling the cost for damages done to women's health clinics.

NOW Funding

NOW raises the money to support its various causes and campaigns from a dues-paying membership, voluntary contributions to an equality action fund, fund-raising campaigns, and grants from national foundations. In 1986 it also established a NOW Foundation, as a tax-deductible education and litigation organization affiliated with NOW.

NOW and Politics

NOW campaigns vigorously to elect feminists to public office. In 1992, it endorsed and financially supported the election of Carol Moseley Braun as senator from Illinois. Braun was the first African American woman elected to the Senate. It formed an umbrella political action committee (PAC) in 1978 called NOW/PAC under which it has organized specific PACs to target specific campaign drives and to support both female and male candidates who have a feminist agenda. The NOW/PAC screens political candidates for their stand on feminist issues, which the organization defines broadly as abortion rights; women's economic equality, especially pay equity; and, fair treatment of poor women, especially their right to Medicaid. In 2000 NOW/PAC launched a major political drive titled Victory 2000—the Feminization of Politics Campaign.

NOW Membership

In 1978, NOW had 125,000 members. NOW reported that anger over the treatment of Anita Hill during congressional hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Hill gained the organization 13,000 new members in the closing months of 1991. In 2001, NOW elected Kim Gandy, a Louisiana lawyer and long-time NOW activist, to the office of president. By 2002 its membership had grown to 500,000 contributing members and 550 chapters across the country.


Ford, Lynne E. Women and Politics: The Pursuit of Equality. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
Hartmann, Susan M. The Other Feminists: Activists in the Liberal Establishment. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.
Rosen, Ruth. The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America. New York, Penguin, 2000.
Maureen A.Flanagan
"National Organization for Women." Dictionary of American History. 2003. Retrieved March 23, 2011 from