NOW Mourns Foremothers of Feminist, Civil Rights Movements
by Liz Wing, Production Coordinator
On Feb. 4, 2006, NOW lost its first president and one of the most important icons of the feminist movement, Betty Friedan. The fearless leader of second-wave feminism died on her 85th birthday of congestive heart failure at her home in Washington, D.C.
She was born on February 4, 1921, as Bettye Goldstein in Peoria, Ill. Her father was a Jewish immigrant who owned a jeweler's shop and her mother was an editor of the local newspaper's women's pages. Her mother quit her job to become a homemaker, but later took over the family business when her father fell ill. Friedan was valedictorian of her high school and attended Smith College, where she edited the college newspaper and graduated summa cum laude in 1942.
Friedan published her groundbreaking book, "The Feminine Mystique," in 1963. "The Feminine Mystique" voiced the dissatisfaction of many middle-class homemakers: "The problem that has no name—which is simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities—is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease." Women around the world say that her book, and the revolution it sparked, changed their lives for the better.
"Freidan wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963, and it opened women's eyes," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "Betty recognized a longing in the women of her generation, a longing for something more—opportunity, recognition, fulfillment, success, a chance to live their own dreams beyond the narrow definition of 'womanhood' that had limited their lives." The Feminine Mystique was a controversial bestseller and helped to recharge the feminist movement, sparking second-wave feminism and the founding of NOW.
In June 1966, Betty Friedan and 27 other women and men founded NOW, an organization which has grown into the United States' largest feminist organization and continues to thrive in its 40th year.
Betty was elected NOW's first president and her fame as an author helped attract hundreds of thousands of women to the new organization. NOW's original "Statement of Purpose" began, "The purpose of NOW is to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men."
Friedan was NOW's president from 1966 to 1970. During that time NOW lobbied the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce laws against sex discrimination in employment and forced newspapers to stop segregating classified job ads into "Help Wanted: Male" and "Help Wanted: Female." NOW members also sued airlines to change policies that permitted only female flight attendants and required them to resign as soon as they married or turned 32. In a key achievement, NOW convinced Pres. Lyndon Johnson to sign an Executive Order barring sex discrimination by federal contractors.
In 1968, NOW became the first national organization to endorse the legalization of abortion. Friedan went on to be a co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus and the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Friedan contributed remarkable talent, energy, and wisdom to the feminist movement. Her persistent work made a profound improvement in women's lives, and continues to affect women around the world.
In its 40th year, NOW has made many impressive advancements toward equality. However, as Friedan wrote in NOW's Statement of Purpose, we will not settle, and we will not stop, until we are "in truly equal partnership with men."
On Jan. 30 we lost social justice champion, Coretta Scott King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A force in her own right in the civil rights movement, Scott King was also an advocate of women's rights and had been a member of the National Board of Directors of NOW.
"I first saw Coretta Scott King in person at the 1978 National NOW Conference, where she transfixed the packed audience," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "We were mesmerized by her words—and by her exhortation that we never give up, no matter how long the fight."
Born April 27, 1927 in Heiberger, Ala., Coretta Scott King was exposed at an early age to the injustices of life in a segregated society. She was valedictorian of her graduating class at Lincoln High School. She graduated in 1945 and received a scholarship to Antioch College in Ohio.
Coretta Scott King, mother of four, was a partner with her husband in their civil rights work. As Dr. King received national attention with the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, Scott King organized and performed in "Freedom Concerts" to raise money for and awareness of the civil rights movement. After her husband's assassination, Scott King picked up where he left off, founding the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change.
In 1974 Scott King formed the Full Employment Action Council, a coalition of which NOW was a part, dedicated to achieving full employment and equal economic opportunity. She continued fighting for the recognition her husband deserved and for the goals they both sought, leading and eventually winning the campaign to establish a national holiday honoring Dr. King, instituted in 1986.
She campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, and was committed to gay and lesbian rights, often likening homophobia to racism in her speeches.
Scott King worked tirelessly for AIDS/HIV prevention in her later years, was a vocal opponent of capital punishment, and spoke out against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In 1969, at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, she preached words that continue to inspire us today: "Many despair at all the evil and unrest and disorder in the world today, but I see a new social order, and I see the dawn of a new day."
NOW lost a leader and long-time activist in March, with the passing of former board Chair Judith Lightfoot.
Lightfoot, born in 1937 in New York City, was a savvy business executive, but her main interest was civil rights causes, which sparked her involvement in NOW. She served as the Southern Regional Director for NOW from 1971-1973 and a member of the National Board of NOW, serving as Chair from 1974-1975. Her predecessor, Muriel Fox, has fond memories of Lightfoot, who "bore her trials and tribulations very cheerfully," chairing the Board during a time of internal strife.
It was her good nature and good spirit that helped her through a severe case of emphysema. She eventually received a lung transplant, but six years after the transplant she died from complications of the surgery. After her involvement with NOW, Lightfoot became a computer consultant and the job took her to Sydney, Australia, where she met her longtime partner, Graham Cormack. Lightfoot was also a member of Veteran Feminists of America and she was very active in fighting against race discrimination as well as sex discrimination throughout her life. Her courage, good nature and commitment to civil rights are inspiring to us all.
On October 24, 2005, we lost an extraordinary leader, Rosa Parks. Born in 1913 in Tuskegee, Ala., she enrolled at age 11 in the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, a private school founded by liberal-minded women from the northern United States. The school's philosophy of self-worth fit her mother's advice to "take advantage of the opportunities, no matter how few they were."
After college she settled in Montgomery, where she and husband Raymond Parks worked through the NAACP to improve the lot of African-Americans in Alabama.
On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks took a seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., on her way home from her job. When a white man boarded the bus—laws in Alabama at the time required blacks to give up their seats to whites—Parks refused to give up her seat. For her act of defiance, she was arrested and fined. For the next 13 months, blacks boycotted the Montgomery bus system in protest, nearly bankrupting the company because most passengers were black. In 1956 the Supreme Court overturned the Alabama law.
Through a simple act of dignity and courage, Parks linked disparate factions and became a symbol in a nationwide movement. Because she sat down, thousands spoke up and joined together in the streets to demand an end to racism and bigotry.
Pres. Bill Clinton presented Rosa Parks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996. She received a Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. She was the first woman in U.S. history to lie in state at the Capitol, an honor traditionally reserved for Presidents of the United States. People from all over the world came to mourn the loss and salute the courage of Rosa Parks, whose intrepid act nearly 50 years ago spurred a movement for basic human rights for all people.
Our movement lost a visionary civil rights and women's rights leader, Dr. C. DeLores Tucker, last fall. In 1965 Dr. Tucker marched from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and soon became the first African-American to serve as a Secretary of State, in Pennsylvania from 1971 to 1977.
Her campaign was heavily supported by Pennsylvania NOW, and Dr. Tucker's efforts helped make Pennsylvania one of the first states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. As a member of the Democratic National Committee, Dr. Tucker was instrumental in efforts to ensure equal representation of women in the party. "She had as heart as big as Pennsylvania, yet she was absolutely determined and unflappable. Whatever the issue, she had a laser-like focus on what needed to be done and you just couldn't say 'no' to her," said NOW President Kim Gandy.
She was the founding convener in 1984 of the National Political Congress of Black Women, and in 1992 succeeded the late Hon. Shirley Chisholm as national chair of that organization, now called the National Congress of Black Women. NOW worked with Dr. Tucker on a multitude of issues, including the fight to include suffrage leader Sojourner Truth in the unfinished "portrait monument" at the Capitol, which depicts three white suffrage leaders. Through her leadership, legislation to accomplish this mission was introduced by U.S. Rep. Major Owens and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. She also led a public campaign against "gangsta rap" and misogynistic lyrics, which brought the wrath of record producers and performers like Tupac Shakur—but, as always, she was not deterred.
C. DeLores Tucker enriched our lives with her love and commitment, and she leaves an enormous legacy. Our sympathy and condolences remain with Bill Tucker, her devoted husband of many decades, who was always by her side and ours.
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