In Memoriam: Molly Yard
Honoring an Indomitable NOW President and Civil Rights Pioneer
|Listen to Sandy Rapp's "The March" aka Marching with Molly Yard (mp3)|
September 21, 2005
NOW members and activists across the country are saddened by the death of the indomitable Molly Yard, who served as NOW's president from 1987 to 1991. Yard died on Wednesday, Sept. 21, in Pittsburgh, after a lifetime of leadership in the women's rights and civil rights movements.
Yard was born in 1912 to Methodist missionaries living in China. Her father's Chinese friends gave him an ornate brass bowl as a "commiseration gift" on the birth of a daughter—symbolic of women's position in the world.
Shaped by a childhood in China, where women had such second-class status, Yard worked tirelessly during her life to achieve equality for all people. Yard's activism began when she was a student at Swarthmore College and led the fight to abolish the fraternity system, which discriminated against some minority students. She later worked with Dr. Dorothy Height to integrate the YWCA. While at Swarthmore, Yard wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt about an issue that had angered many students. Eleanor Roosevelt invited Yard to meet with her, and Yard became a regular advisor to the First Lady.
"Her life was so extraordinary," said NOW President Kim Gandy, who was elected to NOW office as part of Yard's team in 1987.
Yard was a regional campaign manager for John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential run and the Western Pennsylvania coordinator for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" march in 1963.
"When Molly Yard spoke, everybody stopped and listened," Gandy recalled. "She carried enormous moral authority." Yard was heavily involved in the civil rights movement until 1974, when she joined Pittsburgh NOW and later became NOW's national political director, devoting nearly all her time to the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment until 1982.
"She saw that the movement for women's rights was indeed a civil rights movement," Gandy said.
Yard was elected president of NOW in 1987. Under her leadership, NOW helped defeat the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork and organized the 1989 March for Women's Lives-at that time the largest march ever held in Washington, D.C. She was also instrumental in passing the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988, which reinstated Title IX, the equal educational opportunity law, and she worked for many years at the Feminist Majority on behalf of Title IX.
After a series of Supreme Court decisions in 1989 set back anti-discrimination laws, the civil rights community set about crafting legislation to reverse those losses. At that time, NOW leaders asked that the new law also include jury trials and money damages for women who had been victims of sexual harassment or sex discrimination—remedies that were unavailable at that time. When some balked, Yard fought back. "Molly stood up and said, 'You count on the women's movement to turn out the votes, you count on our women to lobby,'" Gandy said. "'And if you want our support you need to include women this time.'" That bill was signed into law as the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
Yard suffered a stroke in 1991 from which doctors said she would not recover. She had previously announced that she would retire on Jan. 1, 1992, and she worked mightily to regain her strength and walk again, which she did.
Yard's last major appearance was in 2000, at the Feminist Expo reunion for supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment. Gandy recalled the amazement in the room when Yard—frail at 88 and weakened by the stroke—enthralled the crowd.
"It was that booming voice we knew so well—it was the Molly Yard we all looked up to," Gandy said. "She never gave up, and the spirit of her strength will continue in our movement."
###For Immediate Release
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