"Women Strike for Equality"
August 26, 1970
Ten thousand women marched down New York's Fifth Avenue on August 26, 1970, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Far from a simple celebration, the march was part of a "Women's Strike for Equality" organized by veteran feminist leader Betty Friedan. Friedan had called for the strike in a March 20 speech in Des Plaines, Illinois, and had planned the day's events with a coalition of both veteran and younger feminist women.
The march featured placards with slogans like "Don't Iron While the Strike Is Hot," "End Human Sacrifice—Don't Get Married," and, more simply, "Women Demand Equality." Among the groups participating were the National Organization for Women, the Young Women's Christian Association, the National Coalition of American Nuns, Feminists in the Arts, and Women Strike for Peace. The women marching, and participating in the day's other actions, were diverse, but they presented three clear demands, repeated in every media account of the strike. The Strike movement demanded free abortion on demand, free 24-hour community-controlled child care centers, and equal opportunity in jobs and education.
Events over the course of the day gave additional weight to these demands. In New York's City Hall Park, women staged a demonstration day-care center. Another group of women visited targeted companies and presented satiric "awards" for under-employing women and for creating degrading images of women. Similar events took place in other cities. Boston women marched in academic gowns with a banner reading "Veritas [Harvard University's motto] is a feminine noun." Pittsburgh women sponsored a day-long conference on women's rights. And women in several cities gathered signatures and staged rallies and marches advocating Senate passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
In New York, the speakers at the evening march included a battery of Jewish women long active in the feminist movement. Congressional candidate Bella Abzug, writer Gloria Steinem, and former Miss America Bess Myerson Grant, then the city's Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, joined Friedan on the platform. Although Jewish women would later struggle with anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism within the American feminist movement, the 1970 strike was emblematic of the crucial role that Jewish women played in forming and advancing that movement.
Although businesses and retail stores reported little effect from the strike, the New York City mayor, New York State governor, and President Nixon all issued proclamations officially recognizing the day. Organizers were also pleased at the number of African-American women participating; the feminist movement had been largely a white, middle-class phenomenon. Despite some heckling from men and from reactionary women's groups, Friedan declared the day's events a success "beyond our wildest dreams."
See also: On Jewesses with Attitude, The Lessons of Women's Equality Day and Women Strike for Equality -- Then and Now; This Week in History for August 26, 1980, "Three generations of activist Seaman family mark 10th anniversary of Women's Strike for Equality."
Sources:New York Times, August 23, 1970; August 26, 1970; August 27, 1970; August 30, 1970; Amy Swerdlow, Women Strike for Peace: Traditional Motherhood and Radical Politics in the 1960s (Chicago, 1993).