Meetings held to plan National Organization for Women
The foundation for the National Organization for Women (NOW), now the largest feminist organization in America, was laid in Washington, DC, at a meeting in Betty Friedan's hotel room during the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women. Although the Commissions had reported widespread discrimination against women as early as 1963, conference rules prohibited passage of any resolution suggesting that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission act on its mandate to end sex discrimination. Stymied by the rules, Friedan and 27 like-minded women decided to launch a new campaign for combating bias against women. Four months later, the group met again to approve a Statement of Purpose and by-laws for a civil rights organization dedicated to advancing gender equality. The organization's goal was "to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American Society NOW, assuming all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in fully equal partnership with men."
NOW was officially incorporated on February 10, 1967, at which time Friedan became its first president. By the time she took the helm of NOW, Friedan was already well known as the author of The Feminine Mystique, the book that many people credited with sparking the modern feminist movement by exposing the structural bases of women's problems. As president of NOW, she helped the new organization become the leading feminist voice in American society and politics. Today, NOW claims more than half a million members in 550 chapters in all 50 states. NOW works on issues ranging from economic equality to abortion rights, and from opposing racism to ending violence against women. Working through local, state, and national offices, NOW members and staff write letters, lobby elected officials, support feminist candidates at all levels of the political system, and work to educate the public on issues of concern to women.
Despite Friedan's role in founding NOW, Jewish women have not always felt welcome in the feminist movement. In particular, leftist criticism of Israel and feminist criticism of organized religion have put Jews on the defensive against women who had otherwise been their allies. In turn, some Jewish feminist leaders, including Friedan, have been criticized for being insensitive to the needs of non-white and non-middle-class women. However, as the American feminist movement has matured over time, becoming more aware of its various members and constituencies, Jewish women have found—and made—an increasingly comfortable home there. In addition, Jewish women inspired by secular feminism have found ways to bring feminist ideas and concerns into Jewish communal life.
Whatever the internal conflicts have been, Jewish women have played key roles in every aspect of the feminist transformation of American culture. In addition to Friedan, Jewish women who have figured among the most important and well-known theorists and activists of the modern American feminist movement include Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and Shulamith Firestone.
Sources:www.now.org; www.library.unlv.edu/women/now.html; Maryann Barakso, Governing NOW: Grassroots Activism in the National Organization for Women (Ithaca, 2005); Daniel Horowitz, Betty Friedan and the Making of The Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism (Amherst, MA, 1998); Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution, jwa.org/feminism; Sonia Pressman Fuentes, Eat First – You Don't Know What They'll Give You, The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter (Philadelphia, 1999).