Diana Mara Henry's photographs of the Women's Pentagon Action protest march
“We women are gathering because life on the precipice is intolerable,” Women’s Pentagon Action declared in a unity statement before its march from Arlington National Cemetery to the Pentagon on November 17, 1980. The feminist coalition, which was opposed to nuclear proliferation and human rights abuses, employed innovative and experimental protest tactics during its demonstration. For example, giant, looming puppets led the march, guerilla theater was used to convey the group’s message, and a weaving demonstration was given to symbolize the reweaving of life. Two thousand women participated including Bella Abzug, the first Jewish woman to serve in Congress, and Grace Paley, the Jewish writer and activist who wrote the Women’s Pentagon Action unity statement.
Jewish photographer Diana Mara Henry was present at the march and documented the historic event. Born in 1948 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Henry first honed her photography skills working for the Harvard Crimson while a student at Radcliffe College. During that time, she took what she credits as her “first ‘feminist’ image.” The photograph depicts a butcher staring at a poster of a nude woman who has lines drawn on her skin, as if she were a cut of meat marked for the saw.
After graduation, Henry worked for NBC news and Newhouse newspapers before deciding to become a freelance photographer. In addition to the Women’s Pentagon Action in 1980, Henry photographed almost all of the important events in the American women’s movement. In 1972, she photographed Bella Abzug at a press conference to protest congressional redistricting on the West Side of Manhattan. Abzug went on to use Henry’s photographs for her campaign posters and hired her as an official photographer of the First National Women’s Conference, which was held in 1977 in Houston, Texas.
It was in Houston that Henry took one her most famous photographs, a shot of feminists Billie Jean King, Susan B. Anthony II, Bella Abzug, Sylvia Ortiz, Peggy Kokernot, Michele Cearcy, and Betty Friedan marching arm-in-arm into the conference. “I was rushing backward as fast as I could to get the shot of these proud and happy women energetically marching to the Houston convention center,” recalls Henry.
Henry has exhibited her work at the Women’s Museum, the Overseas Press Club, and the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, among other locations. She is the recipient of grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, and has taught courses at the International Center of Photography in New York City. Her photographs, including those of the Women’s Pentagon Action, can be viewed online at her website, www.dianamarahenry.com.
To learn more about Diana Mara Henry, visit Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution.
See also: This Week in History for November 18, 1977, “Bella Abzug convenes National Women’s Conference in Houston”; Diana Mara Henry in the Virtual Archive.