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Bella Abzug convenes National Women's Conference in Houston

November 18, 1977
Congresswoman Barbara Jordan Speaking at the National Women's Conference with Bella Abzug and Rosalynn Carter Seated to her Right
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From Bella Abzug's Speech as Presiding Officer, November 19, 1977

"What we are doing here in Houston is part of an irreversible worldwide movement in which women are speaking out for our needs and trying to create a better world in which men and women do not victimize each other, but work together for a decent life for all people.

There can be no turning back to a time when women were...prevented from using their skills and abilities, barred from the places of power.

We can no longer accept a condition in which men rule the Nation and the world, excluding half the human race from effective economic and political power. Not when the world is in such bad shape."


Notes
1. Entire quote from United States National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year, The Spirit of Houston: The First National Women's Conference: An Official Report to the President, the Congress and the People of the United States (Washington: National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year, 1978) 218.

On November 18, 1977, 20,000 women, men and children gathered in Houston to participate in an unprecedented event, the first federally funded National Women’s Conference. Longtime feminist activist and U.S. Representative Bella Abzug presided over the conference, for which she had paved the way two years earlier by authoring a bill in Congress that provided the conference’s funding.

Preparation for the national Houston meeting included conferences organized in each state to discuss women’s needs and public policy and to consider a “National Plan of Action” to improve the lives of women. The Houston Conference subsequently approved the National Plan. While many grassroots women’s organizations used these meetings as an opportunity to mobilize and use government to achieve feminist goals, opponents approached them as an opportunity to unite in a fight against feminist causes. Phyllis Schlafly and others attacked the Houston conference and its agenda and created the basis for a new anti-feminist constituency in American public life.

Over the course of the conference’s three days, a diverse group of about 2,000 official delegates ratified a National Plan of Action dealing with everything from the Equal Rights Amendment to Civil Rights to disarmament. This set of recommendations was then presented to the White House and to Congress. The National Plan of Action called for equal opportunities for women in artistic, professional, and political fields, comprehensive childcare facilities, a national healthcare system, civil rights for lesbians, protection against rape and child abuse, and a better welfare system, among many other issues.

On November 10-11, 2007, the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute, directed by Bella's daughter, Liz Abzug, celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Houston Conference by convening a "national women's and girls conference," entitled Freedom on Our Terms.

To learn more about Bella Abzug, visit the Women of Valor exhibit and Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

Sources: jwa.org/womenofvalor/abzug/spirit-of-houston; www.jofreeman.com/photos/IWY1977.html; womhist.alexanderstreet.com/dp59/doclist.htm; Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution, jwa.org/feminism.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Bella Abzug convenes National Women's Conference in Houston." (Viewed on April 17, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/nov/18/1977/national-womens-conference>.