The Spirit of Houston
Bella Abzug, 1920 - 1998
On November 18, 1977, 20,000 women, men and children gathered in Houston to witness an unprecedented event: the first federally-funded National Women's Conference.
Over the course of three days, a diverse group of 2,000 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.
Two years earlier, Abzug had paved the way for the conference by authoring a bill which provided its funding. With a 5 million dollar budget (less than a nickel for each female in the country), regional meetings were then held in each state to choose delegates and to vote on potential planks for inclusion in the National Plan.
Because the bill which created the "Spirit of Houston" event mandated "special emphasis on the representation of low-income women, members of diverse racial, ethnic, and religious groups, and women of all ages," a large portion of funding was spent on grants enabling women to attend. The result was one of the few truly representative national gatherings in U.S. history.
- For more on the conference see 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 Stated (Washington: National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year, 1978) 9-12.
- On the conference's diversity, see Gloria Steinem, Speech, "Celebrating Bella," Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, New York, 13 March 1999 and Lindsy Van Gelder, "Four Days That Changed the World," Ms., March, 1978.