Bella Abzug convenes National Women's Conference in Houston
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.