On this day in 1966 was the founding of the National Organization for Women, formed by a group of women at the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women. The formation was sparked by frustration at the recently formed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which had decided not to fully enforce Title VII and its prohibition on sex discrimination, and ruled that sex segregation in job advertising was perfectly allowable. A month later, Dr. Pauli Murray (a civil right’s activity, women’s right’s activity, lawyer, and the first black woman ordained to be an Episcopal priest), then a law professor at Yale and part of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, denounced the EEOC and it’s recently stance. She was almost immediately contacted by Betty Friedan, the author of The Feminine Mystique– it was this first connection that led in part to the feminist movement re-emerging in the U.S.
Both Friedan and Murray were representatives at the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women in Washington, DC. Though many of the representatives wanted to pass a resolution remanding the EEOC for its action and demanding that it end employment sex discrimination (as it was legally mandated to do), they were told that they didn’t even have the authority at the Conference to pass a resolution, let alone to have any authority. Friedan had heard rumors that those involved around the EEOC were privately suggesting a need for women to have some sort of organization to speak on their behalf, inspired by the civil rights groups had done for those movements. She invited others at the conference, equally frustrated by the proceedings, to join her that night in her hotel room.
The number of women who were present at that first meeting including Pauli Murray, as well as Catherine Conroy, Rosalind Loring, Inka O’Hanrahan, Dorothy Haener, Mary Eastwood, and Kay Clarenbach. Frustrated, angry, and ready to do something, they began to form their new organization. It was Friedan who wrote down the acronym NOW on a paper napkin in her hotel room, but the organization itself gained its first official members the next day at lunch, when, as Gene Boyer later recalled, “Catherine Conroy pulled out a five-dollar bill from her wallet and, in her usual terse style, invited us to ‘put your money down and sign your name.’ NOW was a reality and I think we all felt somehow we had participated in a significant beginning.”
Twenty eight women were part of setting up the “temporary” organization, according to Analoyce Clapp, “To take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, assuming all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.” By October they had 300 charter members, both men and women, and in had their first organizing conference from October 29-30 of that year, forming a Statement of Purpose and filling positions, including naming Kay Clarenback as Chair of the Board, Betty Friedan as President, and Aileen Hernandez (who had been a member of the EEOC, but resigned) as Executive Vice President. Writing about the conference in 1966, Betty Friedan reported, “We wasted no time on ceremonials or speeches, gave ourselves barely an hour for lunch and dinner…At times we got very tired and impatient, but there was always a sense that what we were deciding was not just for now ‘but for a century…’ We shared a moving moment of realization that we had now indeed entered history.”
The National Organization for Women still exists today. It now consists of 550 chapters in all 50 U.S. states. It focuses not just on women’s rights, but civil rights, LGBT rights, and equal rights.