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The National Organization for Women and the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment

Seminararbeit 2004 14 Seiten

Amerikanistik - Kultur und Landeskunde


List of contents

1.) Introduction

2.) Part I: The National Organization for Women
2.1. The history of the NOW
2.2. The goals and actions of the NOW

3.) Part II: The ERA
3.1. The history behind the ERA
3.2. The desire for equal rights
3.3. Proponents versus opponents
3.4. The fight for the ERA and the results
3.5. Why ERA failed
3.6. Recent work on the ERA

4.) Conclusion


1.) Introduction

Terms such as Great Society, Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation, Youth Counterculture, New Left, Rock ´n´ Roll, Woodstock, the landing on the moon, etc. characterize the turbulent Sixties.[1]

The Sixties are often described as the “decade of discontent” but also as the “decade of peace, love and harmony”.[2] A major aspect of the 1960s was the revival of the feminist movement. In 1966 the National Organization for Women was founded, which grew to the largest organization of feminist activist in the United States[3] and had a big influence on the development of the status of women.

In the following essay I will try to examine the role and importance of the National Organization for Women in the Women’s Liberation Movement as well as their long-running fight for the Equal Rights Amendment.

In Part I, I will deal with the National Organization for Women in general. I will take a look at the history of the organization and at their goals and actions.

Their long-winded fight for the so-called Equal Rights Amendment will be examined in Part II. I will try to explore the history behind the ERA and then primarily focus on the ratification process in the second half of the twentieth century. In the conclusion I will finally try to summarize the most important results.

2.) Part I: The National Organization for Women

2.1. The history of the NOW

The new feminist movement of the 1960s was split into two types of feminist groups: a formal and an informal branch. The formal branch included the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL) as well as the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) whereas the informal branch included so called consciousness-raising groups. The latter tried to attack sexism and discrimination in everyday life.[4] The formal branch worked for changes in legislation and tried to enforce equal rights laws, “[…] such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banning sex discrimination, and Title IX of the Higher Education Acts of 1969 and 1972, which prohibited sex discrimination in such matters as school sports programs.” (Giele: 1995, S. 169)

The National Organization for Woman (NOW) was founded on June 30, 1966 in Washington, D.C. by reformers such as union activists, members of state commissions on the status of women or professional women.[5]

There were various factors that led to the establishment of the organization. The main reason was the government’s failure to enforce Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which should not only outlaw racial but also sex discrimination in employment.[6] Furthermore, there was an increasing awareness that there was no organized representative of women’s interests. The self-organization of women who had worked on commissions on the status of women also stimulated women to start their independent actions.[7]

Betty Friedan played an important role in the history of the NOW. She was one of the founders among 30 other leading American women and men and their first president. Her publication of “The Feminine Mystique” in 1963 supported the organization’s popularity.[8]

NOW grew steadily from 1,000 members in 1967 to 220,000 in 1982.[9] Today, it is the largest organization of feminist activists in the United States. It has about 500,000 contributing members as well as 550 chapters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.[10]

2.2. The goals and actions of the NOW

The organization defines itself as a civil-rights group for women that lobbies for equal opportunity and mobilizes public opinion.[11]

Their main goal was and still is to establish equality for all women and to fight against sex discrimination in all sections of society and particularly to stop the inequities in employment: “The purpose of NOW is to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.”[12] They mainly focused on employment, education, religion, family, mass media, politics and poverty.[13]

In their founding statement they showed that they have a different opinion about women’s roles in society as they argued: “It is no longer either necessary or possible [...] for women to devote the greater part of their lives to child-rearing” (Evans: 1992, p. 67)

They noticed the disadvantages of women in the American political and legal system. Thus, “NOW represented in some ways a modernized version of the Seneca Falls Declaration of 1848 by reclaiming for women the republican ideals of equal participation and individual rights” (Evans: 1992, p. 68) They wanted to be an organization “for” women, not “of” women.[14]

NOW does electoral and lobbying work, brings lawsuits and organizes mass marches, demonstrations and other actions.[15] The organization gained enormous political influence. Its main focus was the urge for ratification of an amendment which would guarantee women equal rights with men: the so called Equal Rights Amendment.

Because of disagreements about the ERA as well as abortion and lesbian rights and the bureaucratic structure, internal conflicts arose within the organization.[16]

Since 1970, NOW concentrated on the works for the passage of the ERA, defended abortion rights and increased its involvement in electoral politics. Furthermore, they targeted violence against women, sexual harassment, racism, homophobia and economic inequity as major issues.[17]

“These ongoing efforts established NOW as a major force in sweeping changes that put more women in political posts; increased educational, employment and business opportunities for women; and enacted tougher laws against violence, harassment and discrimination.”[18]


[1] (compare: Heideking/Helbig/Ortlepp: 2001, cover)

[2] compare :

[3] compare:

[4] compare: Giele: 1995, p. 169

[5] compare: Boyer (ed): 2001 (Oxford Companion), p. 538

[6] compare: Boyer (ed): 2001 (Oxford Companion), p. 538

[7] compare: Evans: 1992, p. 67

[8] compare: Boyer: 2001 (Enduring Vision), p. 617

[9] compare: Boyer (ed): 2001 (Oxford Companion), p. 538

[10] compare:

[11] compare: Boyer et al. (eds): 2001 (Enduring Vision), p. 617


[13] compare: Boyer (ed): 2001(Oxford Companion), p. 538

[14] compare: Evans: 1992, p. 68

[15] compare:

[16] compare: Boyer (ed): 2001 (Oxford Companion), p. 538

[17] compare: Boyer (ed): 2001 (Oxford Companion), p. 538/539



ISBN (eBook)
408 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main – Zentrum für Nordamerikaforschung
National Organization Women Equal Rights Amendment History Society



Titel: The National Organization for Women and the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment