Origins of the Group
New York Radical Women (NYRW) was a feminist group in existence from 1967-1969. It was founded in New York City by Shulamith Firestone and Pam Allen. Other prominent members included Carol Hanisch, Robin Morgan, and Kathie Sarachild.
The group's "radical feminism" was an attempt to oppose the patriarchal system. In their view, all of society was a patriarchy, a system in which fathers have total authority over the family and men have legal authority over women. They urgently wanted to change society so that it was no longer entirely governed by men and women were no longer oppressed.
Members of New York Radical Women had belonged to radical political groups that called for extreme change as they fought for civil rights or protested the Vietnam War. Those groups were usually run by men. The radical feminists wanted to usher in a protest movement in which women had power. The NYRW leaders said even men who were activists did not accept them because they rejected the traditional gender roles of a society that gave power only to men. However, they found allies in some political groups, such as the Southern Conference Educational Fund, which allowed them the use of its offices.
In January 1968, NYRW led an alternative protest to the Jeannette Rankin Brigade peace march in Washington D.C. The Brigade march was a large gathering of women's groups who protested the Vietnam War as grieving wives, mothers, and daughters. The Radical Women rejected this protest. They said all it did was react to those who governed the male-dominated society. NYRW felt that appealing to Congress as women kept women in their traditional passive role of reacting to men instead of gaining real political power.
NYRW therefore invited the Brigade attendees to join them in a mock burial of women's traditional roles at Arlington National Cemetery. Sarachild (then Kathie Amatniek) delivered a speech called "Funeral Oration for the Burial of Traditional Womanhood." While she spoke at the mock funeral, she questioned how many women had avoided the alternative protest because they were afraid of how it would look to men if they attended.
In September 1968, NYRW protested the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Hundreds of women marched on the Atlantic City Boardwalk with signs that criticized the pageant and called it a "cattle auction." During the live telecast, the women displayed from the balcony a banner that said "Women's Liberation." Although this event is often thought to be where "bra-burning" took place, their actual symbolic protest consisted of placing bras, girdles, Playboy magazines, mops, and other evidence of the oppression of women into a trash can, but not lighting the objects on fire.
NYRW said that the pageant not only judged women based on ludicrous beauty standards, but supported the immoral Vietnam War by sending the winner to entertain the troops. They also protested the racism of the pageant, which had never yet crowned a black Miss America. Because millions of viewers watched the pageant, the event brought the women's liberation movement a great deal of public awareness and media coverage.
NYRW published a collection of essays, Notes from the First Year, in 1968. They also participated in the 1969 Counter-Inauguration that took place in Washington D.C. during Richard Nixon's inaugural activities.
NYRW became philosophically divided and came to an end in 1969. Its members then formed other feminist groups. Robin Morgan joined forces with group members who considered themselves more interested in social and political action. Shulamith Firestone moved on to Redstockings and later the New York Radical Feminists. When Redstockings began, its members rejected social action femnism as still a part of the existing political left. They said they wanted to create an entirely new left outside the system of male superiority.