The Women’s Strike for Equality was a nationwide demonstration for women’s rights held on August 26, 1970, the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage. It was described by Time magazine as “the first big demonstration of the Women’s Liberation movement.”
Organized by NOW
The Women’s Strike for Equality was organized by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and its then-president Betty Friedan. At a NOW conference in March 1970, Betty Friedan called for the Strike for Equality, asking women to stop working for a day to draw attention to the prevalent problem of unequal pay for women’s work. She then headed the National Women’s Strike Coalition to organize the protest, which used “Don’t Iron While the Strike is Hot!” among other slogans.
Fifty years after women were granted the right to vote in the United States, feminists were again taking a political message to their government and demanding equality and more political power. The Equal Rights Amendment was being discussed in Congress, and the protesting women warned politicians to pay attention or risk losing their seats in the next election.
The Women’s Strike for Equality took various forms in more than ninety cities across the United States. Here are a few examples:
- New York, home to radical feminist groups such as New York Radical Women and Redstockings, had the largest protest. Tens of thousands marched down Fifth Avenue; others demonstrated at the Statue of Liberty and stopped the stock ticker on Wall Street.
- Los Angeles had a smaller protest, numbering in the hundreds, including women who stood holding a vigil for women’s rights.
- In Washington D.C., women marched on Connecticut Avenue with a banner that read “We Demand Equality” and lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment.
- Detroit women who worked at the Detroit Free Press kicked men out of one of their restrooms, protesting the fact that men had two bathrooms while women had one.
- Women who worked for a New Orleans newspaper ran pictures of the grooms instead of the brides in engagement announcements.
- International Solidarity: French women marched in Paris, and Dutch women marched at the U.S. embassy in Amsterdam.
Some people called the demonstrators anti-feminine or even Communist. The Women's Strike for Equality made the front page of national newspapers such as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune. It was also covered by the three broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, which was the pinnacle of extensive television news coverage in 1970.
The Women’s Strike for Equality is often remembered as the first major protest of the Women’s Liberation movement, even though there had been other protests by feminists, some of which also received media attention. The Women’s Strike for Equality was the largest protest for women’s rights at that time.
The next year, Congress passed a resolution declaring August 26 Women’s Equality Day.