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National Organization for Women - NOW


Pro-choice rally at Love Park November 13, 2003 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Pro-choice rally, 2003, Philadelphia

Getty Images / William Thomas Cain

NOW Dates:

founded 1966

Purpose of the National Organization for Women:

"to take action" to achieve the equality of women

Events Leading Up to the Creation of NOW:

  • 1961-1963: President's Commission on the Status of Women
  • 1963: Publication of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964: outlawed sex discrimination, yet many women felt that there was little or no enforcement
  • 1966, June: Washington, DC, meeting of state commissions on the status of women. Betty Friedan and others present were unsatisfied with the lack of action plans coming out of this meeting, and 28 met in Friedan's hotel room, leading to the creation of the National Organization for Women (NOW).

NOW Founded:

In several informal meetings followed by a national conference, a number of activists came together to form the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966, seeing the need for a civil rights organization specifically focused on women's rights. Betty Friedan was elected the first president of NOW and served in that office for three years.

NOW Statement of Purpose 1966: Key Points:

  • women's rights as "truly equal partnership with men," "fully equal partnership of the sexes"
  • focused on activism: "confront, with concrete action, the conditions that now prevent women from enjoying the equality of opportunity and freedom of choice which is their right as individual Americans, as human beings"
  • women's rights seen in the context of "the world-wide revolution of human rights"; equality of women as an opportunity to "develop their fullest human potentials"
  • purpose to put women in the "mainstream of American political, economic and social life"
  • NOW's commitment "equality, freedom, and dignity for women" specifically defined as not being about "special privilege" for women or "enmity towards men"

Key Feminist Issues in Statement of Purpose:

  • employment -- the most attention in the document is to issues around employment and economics
  • education
  • family including marriage and divorce laws, home responsibilities by gender role
  • political participation: in parties, decision-making, candidates (NOW was to be independent of any particular political party)
  • images of women in the media, in culture, in laws, in social practices
  • briefly addressed issue of "double discrimination" of African American women, linked women's rights to broader issues of social justice including racial justice
  • opposition to "protectiveness" in work, school, church, etc.

NOW instituted seven task forces to work on these issues: The Seven Original NOW Task Forces

NOW Founders:

Key NOW Activism :

Some key issues in which NOW has been active:


At the first NOW convention after the founding conference, 1967, members chose to focus on the Equal Rights Amendment, repeal of abortion laws, and public funding of child care. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) remained a major focus until the final deadline for ratification passed in 1982. Marches, beginning in 1977, tried to mobilize support; NOW also organized boycotts by organizations and individuals of events in states which had not ratified the ERA; NOW lobbied for a 7-year extension in 1979 but the House and Senate only approved half of that time.

NOW also focused on legal enforcement of provisions of the Civil Rights Act that applied to women, helped conceive and pass legislation inluding the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978), worked for repeal of abortion laws and, after Roe v. Wade, against laws that would restrict abortion's availability or a pregnant woman's role in choosing abortion.


In the 1980s, NOW endorsed presidential candidate Walter Mondale who nominated the first woman candidate for VP of a major party, Geraldine Ferraro. NOW added activism against policies of President Ronald Reagan, and began to be more active on issues of lesbian rights. NOW also filed a federal civil suit against groups attacking abortion clinics and their leaders, resulting in a 1994 Supreme Court decision in NOW v. Scheidler.


In the 1990s, NOW remained active on issues including economic and reproductive rights, and also became more visibly active on issues of domestic violence. NOW also created a Women of Color and Allies Summit, and took aim at the "father's rights" movement as part of NOW's activism on issues of family law.


Since 2000, NOW has worked to oppose the Bush administration's strategies on issues of women's economic rights, reproductive rights, and marriage equality. In 2006, the Supreme Court removed the NOW v. Scheidler protections that kept abortion clinic protestors from interfering with patient's access to the clinics. NOW also took on issues of Mothers and Caregivers Economic Rights and the interface between disability issues and women's rights, and between immigration and women's rights.

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