Top Feminist Organizations of the 1970s

American Women's Rights Organizations of the Second Wave

Maryland State Senator Verda Welcome, Congresswoman Yvonne Burke, and Rose Morgan vice president
1973: Maryland State Senator Verda Welcome, Congresswoman Yvonne Burke, and Rose Morgan vice president, at a celebration honoring the creation of a memorial to Mary McLeod Bethune by the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). Afro Newspaper/Gado / Getty Images

If we use the definition of feminism that feminism is about explicit organizing of action (including education and legislation) to promote equality or equal opportunity for women, the following organizations would be among the feminist organizations active in the 1970s. Not all would have called themselves feminist.

National Organization for Women (NOW)

The NOW organizing conference October 29-30, 1966, grew out of frustrations of women at slow movement of the EEOC in applying Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Key founders were Betty Friedan, Pauli Murray, Aileen Hernandez, Richard Graham, Kathryn Clarenbach, Caroline Davis and others. In the 1970s, after 1972, NOW focused heavily around passing the Equal Rights Amendment. The purpose of NOW was to bring women into equal partnership with men, which meant supporting a number of legal and social changes.

National Women’s Political Caucus

The NWPC was founded in 1972 to increase women’s participation in public life, including as voters, party convention delegates, party officials and officeholders at local, state and national levels.  Founders included Bella Abzug, Liz Carpenter, Shirley Chisholm, LaDonna Harris, Dorothy Height, Ann Lewis, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Elly Peterson, Jill Ruckelshaus and Gloria Steinem.  From 1968 to 1972, the number of women delegates to the Democratic National Convention tripled and the number of women delegates to the Republican National Convention doubled.

 

As the 1970s progressed, working for pro-ERA and pro-choice candidates became a major focus; the NWPC Republican Women’s Task Force won the fight in 1975 to continue the party’s platform endorsement of the ERA. The Democratic Women’s Task Force similarly worked to influence its party’s platform positions.

The organization worked through active recruitment of women candidates and also through running training programs for women delegates and candidates. The NWPC also worked to increase the employment of women in Cabinet departments and to increase the appointments of women as judges. Chairs of the NWPC during the 1970s were Sissy Farenthold, Audrey Rowe, Mildred Jeffrey and Iris Mitgang.

ERAmerica

Founded in 1975 as a bipartisan organization to win support for the Equal Rights Amendment, the first national co-chairs were Republican Elly Peterson and Democratic Liz Carpenter.  It was created to raise funds and direct them to the ratification efforts in the states which had not yet ratified the ERA and which were considered possible successes. ERAmerica worked through existing organization as well as lobbying, educating, distributing information, raising funds and organizing publicity.  ERAmerica trained many pro-ERA volunteers and created a speakers bureau (Maureen Reagan, Erma Bombeck and Alan Alda among the speakers).  ERAmerica was created at a time when Phyllis Schlafly’s Stop ERA campaign was energizing opposition to the ERA.  Participants in ERAmerica also included Jane Campbell, Sharon Percy Rockefeller and Linda Tarr-Whelan.

National League of Women Voters

Founded in 1920 to continue the work of the woman suffrage movement after women won the vote, the National League of Women Voters in the 1970s was still active in the 1970s and remains active today.  The League was and is nonpartisan while, at the same time, urging women (and men) to be politically active and involved.  In 1973, the League voted to admit men as members. The League supported such pro-women’s rights actions as the 1972 passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and various anti-discrimination laws and programs (as well as continuing work on civil rights and anti-poverty programs).

National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year

Created by an Executive Order of President Gerald R. Ford in 1974, with subsequent authorization of Congress to sponsor state and territorial meetings on the rights and responsibilities of women, members were appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1975 and then again in 1977.

Members included Bella Abzug, Maya Angelou, Liz Carpenter, Betty Ford, LaDonna Harris, Mildred Jeffrey, Coretta Scott King, Alice Rossi, Eleanor Smeal, Jean Stapleton, Gloria Steinem, and Addie Wyatt.  One of the key events was the National Women’s Conference in Houston on November 18-21, 1977.  Elizabeth Atahansakos was presiding officer in 1976 and Bella Abzug in 1977.  Sometimes called the IWY Commission.

Coalition of Labor Union Women

Created in March, 1974, by union women from 41 states and 58 unions, CLUW’s first president was Olga M. Madar of the United Auto Workers.  The organization was founded to increase women’s involvement in unions and political activities, including getting union organizations to better serve the needs of women members.  CLUW also worked legislation to end discrimination against working women, including favoring affirmative action. Addie Wyatt of the United Food and Commercial Workers was another key founder. Joyce D. Miller of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America was elected president in 1977; in 1980 she was to become the first woman on the AFL-CIO Executive Council. In 1975 CLUW sponsored the First National Women’s Health Conference, and moved its convention from a state that had not ratified the ERA to one that had.

Women Employed

Founded in 1973, Women Employed worked in the 1970s to serve working women -- especially non-union women in offices, at first -- to gain economic equality and workplace respect.  Large campaigns to enforce legislation against sex discrimination.  A case filed first in 1974 against a large bank was finally decided in 1989.  Women Employed also took up the case of a legal secretary, Iris Rivera, who had been fired because she refused to make coffee for her boss. The case not only won Rivera's job back, but significantly changed the consciousness of bosses in offices about fairness in working conditions. Women Employed also ran conferences to inspire women both in self-education and in knowing their workplace rights.

  Women Employed still exists and works on similar issues. Key figures were Day Piercy (then Day Creamer) and Anne Ladky.  The group began as a Chicago-oriented group, but soon began to have more national impact.

9to5, National Association of Working Women

This organization grew out of a Boston 9to5 grassroots collective, which in the 1970s filed class action suits to win back pay for women in offices.  The group, like Chicago's Women Employed, expanded its efforts to help women with both self-management skills and understandings of their workplace legal rights and how to enforce them.  With the longer new name, 9to5, National Association of Working Women, the group went national, with a number of chapters outside Boston (at this writing, in Georgia, California, Wisconsin and Colorado). 

Groups like 9to5 and Women Employed also gave rise in 1981 to Local 925 of the Service Employees International Union, with Nussbaum as president for almost 20 years, with the object of gaining collective bargaining rights for women working in offices, libraries and day care centers.

Women's Action Alliance

This feminist organization was founded in 1971 by Gloria Steinem, who chaired the board until 1978. More directed at local action than legislation, though with some lobbying, and about coordinating individuals and resources at the grass-roots, the Alliance helped to open the first shelters for battered women.  Others involved included Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, John Kenneth Galbraith and Ruth J. Abram, who was the director from 1974 to 1979.  The organization dissolved in 1997.

National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL)

Originally founded as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, and later called the National Association for Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, and now NARAL Pro-Choice America, NARAL was focused narrowly on the issue of abortion and reproductive rights for women.  The organization worked in the 1970s first to repeal existing abortion laws, and then, after the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, to oppose regulations and laws to limit abortion access.  The organization also worked against limits to women's access to birth control or to sterilization, and against forced sterilization.  Today, the name is NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR)

Later renamed the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), RCAR was founded in 1973 to support the right of privacy under Roe v. Wade, from a religious standpoint.  Founders included both lay leaders and clergy from major American religious groups. At a time when some religious groups, notably the Roman Catholic Church, opposed abortion rights on religious grounds, the voice of RCAR was meant to remind legislators and the general public that not all religious people opposed abortion or women's reproductive choice.

Women's Caucus, Democratic National Committee

During the 1970s, this group worked within the Democratic National Committee to push a pro-women’s rights agenda within the party, including on the party platform and in appointments of women to various positions.

Combahee River Collective

The Combahee River Collective met in 1974 and continued to meet throughout the 1970s as a means to develop and implement a black feminist perspective, looking at what would today be called intersectionality: the way in which race, sex and class oppression worked together to divide and oppress. The group's critique of the feminist movement was that it tended to be racist and exclude black women; the group's critique of the civil rights movement was that it tended to be sexist and exclude black women.

National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO or BFO)

Founded in 1973, a group of African American women was motivated to form the National Black Feminist Organization for many of the same reasons The Combahee River Collective existed -- and indeed, many of the leaders were the same people. Founders included Florynce Kennedy, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Faith Ringgold, Michel Wallace, Doris Wright and Margaret Sloan-Hunter; Sloan-Hunter was elected the first chairperson.  Though several chapters were established, the group died out about 1977.

National Council of Negro Women (NCNW)

Founded as an “organization of organizations” in 1935 by Mary McLeod Bethune, the National Council of Negro Women remained active in promoting equality and opportunity for African American women, including through the 1970s under the leadership of Dorothy Height.

National Conference of Puerto Rican Women

As women began to organize around women’s issues, and many felt that the mainstream women’s organizations did not adequately represent the interests of women of color, some women organized around their own racial and ethnic groups.  The National Conference of Puerto Rican Women was founded in 1972 to promote both preservation of Puerto Rican and Latino heritage, but also full participation of Puerto Rican and other Hispanic women in society – social, political and economic.

Chicago Women's Liberation Union (CWLU)

The more radical wing of the women's movement, including the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, was far more loosely structured than the more mainstream women's organizations were. CWLU was a bit more clearly organized than women's liberation supporters in other parts of the U.S.  The group existed from 1969 to 1977.  Much of its focus was in study groups and papers, as well as supporting demonstrations and direct action. Jane (an underground abortion referral service), the Health Evaluation and Referral Service (HERS) which evaluated abortion clinics for safety, and the Emma Goldman Women's Clinic were three concrete projects around women's reproductive rights.  The organization also gave rise to the National Conference on Socialist Feminism and the Lesbian Group which became known as Blazing Star. Key individuals included Heather Booth, Naomi Weisstein, Ruth Surgal, Katie Hogan and Estelle Carol.

Other local radical feminist groups included Female Liberation in Boston (1968 - 1974) and Redstockings in New York.

Women's Equity Action League (WEAL)

This organization spun off from the National Organization for Women in 1968, with more conservative women who did not want to work on issues including abortion and sexuality.  WEAL supported the Equal Rights Amendment, though not particularly vigorously. The organization worked for equal educational and economic opportunity for women, opposing discrimination in academia and the workplace.  The organization dissolved in 1989.

National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, Inc. (BPW)

The 1963 Commission on the Status of Women was established with pressure from the BPW.  In the 1970s, the organization generally supported ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and to support women’s equality in professions and in the business world.

National Association for Female Executives (NAFE)

Founded in 1972 to help women succeed in the business world in which mostly men were successful – and often not supportive of women -- NAFE focused on education and networking as well as some public advocacy.

American Association of University Women (AAUW)

AAUW was founded in 1881.  In 1969, the AAUW passed a resolution supporting equal opportunities for women on campus at all levels. A 1970 research study, Campus 1970, explored sex discrimination against students, professors, other staff and trustees. In the 1970s, AAUW supported women in colleges and universities, especially working to secure passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and then to see to its adequate enforcement, including working for regulations to ensure compliance, monitoring and reporting on compliance (or lack thereof), and also working to establish standards for universities:

Title IX: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

National Congress of Neighborhood Women (NCNW)

Founded in 1974 out of a national conference of working-class women, NCNW saw itself as giving voice to poor and working class women. Through educational programs, NCNW promoted educational opportunities, apprenticeship programs and leadership skills for women, with the purpose of strengthening neighborhoods.  At a time when the mainstream feminist organizations were criticized for focusing more on women at the executive and professional level, NCNW promoted a kind of feminism for women of a different class experience.

Young Women's Christian Association of the U.S.A. (YWCA)

The largest women’s organization in the world, the YWCA grew out of the mid-19th century efforts to support women spiritually and, at the same time, respond to the Industrial Revolution and its social unrest with action and education. In the United States, the YWCA responded to the issues facing working women in industrial society with education and activism.  In the 1970s, the USA YWCA worked against racism and supported repeal of anti-abortion laws (before the Roe v. Wade decision). The YWCA, in its general support of women’s leadership and education, supported many efforts to expand women’s opportunities, and YWCA facilities were often used in the 1970s for feminist organization meetings. The YWCA, as one of the largest providers of day care, was also both promoter and target of efforts to reform and expand child care, a key feminist issue in the 1970s.

National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW)

A faith-based grassroots organization, the NCJW was founded originally at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago.  In the 1970s, the NCJW worked for the Equal Rights Amendment and to protect Roe v. Wade, and carried out a variety of programs addressing juvenile justice, child abuse, and day care for children.

Church Women United

Founded in 1941 during World War II, this ecumenical women’s movement sought to involve women in post-war peace-making.  It has served to bring women together and has worked on issues especially important to women, children and families.  During the 1970s, it often supported women’s efforts to have expanded roles in their churches, from empowering women deacons and women’s committees in churches and denominations to ordination of women ministers.  The organization remained active on issues of peace and global understanding as well as getting involved in environmental issues.

National Council of Catholic Women

A grassroots organization of individual Roman Catholic women, founded under the auspices of the U.S. Catholic bishops in 1920, the group has tended to emphasize social justice. The group opposed divorce and birth control in its early years in the 1920s.  In the 1960s and 1970s, the organization supported leadership training for women, and in the 1970s especially stressed health issues. It was not significantly involved in feminist issues per se, but it had in common with feminist organizations the goal of promoting women taking leadership roles within the church.