Veteran Feminists of America


©Linda Stein -- Muriel Fox
Limited Edition Fine Art Print

Muriel Fox was born February 3, 1928 in Newark, New Jersey, one of two children of Morris Fox and Anne Rubenstein. Her father was a grocer, her mother a housewife. She stated at a Mother's Day rally for the ERA in 1980 that her mother's unhappiness as a housewife was a major inspiration for her activism in the feminist movement. Her brother, Gerald became a lawyer and served as VP of NOW's NY chapter and was the attorney who met with the New York Times to persuade them to desexigrate their Help Wanted ads. Jerry died in 1988 at age 55.

Always an A student, Muriel worked after school in her family's grocery store and twirled in her high school's twirling brigade at football games. "I was terrible," she remembers.

Because of Jerry's rheumatic fever the family moved to Miami Beach. This led Muriel to become a scholarship student at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. There she became a string correspondent for United Press, covering events like the 1946 Conference on the Atomic Bomb and World Government. She transferred to Barnard College in New York City, in 1946, majored in American Studies and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude in 1948.

After college she was an advertising copywriter for Sears Roebuck in New York, then a publicist for Tom Jefferson & Associates in Miami, Florida, where she headed the Dade County re-election campaign of U.S. Senator Claude Pepper and helped elect Miami Mayor William Wolfarth.

Applying for a job at Carl Byoir & Associates, the world's largest public relations agency in 1950, she was rejected by an officer who said, "We don't hire women writers." But she persisted and later that year another Byoir executive hired her as a publicist in its Radio-TV Department. In 1952 she was head of that department, and in1956 became Byoir's youngest vice president, and "progressed as far as she could go," she was told, "because corporate CEOs can't relate to women." There she remained until the 1970's when, with her help, NOW had changed the laws and the business climate for all women. Muriel became Executive Vice President of Byoir, the same title as the man who had turned her down in 1950.

Dr. Shepard (Shep) G. Aronson
Receiving VFA Medal of Honor at VFA's 30th Anniversary Celebration of NOW, Barnard College 1996 )

In 1955 she married Dr. Shepard G. Aronson, a prominent internist. Their children, Eric and Lisa, now Dr. Eric Aronson and Dr. Lisa Aronson Fontes were born in 1960 and 1961. Muriel continued working until the night she gave birth and returned to work soon after. Shep, who was a feminist and very supportive of her work was elected Chair of the board of NYNOW. When someone asked him what he was doing in the feminist movement Shep replied, "I want my wife to make more money." Shep died in 2003.

In 1963 Muriel, as an officer of American Women in Radio and Television arranged for Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique to be their luncheon speaker. After Betty's talk Muriel sent a thank-you note to Betty saying.. "When you're ready to start an organization to fight for women's rights please call me to help."

Betty did call. And Muriel was at the National Organization for Women's founding conference October 29, 1966. In the next two years, as NOW's public relations director she orchestrated the nationwide publicity effort. An interesting aside… Shep and their two children were with her in DC and while Muriel was busy at the founding meeting in Washington, DC, Shep babysat.

From the next few years Muriel was NOW's vice president, then chair of the board, then chaired the National Advisory Committee. She was also Betty Friedan's main lieutenant and director of operations. She installed Friedan's NOW secretary at a small desk near her own at the Byoir offices and wrote numerous letters sent by NOW under Friedan's signature to government officials demanding faster action to reduce sex discrimination - including the letter that helped persuade President Lyndon Johnson to sign Executive Order 11246 in October 1967, the order that added sex to Affirmative Action and thus opened up America's corporate pipeline for millions of women.

She also wrote NOW's November, 1968 letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explaining the need to prohibit sex-segregated Help Wanted ads. Her testimony to Congress included proposed laws to equalize company pension contributions for women and men. Muriel also had to strike a balance between the interests of Byoir's clients and those of the women's movement. She rescued herself from NOW deliberations whenever they considered suing Byoir clients. In 1975 she organized a meeting between NOW officers and Byoir client "Sesame Street," which headed off a planned NOW boycott while also obtaining a commitment for increased participation of female characters on the influential TV show.

In 1967 Muriel helped found New York NOW, the first chapter of the national organization. Carl Byoir promoted Muriel to group vice president in 1974 and to executive vice president in 1979, the first and only female excutive vice president the company had. At the same time she served as president of Byoir subsidiaries ByMedia (communications training) and ByMart (smaller accounts). Business Week Magazine's list of 100 Top Corporate Women in June 1976 described her as the "top-ranking woman in public relations." She retired from Byoir in 1985, and served on the board of directors of Harleysville Mutual Insurance Company from 1976 to 2000, chairing its Audit Committee, and on the board of Rorer Pharmaceuticals from 1979 to 1993, chairing its Nominating Committee.

Muriel retired as NOW's PR VP in 1969, but remained very active in the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (now Legal Momentum), which she co founded. In 1979 she created NOWLDEF's annual Equal Opportunity Awards Dinner, and she chaired it for 22 years with co-chairs including a roster of corporate America's foremost CEOs. She worked with Elinor Guggenheimer founding in 1974 the Women's Forum, an organization of pre-eminent women from diverse fields, and was its second president in 1976-78. In a CBS-TV interview she credited the Forum with "transforming the word network into a verb."

For VFA she has organized and co-chaired many conferences, including the Salute To Feminist Authors and Salute To Feminist Artists. She is Senior Editor of "Feminists Who Changed America," with the biographies of 2,200 pioneers of the Second Wave. She chaired the November 15, 2006 all-day VFA conference at Columbia University and Barnard College that celebrated the book's publication by University of Illinois Press.

In speeches Muriel urges successful women to abandon their old roles as "Queen Bee" in a man's world, and instead to support organizations that combat sex discrimination against all women. To advance this goal she served on the founding steering committees not only of NOW and The Women's Forum but also the National Women's Political Caucus, Child Care Action Campaign, the Women's Economic Round Table, American Women in Radio & Television and Foremost Women In Communications. Her most frequent speech line is a call urging successful women to say, "Yes, I am a feminist."

For NOWLDEF she organized and chaired The National Assembly on the Future of the Family (1979) convening 2,100 civic leaders in the first public forum that highlighted the modern-day transformation of the once-traditional American family; and The Convocation on New Leadership in the Public Interest (1981) to win allies for the women's movement among leaders of business, labor, government and public policy.

Senator Maurine Neuberger

In 1965-68 she was co-chair, with Senator Maurine Neuberger, of Vice President Hubert Humphrey's task force on Women's Goals. In 1983-84 she served on the Marketing Committee of President Reagan's Advisory Council on Private Sector Initiative. She served as a director of United Way of Tri-State, American Arbitration Association and the International Rescue Committee.

Muriel was elected president of the Rockland Center for the Arts in 2004, and led the Center for four years in its major campaign for expansion and renovation. She is currently the Center's vice president for administration.

She has appeared on television frequently -- including a two-week debate series against William Buckley on "Firing Line" on the topic "Resolved: Women Have It Better Than Men." She has lectured throughout the world on such topics as Communications, Family Trends, the Women's Movement, Networking and "Moving Women Up the Corporate Ladder."

In 1991 the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund created the Muriel Fox Award for Communications Leadership Toward a Just Society. The first winner of the "Foxy" was Muriel Fox herself. In 1996 the Fund surprised her with an "Our Hero" award "For a Lifetime of Dedication to the Cause of Women's Equality." She was the first recipient of New York State NOW's Eleanor Roosevelt Leadership Award, in 1985; and that same year Barnard College selected her to receive its Distinguished Alumna Award. She was the first woman to receive the "Business Leader of the Year" Award from Americans for Democratic Action and the first public relations executive to win the Achievement Award of American Women in Radio & Television. She received the Matrix Award from New York Women in Communications and the Woman of Accomplishment Award from the Wings Club. She received the Distinguished Citizen Award from the Rockland County Family Shelter, the Woman to Women Award from New York State NOW, and the Carolyn Lexow Babcock Award from Rockland County NOW. Today, at age 82, Muriel Fox continues as one of the most active and important leaders in the feminist movement.

Comments: Jacqui Ceballos

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