ROBIN MORGAN -- Pioneer Feminist
by Jacqui Ceballos
In 1967, I joined NOW, the organization Betty Friedan and Muriel Fox started after the success of The Feminist Mystique. At the same time, that NOW was being formed, college feminists were also organizing around the country. In New York City young radical women were demonstrating and holding meetings around topics that had seldom been seriously discussed since the 19th century movement. I attended most of these events and got to know the leaders.
One of the most active was Robin Morgan, the brilliant brainchild of 1950 television. Robin instigated many of the early feminist actions. Today she is still at it, on a national and international level. VFA thanks her for all she has done and is doing, and is happy to include her in our Feminist Hall of Fame.
Robin was born January 29, 1941. Her mother started her as a model when she was a toddler. At the age of five she got her own program, titled Little Robin Morgan, on the New York radio station WOR and was a regular on the network radio version of Juvenile Jury. At eight she began acting as the younger sister in a family in the TV series Mama, which premiered on CBS in 1949 and was a great success.
PHOTO Robin, bottom far right, playing the youngest child Dagmar in Mama
During the Golden Age of Television, Robin starred in several "TV spectaculars", including Kiss and Tell and Alice in Wonderland, and guest starred on many live dramas including Omnibus, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Robert Montgomery Presents, and Kraft Theatre.
Robin always wanted to write rather than to act, so she fought her mother's efforts to keep her in show business, and left the cast of Mama at age 14.
As she entered adulthood, she continued her education at Columbia University. Also, she began work as a secretary at the Curtis Brown Literary Agency, alongside writers like W. H. Auden . She had begun publishing her own poetry (later collected in her first book of poems, Monster) and, throughout the next decades, along with political activism, she was writing fiction and nonfiction prose, and lecturing at colleges and universities on women's rights.
In the 1960s she became involved in the civil-rights and anti-Vietnam war movements. In early 1967, she was active in the Youth International Party, (the "Yippies") with Abbie Hoffman and Paul Krassner. However, tensions over sexism within the YIP (and the New Left in general) came to a head when she grew more involved in Women's Liberation and contemporary feminism.
In 1962, Robin married poet Kenneth Pitchford, and in 1969 she gave birth to a son, Blake Morgan. At the time, she was an editor at Grove Press and involved in an attempt to unionize the publishing industry. Grove fired her and other union sympathizers, and in 1970 Robin led a seizure and occupation of their offices protesting the union-busting, as well as the dishonest accounting of royalties to Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X's widow. She and eight other women were arrested.
Robin tosses her bra in Atlantic City outside the 1968 Miss America Pageant
In 1967, Robin cofounded the * New York Radical Women. She was a key organizer of their September 1968 inaugural protest of the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City and wrote the Miss America protest pamphlet No More Miss America. That same year she formed W.I.T.C.H. - Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell. The group used public street theater (called "hexes" or "zaps") to call attention to sexism. She designed the universal symbol of the women’s movement––the female symbol, a circle with a cross beneath, centered with a raised fist. The Oxford English Dictionary credits her with coining the term "herstory" in her 1970 anthology Sisterhood is Powerful.
With royalties from Sisterhood Is Powerful, Robin founded The Sisterhood Is Powerful Fund, the first feminist grant-giving foundation in the US. The fund provided seed money to many early women's groups throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
She made a break from what she described as the "male Left" when she led the women's takeover of the underground newspaper Rat in 1970, and listed the reasons for her break in the first women's issue of the paper, in her essay titled "Goodbye to All That." The essay gained notoriety for naming specific sexist men and institutions in the Left.
In the mid-1970s Robin was a Contributing Editor to the new Ms. magazine, and continued as a part- or full-time editor in the following decades. As editor-in-chief from 1989 to 1994 she turned it into a highly successful, ad-free, bimonthly, international publication, which won awards for writing and design.
In 2005, Robin co-founded the Women’s Media Center, with Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda .In 2012, she debuted a weekly radio show and podcast, Women’s Media Center Live With Robin Morgan. The broadcast is syndicated in the US and, as a podcast, is published online at the WMCLive website, and distributed on iTunes in 110 countries. It has been praised by The Huffington Post as "talk radio with a brain" and features commentary by Robin and interviews with activists, politicians, authors, actors and artists.
IN DEFENSE OF HILLARY CLINTON
During the Democratic primaries for the 2008 presidential race, Robin wrote a fiery sequel to her original essay, titled "Goodbye to All That #2", in defense of Hillary Clinton. The article went viral on the internet for lambasting sexist rhetoric directed towards Clinton by the media.
Robin has traveled across the United States and around the world to bring attention to cross-cultural sexism and has interviewed female rebel army fighters in the Philippines and Brazilian women activists in the slums/favelas of Rio,
Robin has received many awards for her activism. The Feminist Majority Foundation named her "Woman of the Year" in 1990; she was presented with the Warrior Woman Award for Promoting Racial Understanding from The Asian American Women's National Organization in 1992; in 2002; a Lifetime Achievement in Human Rights from Equality Now; and in 2003 The Feminist Press gave her a "Femmy" Award for her "service to literature." She also received the Humanist Heroine Award from The American Humanist Association in 2007.
SISTERHOOD IS POWERFUL
In 1970, Robin compiled, edited, and introduced the first anthology of feminist writings, Sisterhood is Powerful, which includes classic feminist essays by Naomi Weisstein, Kate Millett, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Florynce Kennedy, Frances M. Beal, Jo Freeman, Marge Piercy and Mary Daly, and historical documents including the N.O.W. Bill of Rights, excerpts from the SCUM Manifesto, the Redstockings Manifesto, W.I.T.C.H., and the Black Women’s Liberation Group of Mount Vernon.
It also includes what she called "verbal karate": useful quotes and statistics about women. The anthology has been widely credited with helping to start the contemporary Women's Movement in the US, and was cited by the New York Public Library as "One of the 100 Most Influential Books of the 20th Century". Robin established the first American feminist grant-giving organization, The Sisterhood Is Powerful Fund, with the royalties from Sisterhood Is Powerful.
Her follow-up volume in 1984, Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women's Movement Anthology, compiled articles about women in over seventy countries. That same year she founded the Sisterhood Is Global Institute, the first international feminist think tank. Repeatedly refusing the post of president, she was elected secretary of the organization from 1989 to 1993, was VP from 1993 to 1997, and after serving on the advisory board, finally agreed to become president in 2004.
A third volume, Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New Millennium in 2003, is a collection of articles by well-known feminists, in a retrospective on and future blueprint for the feminist movement. It was compiled, edited, and includes an introduction by Robin. She also wrote "To Vintage Feminists" and "To Younger Women". Both were included in the anthology as Personal Postscripts
Robin was a contributing editor to Ms. magazine for many years. She received the Front Page Award for Distinguished Journalism for her cover story titled "The First Feminist Exiles from the USSR" in 1981. She was also Ms’s editor-in-chief from 1989 to 1994, re-launching it as an ad-free, international bimonthly publication in 1991. This earned her many awards, including the award for Editorial Excellence by Utne Reader in 1991, and the Exceptional Merit in Journalism Award by the National Women's Political Caucus . In 1994 she resigned her post to become Consulting Global Editor, which she remains to this day.
* New York Radical Women was an early second-wave feminist radical feminist group that existed from 1967–1969. They drew nationwide media attention when they unfurled a banner inside the 1968 Miss America pageant displaying the words, "Women’s Liberation"
* Check out Robin on the web to read more about her fantastic life.
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