AUGUST 26, 1970

The Long March towards Women's Equality


Photo of Betty Friedan leading a group
of demonstrators outside a Congres-
sional office in 1971 to show support
for the E.R.A.

Throughout the winter of 1917, Alice Paul and her followers in the National Women's Party picketed the White House.

(Alice Paul, pictured left)

They stood silently at the gates, holding signs that said "Mr. president, how long must women wait for liberty?" The picketers were suffragists. They wanted President Woodrow Wilson to support a Constitutional amendment giving all American women suffrage, or the right to vote.

At first, the suffragists were politely ignored. But on April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I. The suffragists' signs became more pointed. They taunted Wilson, accusing him of being a hypocrite. How could he send American men to die in a war for democracy when he denied voting rights to women at home? The suffragists became an embarrassment to President Wilson. It was decided the picketing in front of the White House must stop.

Spectators assualted the picketers, both verbally and physically. Police did nothing to protect the women. Soon, the police began arresting the suffragists on charges of obstructing traffic. At first, the charges were dropped. Next, the women were sentenced to jail terms of just a few days. But the suffragists kept picketing, and their prison sentences grew. Finally, in an effort to break the spirit of the picketers, the police arrested Alice Paul. She was tried and sentenced to 7 months in prison.

Paul was placed in solitary confinement. For two weeks, she had nothing to eat except bread and water. Weak and unable to walk, she was taken to the prison hospital. There she began a hunger strike--onewhich others would join. "It was," Paul said later, "the strongest weapon left with which to continue... our battle . . ."

In response to the hunger strike, prison doctors put Alice Paul in a psychiatric ward. They threatened to transfer her to an insane asylum. Still, she refused to eat. Afraid that she might die, doctors force fed her. Three times a day for three weeks, they forced a tube down her throat and poured liquids into her stomach. Despite the pain and ilness the force feeding caused, Paul refused to end the hunger strike--or her fight for the vote.

By the time Alice Paul was sent to prison, the fight for women's suffrage had been going on for almost 70 years. It had started in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, at a small Women's Rights Convention. These early feminists wanted the same opportunities as men. They wanted the chance to attend college, to become doctors and lawyers, and to own their own land. If they could win the right to vote, they could use their votes to open the doors of the world to women.

For the next 50 years, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony led the women's rights movement. Thanks to their efforts, the women's suffrage amendment was presented to Congress for the first time in 1878. But Congressmen refused to allow a vote on the issue. The amendment was reintroduced every year for forty years. During that time, it was never voted upon.

By the time Alice Paul and the National Women's Party began their suffrage campaign, the old leaders of the women's movement were gone. But support for the suffrage amendment had grown. Women were already voting in twelve western states. And in 1916, Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first women elected to Congress. Yet Congress was no closer to passing the suffrage amendment than before.

Paul was a veteran of suffrage protests. She had served a prison term in Britain for supporting women's right to the vote. She and other younger leaders like Harriet Stanton Blatch thought one last push was needed to get the attention of the President and the Congress. Giant suffrage parades were held in New York and Washington. Thousands of suffragists in long white dresses marched. There were floats, women on horseback, and banners flying. A number of men joined in. But the parades did not change the minds of President Wilson or Congress. So the picketing began at the White House.

After 5 weeks in prison, Alice Paul was set free. The attempts to stop the picketers had backfired. Newspapers carried stories about the jail terms and forced feedings of the suffragists. The stories angered many Americans and created more support than ever for the suffrage amendment.

Finally, on January 9, 1918, WIlson announced his support for suffrage. The next day, the House of Representatives narrowly passed the Susan. B. Anthony Amendment, which would give suffrage to all women citizens. On June 4, 1919, the Senate passed the Amendment by one vote.
And a little more than a year later, on August 26, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment. That made it officially the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

American women at last had the right to vote. But Alice Paul and her colleagues did not stop their campaign for women's rights. Instead, they began to push for an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, which would guarantee women protection against discrimination. Some 80 years later, the battle for such an amendment is still being fought.

Betty Friedan
Bella Abzug

Betty Friedan
(1921- ), catalyst and leader in the second feminist movement. Friedan graduated summa cum laude from Smith College in 1942 and settled in New York City. During the ten years after her marriage to Carl Friedan in 1947, she was a housewife, mother of three children, and free-lance magazine writer.

Friedan's role as catalyst of the second feminist wave began with her book, The Feminine Mystique. For her fifteenth college reunion in 1957 she sent questionnaires to members of her class asking them to describe their lives since college. From their answers and other research came the book, which she published in 1963. It was an instant best-seller, was excerpted in major women's magazines, and made Friedan a celebrity. Its thesis that suburban middle-class housewives were not necessarily fulfilled by housewifery and childbearing engendered hundreds of letters from unhappy, dissatisfied women who realized that Friedan had identified their "problem with no name." She called it the "feminine mystique," the theory that women's fulfillment could be found only in motherhood and family. She criticized psychiatrists, social scientists, educators, and businesspeople who used the mystique to encourage women to live segregated lives in the suburban ghettos of the postwar world.

In 1966 she helped found the
National Organization for Women (now). As president during its first three years, she wrote now's founding statement demanding full equality for women in the mainstream of American life. She also led the organization in its decisions in 1967 to support the Equal Rights Amendment for women and legalized abortion. During her presidency, she traveled across the country publicizing the new feminism and now and encouraged its older members to listen to the younger, more radical feminists. When she stepped down from the presidency in 1969, she suggested that now sponsor a national strike on August 26, 1970, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of women's obtaining the vote. An attempt to broaden the feminist movement, it succeeded far beyond her expectations: the New York rally alone attracted fifty thousand women.

Initially Friedan and other feminists criticized women's role as primary caretaker of the family because they believed that status and success could be achieved only through work outside the home. But by the 1980s, she and others had come to believe that women and men desire both the prestige and fulfillment that come from work outside the home and the love and identity gained through marriage and children. In The Second Stage (1981) Friedan argued that feminism had become too woman-centered in the 1970s and had polarized the relationship between the sexes. She urged feminists to move away from this stance and join with men and even conservatives on these new family issues.In October 1966 Friedan co-founded the National Organization for Women (NOW), a civil-rights group dedicated to achieving equality of opportunity for women. As president of NOW she directed campaigns to end sex-classified employment notices, for greater representation of women in government, for child-care centers for working mothers, and for legalized abortion and other reforms. Although it was later occasionally eclipsed by younger and more radical groups, NOW remained the largest and probably the most effective organization in the women's movement.
Friedan stepped down from the presidency in March 1970 but continued to be active in the work that had sprung largely from her pioneering efforts, helping to organize the Women's Strike for Equality, held on August 26, 1970, the 50th anniversary of woman suffrage, and leading in the campaign for ratification of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A founding member of the National Women's Political Caucus (1971), she said it was organized "to make policy not coffee." In 1973 she became director of the First Women's Bank and Trust Company.


Women's Equality Day
(1971), annual event
August 26, 1970, marked the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted American women full suffrage. On that anniversary, the National Organization for Women (NOW) called upon women nationwide to "strike for equality." Women in 40 cities organized demonstrations to protest the fact that women still did not have equal rights. In New York City, 50,000 women marched down Fifth Avenue to demonstrate their support of the women's movement and equal rights. Former NOW president Betty Friedan, feminist Gloria Steinem, and Congresswoman Bella Abzug addressed the crowd, and the event was extraordinarily successful in demonstrating the breadth of the support for women's rights. In 1971 Congress officially recognized August 26 as Women's Equality Day. Annually since then, women have observed the day with events that celebrate women's progress toward equality.