When in 1970 Betty Friedan completed her term as president of NOW and announced she would lead a national strike on the 50th anniversary of suffrage, Aileen Hernandez, the new president, was stunned. How could NOW take on this immense project? But unbeatable Betty took it on, and while the Strike didn't paralyze the nation, it made us a grassroots movement.
That is well documented. What is not documented is the role played by a small group of women in making the national Strike, especially the march and other NY events, the mindblowers they were.
Most of these women are not here tonight. Being honored is not such a big deal for them; the growth and development of feminism was thanks enough. But VFNs goal is to write them into the history books so future generations will know their names, and what they did, and understand that serving feminism is as noble a cause as fighting for one's country. And even better than apple pie.
We dedicate this evening to these unsung heroes who helped make us a movement.
Betty was wise to name Karen DeCrow National Strike coordinator. Karen handled the press and revved up the formation of NOW chapters across the country.
But if the march was to happen, it had to happen in the Big Apple. How would Betty do it? In 1970, she wasn't too popular with most New York feminists in the city. Lesbians were demanding their rights within the movement, and Betty didn't handle that too well, She could bring in the YWCA, the League of Women Voters, the Human Rights Commission, but no way could she do it without the feminists, the passionate crusaders on a mission to change the world.
Women's Liberation groups were hesitant to get on the bandwagon. Nor would New York NOW's president cooperate (until just two weeks before the great day, when Strike fever was raging). How could I ignore so spectacular a chance to promote our movement? I knew just about everyone, and I knew independent feminists, the Young Socialists and new members of NOW would be the first to answer the call. I took things into my own hands and got on the phone.
The first to answer the call were independents Anne Haziewood Brady and Marjorie DeFazio, and Ruthann Miller and Rosemary Gafney of the Young Socialists. Along with Ruth Chaney, they took the reins as planners and organizers.
There were others, some there from Day One, who came in as the excitement mounted: Jill Ward, Mary Vasiliades, Joyce Vinson, Jo Hazleton, Mary Scully, Carole DeSaram. The Strike Coalition was a going thing, so as its liaison to the Coalition and Strike coordinator I concentrated on NY NOW. My enthusiastic committee probed for ideas for demonstrations that would attract the 50,000 marchers we'd quoted to the press.
"Let's take over the Statue of Liberty," Patricia Lawrence said. "The Puerto Ricans did it last year." With Marian Gannet, Pat strategized the event. And so 40-foot banners-"Women of the World Unite" and "March on August 26 for Equality"- --were hung on Ms. Liberty's balconies a few days before the 26th, and the shot was heard around the world.
A few weeks before the big day I had taken charge of the press conference when Betty Friedan, stuck on the Long Island Railroad, didn't show up. I told reporters (looking at their watches and threatening to leave) that not only would thousands march, we'd distribute our own newspaper, we'd place plaques around the city to mark where statues of great women would be erected, give "Barefoot and Pregnant Awards" to ad agencies for their sexist commercials. Now we had to make it happen.
By now the excitement quotient had blown off the Richter scale and every feminist group in town was planning actions. The NOW YORK TIMES was done in less than two weeks by Deborah Beale, Nancy Borman, Ivy Boftini, Tiffany Holmes, Jillian Mulvihill, Rose Atamian, Maria Malero, Sharon Rost, Clara DeMiha. Some wrote articles under pen names like Judith Capulet, who authored "Marriage Legalized as a Career." (Guess you know Betty Barry of the Marriage and Divorce Committee was Judith!) The New York Radical Feminists, The Feminists, Redstookings, Media Women, every group in town planned demonstrations for the 26th and helped swell the ranks of marchers.
All these great soldiers who ran the coalition, planned the demonstrations, organized the march and the rally, we honor them now and forever.