Saturday, May 14, 2022

Why I support Malcom Kenyatta for US Senate


If everyone who thought Malcolm Kenyatta was the best candidate voted for him, he would have a very good chance of winning. Although Malcolm may not win, I think he will do far better than expected. I would like to see his campaign do well as an investment in the future. He is foregrounding issues of racial/gender/economic justice, and a strong showing for Malcolm will mean a strong showing for those issues and demonstrate that people of color can do well in an increasingly diverse state like PA.

I’ve decided to vote not on grounds of presumed electability, but for the person I would most like to see in the Senate.

The three major candidates currently agree on many issues such as abortion rights; however, there are differences in emphasis . Also, some of Conor Lamb’s progressive positions are relatively recent, which raises questions about his core beliefs. Organizations such as Pro Publica, Roll Call and Intercept have documented : the evolution of his positions.

John Fetterman’s positions for the most part have been held consistently over a longer period; however, his personal behavior has at times been troubling —e.g his pursuit of an unarmed African-American with a shotgun. Granted, this was a one-time occurrence, not a troubling pattern of behavior, but it is cause for concern.

Malcolm has the strongest and most consistent record on a range of progressive issues and perhaps differs most dramatically on environmental issues.

Kenyatta supports a moratorium on new fracking sites and an end to tax breaks for producers in the Commonwealth. Fetterman and Lamb, both of whom are from the western part of the state, oppose any ban.

We know the candidates’ positions on issues currently on voters’ minds. We don’t know how they will respond to issues before the Senate in the years to come. All we have to go on is what they have stood for in the past and what life experiences they bring to the public policy debate. Malcolm will bring the perspective and experiences of an African-American gay man from a working class background—a perspective sorely needed in the Senate.

It is worth looking at what groups and individuals have endorsed in this race.

There is a progressive movement building around Malcolm, including unions generally thought of as progressive such as : SEIU Pennsylvania State Council; American Federation of Teachers; Philadelphia Federation of Teachers; AFT Pennsylvania, AFT Local 2026, Community College of Philadelphia; AFSCME Local 1199C; AFSCME District Council 33; Temple Association of University Professors; Teamsters Local 623; and Teamsters BMWED.

And progressive organizations such as: Americans for Democratic Action; Collective PAC; One Pennsylvania; Working Families Party; Democracy for America; Victory Fund; Brand New Congress; the Chester City Democratic Party; Chester County Young Democrats; Philadelphia 1st Ward Democrats; Philadelphia 2nd Ward Democrats; Philadelphia 8th Ward Democrats; Philadelphia 18th Ward Democrats; Philly for Change; the 22nd Ward Open Caucus; Neighborhood Networks; Liberty City LGBTQ+ Democratic Club

Other than Pennsylvania NOW, Conor Lamb has few endorsements from the progressive community. Lamb is courting endorsements from some of the most conservative segments of Philadelphia politics— the Northeast Philly ward leaders.

Conor Lamb presents himself as the kind of centrist candidate who can win in Pa. That may have been true in the past, but Malcolm’ Kenyatta's candidacy challenges that expectation. Malcolm is pushing back against the narrative that he cannot win: ““I don’t think people have to look like me or love like me to know that I’m going to fight for them… I think that the perspective that I bring is critical not just to have ornamental diversity, it is about policy.” He told the Inquirer: “I reject this idea that Pennsylvania is so bigoted they would never vote for me.”

Finally, we need political leaders who will inspire voters—especially young voters-- to re-invigorate our hollow democracy. We need political leaders who will educate voters about how our system of government works and about the tools they will need to make government work for everyone. The candidate best equipped to do this is clearly Malcolm Kenyatta.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Feminist Organizing Across the Generations will soon be on shelves of the Philadelphia Free Library


Since my book Feminist Organizing Across the Generations was still unavailable at the Philadelphia Free library during Women’s History month, I published excerpts from Part I on www.the-next stage.com

Although the author copies were mailed at end of November, I did not receive them until the end of March! I was told that the first shipment “was lost in the supply chain.” The second shipment was delayed because it was misdelivered by Fed Ex.

When I finally received my author copies, I delivered several copies to the Free Library. The process of getting it onto the shelves takes a few weeks. So—-fingers crossed--it should be available to borrow very soon! It should also be available through inter-library loan.

The publisher, Routledge, markets to a global audience so when I checked availability on World Cat, I found that there were copies in a range of libraires including the American University of Nigeria and the American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates—but none at the Free Library of Philadelphia!

At some point this ridiculously overpriced book should be available in paperback and also as a reasonably priced ebook!

I now want to pivot to my next book--The Evolution of Socialist Feminism from Eleanor Marx to AOC. I need to put this book on a fast track while I still have eye sight and brain cells left.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Feminist Organizing Across the Generations. Part I: Building the feminist movement, Chapter 3, The struggle for gender justice and racial justice


Jocelyn Morris placing flowers on the grave of Lucretia Mott, November 11, 1980

The struggle for gender justice and racial justice

Although NOW’s structure provided avenues for managing political and ideological conflict, racial tensions proved to be a far more intractable problem. Over the years, the persistence of racism has been the most difficult issue for NOW and for the feminist movement in general. At all levels of the organization, NOW has struggled with how to address racism within NOW. The ease with which members could form new chapters focused on racial justice, and the committee structure initiated by national NOW, served as vehicles for advancing ideas that the full membership was not ready to embrace.

The tension between the struggles for gender equality and for racial equality has a long history. Although 19th-century feminist leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony participated in the abolitionist movement, in the post-Civil War period they became disillusioned with their former allies, who, they thought, placed less importance on women’s voting rights than they did on rights for African-American men. Catharine Stimpson, among others, has documented this tension, and explores historical connections between the struggle for gender equality and that for racial equality in both “first wave” and “second wave” feminist movements.1 Movements for gender equality have tended to emerge at times when there were broad-based social justice movements. Perhaps because gender roles seemed so “natural” to so many, it took times of intense social upheaval to create conditions where gender discrimination would be challenged. Movements for gender equality have historically followed movements for racial equality. The 19th-century women’s suffrage movement followed the antislavery movement; the second-wave feminist movement followed the civil rights movement.

Sadly, Stanton and Anthony and their former allies in the abolitionist movement became bitter antagonists over the dispute as to whether the 15th amendment, which guaranteed the voting rights of Black men, should also include women. Tensions between the movements for racial equality and gender equality erupted again in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The conflicts were not as severe those in the 19th century, but a similar pattern of disillusionment can be found among women veterans of the civil rights movement, particularly among white women, as they discovered that the men they worked with did not share their commitment to gender equality.2 In 2008, the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama resurrected many of the old arguments about which form of oppression was deeper, racism or sexism. The tension between Clinton’s supporters and Obama’s caused real strain among feminists. The scars have yet to fully heal.

Although by the mid-1970s combating racism became part of national NOW’s core mission, it was not central to NOW’s initial mission—not surprising in view of the deeply entrenched racism in American society in the mid-1960s. NOW’s 1966 “Statement of Purpose” contained a brief reference to “Negro women who are victims of the double discrimination of race and sex,3 but made no mention of combating racism within NOW. Furthermore, the early position papers of national NOW, such as the 1971 “Poverty Statement,” did not address the link between race and poverty.4

The absence of explicit references to racism was generally true of local NOW chapters in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In Philadelphia, the elimination of neither racism nor poverty was cited among the chapter’s goals. Furthermore, a 1970 survey of members included no questions about racial identity or racial attitudes.5 In response to a question about the race/class composition of the founding members of Philadelphia NOW, the chapter’s second president, Jean Ferson, responded in a 2004 interview: “We were predominantly white middle class,” and she acknowledged that the organization had not made much of an effort to reach out to women of color.6 The 1975 chapter president, Betsy Parziale, stated that by the late 1970s the group was working on issues relevant to women of color, but there were still very few women of color involved in NOW.7

NOW chapters expanded through the social networks of the members, and as the members acknowledged, those networks were largely white and middle class. In the minutes of 1970s meetings of Philadelphia NOW there is no evidence that members seriously considered developing a strategy of outreach to women of color. On the contrary, there is evidence that the members had something of a tin ear regarding what might resonate with African-American women. In 1976 Philadelphia NOW awarded one of its Barefoot and Pregnant awards, given to those guilty of egregious sexism, to civil rights icon and then city councilman Cecil B. Moore. The press release that announced the award cited “his appalling sexism and absolute inhumanity including his remarks and attitudes toward rape victims.”8 I doubt if many African-American women or fair-minded Philadelphians would agree with the characterization of the “absolute inhumanity” of the man who led the battle to desegregate Philadelphia’s public and private institutions in the 1960s. Moore was a controversial figure, but few would deny the assessment in a 1987 Philadelphia Inquirer article that “Nobody did more than Moore to break down barriers against Blacks’ securing industrial and government jobs.”9 As a defense attorney, Moore’s treatment of rape victims may have been reprehensible,10 but it was probably not all that different from many defense lawyers in the 1960s and early 1970s. Singling him out for special opprobrium was not likely to make Philadelphia NOW attractive to African-American women.

Even if NOW chapters had had an aggressive strategy to recruit African-American women, they would have had a difficult time. African-American women who identified as feminists usually formed separate organizations, such as National Black Feminist Organization, National Alliance of Black Feminists, Third World Women’s Alliance, Combahee River Collective, and Black Women Organized for Action. Sociologist Benita Roth, among others, has attributed the formation of these organizations in part to a “resurgent masculinism in the Black movement [which] sought to contain women within the domestic sphere.”11 Many Black women who had held positions of responsibility in the civil rights movement were not willing to accept the constraints of traditional gender roles. For Black feminists with a strong commitment to Black empowerment, joining the largely white feminist movement was not an option—hence the formation of separate Black feminist groups.

These organizations were short-lived, largely due to lack of resources. Historian Kimberly Springer has noted: “Overall, Black feminists’ organizations had few material resources to rely on because their constituents, Black women, had few material resources to give.”12 Black women fighting for gender equality were under enormous pressure to dissociate themselves from white feminists. Springer documents the antagonism towards feminism among many in the Black community, who thought it a white woman’s disease. She describes the cover of the April 1974 issue of Encore magazine featuring an African-American woman with an Afro and wearing an African-print coat, who appeared “to be staving off the advances of feminism.” The cartoon character Olive Oyle, representing feminism, was depicted offering the Black woman a can of “feminist spinach.” Olive Oyle was dressed in male clothing, reinforcing the message in the accompanying articles that feminism was inextricably bound up with lesbianism and therefore irrelevant to Black women.13

No doubt because of the difficulty of recruiting Black women to NOW, Black Women Organized for Action was founded by NOW’s second president, Aileen Hernandez, and two members of NOW’s National Task Force on Minority Women. Despite their involvement in and commitment to NOW, these women also saw a need for an organization exclusively for Black women. National NOW was deeply concerned about the negative perception of feminism in the African-American community and eager to recruit women of color. By 1974 National NOW had an active National Task Force on Minority Women; it was clearly far ahead of most local affiliates. In May 1974 NOW published the Report of the Task Force, documenting chapters’ activities in this area, and asking members “What should be the Role of the National Task Force on Minority Women and Women’s Rights?” Sixty-seven chapters from across the country responded; the report did not indicate the total number of individual respondents. Although the majority of the responses suggested members supported the work of the Task Force, some indicated that internal education on racism was sorely needed. The majority of the responses were variations on the following: “Help chapters develop techniques for recruiting and working with members of minority groups without being patronizing to them (because of unconscious race or class bias).”

However, there were some responses that suggested that Black women’s lack of feminist consciousness was the problem: “Minority women must realize that they are oppressed as women—this lack of realization is what hampers us so badly. Get them to stop trying to liberate Black men. Have pride in their strength—stop sacrificing.” There were a few responses that suggested that combating racism should not be a priority for NOW: “I really think NOW takes on too much. We should work most hard on ERA since if that doesn’t pass we don’t have anything … . I think the best thing the Task Force on minority women can do is disband.”

Finally, a few responses were disturbingly racist and surprising to see in a survey of NOW members:
Many Blacks seem to want all “whites” to commit suicide out of sheer remorse for what has happened in the past. This seems to be the only thing that could possibly satisfy some Black speakers. Unless of course these Black speakers could simply stab and rape and shoot us all—to them that would be even better than suicide on our parts … they say that no matter how hard we try, it is not good enough.14

As the above quotations demonstrate, the authors of the report were clearly interested in presenting an honest portrait of racial attitudes within NOW. National NOW was ahead of many of its members in its determination to address the existence of racism both within NOW and in the larger society.

Some of the racial tensions described in the 1974 report diminished in the late 1970s and early 1980s, no doubt as a consequence of the winding down of the social movements which arose in the 1960s. For those of us who lived through those days, the cooling down of passionate commitment and intense emotions was palpable. Also, increasing opportunities for Black women in post-civil rights America meant that Black and white women had greater contact in the workplace and in educational institutions, thus increasing opportunities for mutual understanding. The involvement of Latina, Asian-American, and Native-American women in the feminist movement diffused the intensity of Black/white conflict, shifting the focus to the broader agenda of women of color confronting discrimination in white-dominated America. These changes in the larger society probably account for NOW’s (albeit limited) success in recruiting women of color in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Another reason for NOW’s increasing gains in recruiting women of color may have been white women’s growing awareness of racism, thanks to the outpouring of literary, historical, and sociological works by women of color in the 1970s and 1980s. Jane Mansbridge has noted that it was not until a significant literature by women of color appeared that the feminist movement began to seriously grapple with racism
:
It was too painful for each Black woman individually to have to teach White feminists in her organization about the differences in their experiences. But through the written word, which can teach many at once … the movement is now beginning to absorb, confront, and be transformed by these new insights.16

Reading lists of texts by women of color began to appear in the Pennsylvania NOW Times in the early 1980s. “Eliminating Racism: A Bibliography” by then vice president of Germantown NOW, Nancie Dent, included a lengthy list of works by and about African-American, Asian-American, Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, and Iroquois women. In addition to feminist classics such as fiction by Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston, there were some surprising choices. Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver, for example, did not usually appear on feminist booklists. However, Dent acknowledged: “This list is, also, not a feminist book list. It includes books that depict a variety of cultural experiences of minority women. And sexism is certainly a cultural experience we all share.” Dent also cautioned: “The list is not intended to be a short-cut whereby a person becomes an instant expert … . The books should be read and discussed with your friends of whatever race.”17

Pennsylvania NOW’s increasing focus on racial justice

There was considerable variation in the willingness of NOW’s state and local affiliates to address racism. Pennsylvania NOW was one of the leaders among state organizations in addressing the interconnections of sexism and racism and, in the 1970s, had greater success in reaching out to women of color than did Philadelphia NOW. In 1976 Pennsylvania NOW held a Black Feminist Conference at the University of Pittsburgh organized by the African-American Women of Pennsylvania NOW. According to the Pennsylvania NOW Times, “A great number of Black feminists are geographically separated. Sometimes there is only one Black woman in a chapter … . It is hoped that a communications network will provide the moral and emotional support that Black women in the feminist movement so desperately need.”18

In the late 1970s, addressing racism became a major priority for Pennsylvania NOW. The change was sudden and dramatic. According to the list of priorities for 1976 reported in Pennsylvania NOW Times, racism was not among the top priority issues.19 However, no doubt in part due to the above-mentioned Black Feminist Conference, attitudes about the importance of confronting racism were about to change dramatically. The February 1978 “Pennsylvania NOW State Board Report” states that eliminating racism both within NOW and within the larger society had become the top priority of the organization.20 In July 1979 Pennsylvania NOW Times published a special issue dedicated to “Eliminating Racism.” The lead article stated that responses to the 1974 survey conducted by NOW’s National Task Force on Minority Women indicated that all minority respondents and most non-minority respondents witnessed or experienced racism within NOW. Racism was described as:
The pretense that racism does not exist in NOW. The belief that [education on racism] is unnecessary, that “it is divisive.” The belief and practice that consciousness-raising groups are not the place to discuss racism. (“They are not ready for it.”) The introduction of minorities into a conversation right away leads to discussion on poverty.21

NOW members were cautioned that “being feminist does not necessarily mean being non-racist” and were urged to work to change the image of NOW as a white middle-class organization. The 1979 article concludes: “Racism is a sickness. It is as dangerous as a malignant tumor … . Racism should be abhorred for what it does to the practitioner of racism as well as to the victim of racism.”22 Pennsylvania NOW leader Jo Ann Evans-Gardner acknowledged that the leadership was far ahead of its grassroots members. She believed that probably none of the white feminists have the elimination of racism as a first priority. A tiny number might accord it equal priority. A moderate number … if pushed will accept some responsibility. Far too many can be heard to argue that to make racism a concern is divisive (or diluting) to feminism.mGardner challenged white feminists “to be as knowledgeable and militant about racism as we are about sexism.”23

To underscore its commitment to eliminating racism, Pennsylvania NOW held two major conferences on racism and sexism, one in Pittsburgh in 1979 and one in Philadelphia in 1980. As result of the Philadelphia conference a new chapter, Germantown NOW in Northwest Philadelphia, was formed to focus on the connections between sexism and racism. The core Philadelphia chapter remained focused on the ERA; Philadelphia NOW members interested in working for racial justice either became involved in Pennsylvania NOW or joined Germantown NOW. Furthermore, the formation of a new chapter such as Germantown NOW gave its members a greater voice in the state organization and thus a larger arena in which to advance their issues. The state organization was partly responsible for the formation of Germantown NOW and the Germantown NOW members who were active on the state level played a role in Pennsylvania NOW’s increasing focus on racial justice.

There was a similar push to confront racism from Pittsburgh’s Brenda Frazier, who was encouraged by what she experienced at the 1978 national conference: “Before then, I felt I was knocking, trying to get in, to make someone see that we have issues. This year, it was not ‘their’ conference; it was ‘our’ conference, and I felt it profoundly.” Frazier was willing to challenge white feminists about racism and African-American leaders about sexism. She described her conversation with Jesse Jackson about the women’s movement:
I told him that I didn’t hear him say anything about women’s issues. He said ‘I talked about women … I talked about my grandmother.’ I asked him if he supported the Equal Rights Amendment. Then he looked at me and he realized that he was looking at a real live Black feminist. He wasn’t ready for it. I offered to meet with him. He said he was busy—had to be in California. I said I could go to California: just let me know.24

In “East End NOW—A Racially Integrated Chapter,” Frazier describes how she and five other NOW members left Pittsburgh’s East Hills NOW to form a new chapter which “would fight against sexism and racism at the same time and with the same energy.” Once again the ease with which a new chapter could be formed forestalled conflict. As with Germantown NOW, the separation in Pittsburgh appears to have been amicable. There was general agreement in both cases that those with different priorities should have the option of forming a new chapter. East End NOW gave Frazier an organizational base within NOW. In the July 1979 Pennsylvania NOW Times, she reported: “I am so on fire. I can’t tell you how good it feels to hear other people talk about the elimination of racism as a feminist issue and mean it … not just words, but a willingness to act.”25 The new chapter allowed Frazier to exert considerable influence on national NOW and on Pennsylvania NOW; she was instrumental in the creation of committees addressing racism on the state, regional, and national levels. Both the ease of forming new chapters on the local level and forming task forces or committees on the state and national levels enabled members to deal with differences in priorities while still maintaining allegiance to the national organization.

Germantown NOW: Dedicated to advancing racial and gender justice
Philadelphia NOW member Jocelyn Morris noted that combating racism was not among her chapter’s top priorities, and concluded that rather than trying to change the priorities of Philadelphia NOW she would have more success addressing the interconnections between racism and sexism in a new chapter, Germantown NOW. Lillian Ciarrochi, then president of Philadelphia NOW, reported that her chapter did not discourage the formation of Germantown NOW, but wanted to stay focused on what members identified as their primary objective, passage of the ERA. Ciarrochi described the reactions of Philadelphia NOW members to the formation of Germantown NOW:
I remember people saying it’s not the NAACP; we represent all women and there was a certain group who wanted it all to be about race. We had to concentrate like a laser beam on women’s rights because it helps all women and we can’t be sidetracked with other issues.27

According to Ciarrochi, Philadelphia NOW members “didn’t think Germantown NOW would last because it was founded for the wrong reasons. I don’t think there was ever any fight about it.” Ciarrochi recalled that there were times when the Philadelphia chapter had meetings to discuss racism, and that some members wanted to have meetings in minority communities: “Some of the chapter members agreed and were willing to do it. Others had issues of safety in some of these neighborhoods at night. It just never happened.”

Ciarrochi thought that the focus of Germantown NOW would be on poor women and that it “would have been a mammoth task. These women were poor, single moms, a lot of times battered women. The last thing they were going to do was form a NOW chapter in their area. They were fighting for food stamps, a way to survive, to stop the battering.” According to Ciarrochi, the possibilities for outreach to women of color are now much greater:
Now, there are minority professional women who believe in women’s rights and want to work on issues related to sexism. A lot of that is because of the Women’s Movement. I think it has directly affected the lives of minority women greatly. Our employment committee fought hard for affirmative action. That was the one issue related to minority rights that clicked with everybody because it just seemed like an issue of fairness.

During my 2008 interview with Ciarrochi, she expressed support for NOW’s current focus on combating racism and sexism, but in the early 1980s she believed Philadelphia NOW’s energies should be focused on the battle to ratify the ERA.

Jocelyn Morris did not recall any discussion with Philadelphia NOW about Germantown NOW’s focus on racism and sexism, and said she was unaware of any concern. Morris noted that Germantown NOW was not reaching out to women in extreme poverty, as some Philadelphia NOW members apparently thought:
Germantown at that time was middle class or lower middle class, not impoverished. Not every Black person was on food stamps. I was never on food stamps; most of the people I recruited for NOW were not on food stamps or being battered. We had middle-class families, and that’s who we recruited. It’s not like 80% of us were impoverished.28

Morris also wanted Black women to have a chapter closer to home: “Philadelphia NOW never reached out to the community. A lot of women did not want to travel from Germantown to Center City; Germantown women didn’t feel safe in Center City.” There apparently was reluctance to travel outside their neighborhoods on the part of both the mostly Center City residents in Philadelphia NOW and the members of Germantown NOW.

Morris saw her focus on women of color as directly advancing the cause of the ERA, arguing that outreach to minority women was critical to its passage. She noted that although most minority women had experienced racism, few were aware of how the “double jeopardy” of racism and sexism combined to limit their opportunities. In an article in the Pennsylvania NOW Times, Morris described her efforts reaching out to African-American women:
Many of the minority women I have talked to in my efforts to recruit them as NOW members perceive the women’s movement as dominated by white middle class women who are advocating the breakup of the family. The enemies of the women’s movement plant these ideas and use them as a means of keeping all women from uniting around common issues. Many Black women feel they have enough problems maintaining good relationships with Black men without adding the issue of women’s equality into their home life. One minority woman who came to the convening meeting of Germantown NOW said that what she was learning about sexism was making her angry, and that she did not want to have to deal with it. She has never returned.29

Morris believed that African-American women and men heard only the misinformation spread by the anti-ERA forces, and she was determined to bring the feminist message to Black women.

Although Morris was correct that some Black women had been misinformed about the ERA, there is evidence that Black women were significantly more receptive to feminism than were white women. Jocelyn Morris did not recall any discussion with Philadelphia NOW about Germantown NOW’s focus on racism and sexism, and said she was unaware of any concern. Morris noted that Germantown NOW was not reaching out to women in extreme poverty, as some Philadelphia NOW members apparently thought:
Germantown at that time was middle class or lower middle class, not impoverished. Not every Black person was on food stamps. I was never on food stamps; most of the people I recruited for NOW were not on food stamps or being battered. We had middle-class families, and that’s who we recruited. It’s not like 80% of us were impoverished.28

Morris saw her focus on women of color as directly advancing the cause of the ERA, arguing that outreach to minority women was critical to its passage. She noted that although most minority women had experienced racism, few were aware of how the “double jeopardy” of racism and sexism combined to limit their opportunities. In an article in the Pennsylvania NOW Times, Morris described her efforts reaching out to African-American women:orris believed that African-American women and men heard only the misinformation spread by the anti-ERA forces, and she was determined to bring the feminist message to Black women.

Although Morris was correct that some Black women had been misinformed about the ERA, there is evidence that Black women were significantly more receptive to feminism than were white women. A series of polls conducted by the Lewis Harris agency, which measured women’s attitudes on political and social issues for the years 1970, 1972, 1974, and 1980, consistently reported that Black women sympathized with the feminist movement at a higher percentage than white women.30 Also, polling data indicated that Black women consistently supported the ERA in greater numbers than white women. Political scientist Ethel Klein reported that 27 percent of white women and 40 percent of Black women expressed serious disappointment with the failure of the ERA. However, the greater support for the ERA among Black women did not lead to Black women’s increased participation in feminist organizations. According to Klein, “most Black feminists [in the 1980s] were working outside of mainstream feminist organizations to create space for discussing the problems of Black women.31

In attempting to recruit more Black women for NOW, Morris was fighting an uphill battle. She was apparently concerned about the impact of starting a new chapter in Philadelphia, which might be perceived as a rival to the existing local chapter. She reached out to Pennsylvania NOW leaders for advice on starting Germantown NOW. In a letter to Morris, Pennsylvania NOW president Dixie White refers to her chapter’s statement providing the rationale for a new chapter in downtown Allentown. “Why another NOW chapter in the area? In all areas with multiple chapters, it has been clearly demonstrated that each chapter increases the level of activism in that area. Each additional chapter appeals to a slightly different segment of the overall feminist population.” White emphasized that the new Allentown chapter would focus on issues of particular concern to her community: “elimination of racism, discrimination against the lesbian and gay population, and budget concerns that have a greater impact on economically disadvantaged segments of the population.”

White further argued that multiple chapters provide more opportunities for leadership and that “variations in chapter ‘image’ also make the point that we are everywhere, and that we come in all shapes, sizes, colors, styles, but have the same overall goals.” She saw the new Allentown chapter as a vehicle for “debunking the media mythology that feminism is primarily for upper-middle-class white professional women.” She noted the diversity of the Allentown chapter, which was advancing what we now call intersectional feminism. White considered the ideal maximum size for a chapter to be 25–50 and stated: “If a chapter gets larger, the level of activism does not increase, but tapers off because it is more difficult to be in constant contact with the entire membership, and decision-making tends to become concentrated in a small group of people.” Emphasizing the importance of personal contact, White believed chapters wasted too much time and energy on newsletters, and was proud of the fact that Allentown NOW’s members were able to stay in regular contact with each other by telephone. She stated that her chapter chose “to grow very slowly, so we get to know each other well.” Considerable effort was put into strengthening personal bonds and meetings were regularly combined with potluck suppers.32

The philosophy of the Allentown chapter was very much in tune with many Women’s Liberation collectives, which placed a high premium on personal connections and decision-making by consensus. As Myra Marx Ferree and Beth Hess have noted, in the late 1970s NOW was “pulled towards less hierarchical and more participatory styles by incoming streams of grassroots members.”33 A consensus has emerged among historians of the feminist movement that the two arris agency, which measured women’s attitudes on political and social issues for the years 1970, 1972, 1974, and 1980, consistently reported that Black women sympathized with the feminist movement at a higher percentage than white women.30 Also, polling data indicated that Black women consistently supported the ERA in greater numbers than white women. Political scientist Ethel Klein reported that 27 percent of white women and 40 percent of Black women expressed serious disappointment with the failure of the ERA. However, the greater support for the ERA among Black women did not lead to Black women’s increased participation in feminist organizations. According to Klein, “most Black feminists [in the 1980s] were working outside of mainstream feminist organizations to create space for discussing the problems of Black women.31

In attempting to recruit more Black women for NOW, Morris was fighting an uphill battle. She was apparently concerned about the impact of starting a new chapter in Philadelphia, which might be perceived as a rival to the existing local chapter. She reached out to Pennsylvania NOW leaders for advice on starting Germantown NOW. In a letter to Morris, Pennsylvania NOW president Dixie White refers to her chapter’s statement providing the rationale for a new chapter in downtown Allentown. “Why another NOW chapter in the area? In all areas with multiple chapters, it has been clearly demonstrated that each chapter increases the level of activism in that area. Each additional chapter appeals to a slightly different segment of the overall feminist population.” White emphasized that the new Allentown chapter would focus on issues of particular concern to her community: “elimination of racism, discrimination against the lesbian and gay population, and budget concerns that have a greater impact on economically disadvantaged segments of the population.”

White further argued that multiple chapters provide more opportunities for leadership and that “variations in chapter ‘image’ also make the point that we are everywhere, and that we come in all shapes, sizes, colors, styles, but have the same overall goals.” She saw the new Allentown chapter as a vehicle for “debunking the media mythology that feminism is primarily for upper-middle-class white professional women.” She noted the diversity of the Allentown chapter, which was advancing what we now call intersectional feminism. White considered the ideal maximum size for a chapter to be 25–50 and stated: “If a chapter gets larger, the level of activism does not increase, but tapers off because it is more difficult to be in constant contact with the entire membership, and decision-making tends to become concentrated in a small group of people.” Emphasizing the importance of personal contact, White believed chapters wasted too much time and energy on newsletters and was proud of the fact that Allentown NOW’s members were able to stay in regular contact with each other by telephone. She stated that her chapter chose “to grow very slowly, so we get to know each other well.” Considerable effort was put into strengthening personal bonds and meetings were regularly combined with potluck suppers.32

The philosophy of the Allentown chapter was very much in tune with many Women’s Liberation collectives, which placed a high premium on personal connections and decision-making by consensus. As Myra Marx Ferree and Beth Hess have noted, in the late 1970s NOW was “pulled towards less hierarchical and more participatory styles by incoming streams of grassroots members.”33 A consensus has emerged among historians of the feminist movement that the two strands of the feminist movement—the liberal reform movement with its bureaucratic structure and the radical Women’s Liberation movement with its collectivist structure—for all practical purposes merged in the late 1970s and early 1980s.34 The Allentown chapter represented just such a fusion of these strands. It retained the hierarchical model of a NOW chapter with an elected leadership, but emphasis was on equal participation of all members within a unit small enough to accommodate this approach. The ease with which members could form new (often very small) chapters allowed those who subscribed to a model of feminist organizing different from that of their local chapter to simply form their own group.

Jocelyn Morris wanted to create a chapter, which like Allentown NOW would place greater emphasis on reaching out to women of color, but she was clearly not interested in a very small chapter relying primarily on close relationships among members. She wanted to increase membership and build a strong organization that would be a powerful player in the community. Furthermore, she was not interested in forming a separate Black women’s organization. She chose to get involved with NOW because she saw NOW “as the primary organization that speaks on women’s issues. That’s why I got involved and stay involved over 30 years later. My goal was to ensure there would be a Black woman’s voice and influence within NOW.”

Morris wrote to all those who attended the Pennsylvania NOW 1980 Conference on Racism and Sexism, inviting them to join Germantown NOW or, if they were already members of a chapter, to work with Germantown NOW on the interconnections between sexism and racism and outreach to women of color.35 The application to establish Germantown NOW was filed on July 18, 1980; among the founding members were former Philadelphia NOW president Betsy Parziale and noted African-American attorney Sadie Alexander.36 Interestingly, not all the members of Germantown NOW lived in Germantown, and some NOW members living in Germantown belonged to the Center City or the breakaway East Philadelphia chapter. Some of the support for Germantown NOW may have been related to old feuds with Philadelphia NOW as well as support for Germantown NOW’s focus on racism and outreach to women of color.

Jocelyn Morris cast a wide net in recruiting for Germantown NOW’s first public meeting and sent letters to many prominent women, including several women on Philadelphia City Council and on the staff of local political leaders, inviting them to attend the first meeting of the new chapter.37 The flyer for the event proclaimed: “The Elimination of Racism is a Feminist Issue!”38 According to the Germantown Courier, about 35 women attended the first meeting of Germantown NOW; among the speakers were then Pennsylvania NOW president Bridget M. Whitley and African-American educator Earline Sloan. Sloan urged the group: “Don’t get caught up in, ‘my oppression is greater than your oppression’ … . Black women shouldn’t have to feel they have to choose between being a feminist and being Black.”39

Despite Morris’s efforts, the only newspapers that covered Germantown NOW were the neighborhood paper and the major African-American paper, the Philadelphia Tribune. In a lengthy article in the Tribune profiling Morris, the reporter apparently felt she had to reassure her readers that “It’s not true that the feminist movement is a single-purpose group of lesbians and anti-male advocates” and quoted Morris that NOW was “in fact a social change organization with broad concerns” relevant to Black women.

Morris described the tensions in her personal life as she tried to juggle the roles of wife, mother, and working woman: “I soon learned that others felt the same way. A large percentage of divorces and separations among Black couples are due to sexism and the inability of women to combine the dual roles.” She stated that NOW never actively recruited Black women or placed them in policy-making positions, that there were few minorities in any level of the organization and that “what we are now doing is grooming Black women for leadership.”40 Some NOW leaders would no doubt dispute Morris’s contention that they had never “actively recruited” Black women, but their relatively low numbers within the organization and in leadership roles was beyond dispute.

Morris was frustrated by national NOW’s inability to produce the kinds of recruitment materials she needed. In November 1980, she wrote to the National NOW Action Center charging that the “lack of available materials needed to recruit minority women is detrimental to the goal of Germantown NOW, which is to do specific outreach to minority women.” She stated that since July 1980 she had been trying, without any success, to obtain the brochures “Minority Women and Feminism” and “Minority Women and the ERA,” and noted that “at a time when we have less than 600 days until we get three more states to ratify the ERA it is imperative that national effort be made to recruit minority women and educate them about the ERA.”41 The tone of her letter suggested real frustration and anger at what she perceived as national NOW’s lack of support for her efforts.

Morris worked tirelessly to build Germantown NOW. Beginning in February 1981 the chapter held two meetings per month at the Germantown YWCA and organized a series of forums, including “Black Women and the ERA” and “Political Power and how to go about getting it.” Morris managed to get some high-profile speakers for the forums, which ensured coverage in the Germantown Courier. Diane Kiddy, executive director of the Mayor’s Commission for Women, was the main speaker at the forum on “Political Power.” Kiddy urged the attendees to learn the rules of politics, get involved in political campaigns, donate money to political candidates of their choice, and back women candidates.42 Morris was making every effort to connect her focus on racism and outreach to minority women with NOW’s key priorities, the ERA and participation in the political process.

In addition, Morris, like the 1970s Philadelphia NOW leaders, was ever-vigilant about sexist practices in the media. In her capacity as president of Germantown NOW, she wrote to Alan Nesbitt, news assignment editor of WPVI TV, to complain about coverage of the swearing-in ceremony of the members of the Philadelphia Commission for Women: “I was infuriated and disappointed that the news assignment editor did not consider the swearing-in ceremony of 36 prominent women leaders in our community important enough to be given more than 10 seconds coverage!”43 From Nesbitt’s reply: “The fact that we covered the story, and gave it more than ten seconds, shows that we are sensitive to important events involving women.”44 His response was less conciliatory than responses to Philadelphia NOW’s complaints about media coverage in the mid-1970s.

Like Pittsburgh’s Brenda Frazier, Jocelyn Morris did not hesitate to take on African-American leaders for sexist practices. Leaders who came out of the civil rights movement, particularly those who became involved in electoral politics, were usually on record as in favor of gender equality. Unlike some leaders involved in Black Nationalist organizations, civil rights leaders and members of the Black establishment were unlikely to totally dismiss feminist concerns. Morris wrote to Walter Livingston, chair of the board of the Philadelphia Tribune, to protest the lack of women panelists at the Tribune’s December 1980 seminar on Black on Black Crime. She stated, “As president of the Germantown chapter of the National Organization for Women I suggest that all of your seminars feature top women Black leaders on your panel … . It is time the Black community stop treating women as second-class citizens.”45 Morris also wrote to Robert W. Sorrell, president of the Urban League, to protest the choice of Senator John Heinz as keynote for the organization’s 1981 annual dinner. While acknowledging that Heinz had “a good voting record on minority issues,” Morris noted that he was the co-sponsor of a constitutional amendment known as the Human Life Amendment, which would outlaw abortion and most forms of contraception.46

Morris put considerable time and energy into organizing petition drives against the amendment and writing letters to the editor to educate the public on its consequences. Somehow Morris managed to combine her commitment to NOW with her family responsibilities, her pursuit of an advanced degree, and her full-time job as an employment counselor. Given this grueling workload, it comes as no surprise to see Jocelyn Morris’s resignation letter sent to active members of Germantown NOW informing them that effective from May 31, 1981, she was resigning as president of Germantown NOW. Morris stated the reasons for her decision:
I feel in the best interest of fostering shared responsibility of running the chapter by all members, not just the minority officers, I must resign. I also feel my family and school responsibilities dictate that I can no long carry the amount of responsibility that the Presidency of the chapter entails.47

Morris was clearly frustrated that other members of the chapter did not share her commitment and work ethic. When she received no response to her resignation letter, she sent a second letter, expressing her frustration more directly and informing chapter members that she could no longer “carry the burden of running the chapter by [her]self”:
We have a lot of work, and no one willing to take responsibility for any of it. Besides having a full-time job, I am currently working on my B.A. degree in Human Services at Antioch University. I have two small children and a husband who is not always supportive of my activities in NOW and the women’s movement. I will continue as chapter president until the October 1981 elections only if you will come out to meetings and lend your support.48

This is a familiar story: a chapter leader throws herself heart and soul into the work of the organization; she becomes totally exhausted, and seeing that she is doing most of the work with relatively little support, decides she can no longer continue. There is very much a gender dimension to volunteer burnout. When activist commitments take time away from family responsibilities, women often suffer greater guilt than do their male counterparts—a burden of guilt which itself contributes to the overwhelming sense of exhaustion.

In an August 1981 interview with The Philadelphia Tribune, Morris acknowledged that recruiting Black women into the interracial Germantown NOW chapter “has not been easy. Black women are not exactly breaking down doors to join organizations such as NOW.” She noted that even the Germantown chapter, founded to combat racism and reach out to women of color, was a majority white chapter; of the 52 members of Germantown NOW, 20 were Black. However, Morris told the Tribune she hoped this would soon change, as “NOW has recognized the need for Black women to be involved if it is to speak authoritatively about the needs and concerns of all women” and has recently incorporated affirmative action guidelines into its bylaws.49

Thanks to its organizational structure, NOW had a decided advantage over the loosely organized Women’s Liberation collectives, which had no mechanism for mandating inclusion of women of color. However, as national NOW leaders would soon realize, affirmative action guidelines were necessary but far from sufficient for NOW to significantly increase the participation of women of color. National NOW did not mandate that its local affiliates revise their bylaws to include affirmative action, no doubt realizing how difficult it would be to ensure compliance. Consequently, after Morris left the Philadelphia area, the racial composition of Germantown NOW began to change. The new president, Betsy Parziale, was a white woman and the racial composition of the executive board of Germantown NOW also shifted. When Jocelyn Morris was president, the vice president was an African-American woman, Nancie Dent. All four of the officers were now white women. No doubt in an effort to create a more diverse board, in January 1982 the board was expanded to included two new state board delegates and two alternate delegates. Two of the delegates were African-American.50

The focus of Germantown NOW shifted to passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. This shift in priorities was not surprising, as NOW at every level of the organization poured all its resources into the final push for passage of the ERA. The leaders of Germantown NOW, although focused primarily on passage of the ERA, did not want to abandon their focus on combating racism, and at the January general membership meeting selected the following priorities for 1982: 1) ERA Ratification; 2) Reproductive Freedom; 3) Eliminating Racism; 4) Lesbian Rights; 5) Economic Justice.51 Germantown NOW also held a Black History Month event, “A celebration of Black Women in Pennsylvania History” presented by African-American educator Shirley Parham.52 Although much less focused on combating racism than during Jocelyn Morris’ presidency, Germantown NOW still retained its identity as an interracial chapter with a greater emphasis on racial equality than was the case with Philadelphia NOW.

As with Philadelphia NOW, Germantown NOW’s priorities reflected the national organization’s increased emphasis on participation in electoral politics. The reservations of some NOW members regarding electoral politics were largely swept away as a consequence of the ERA campaign, which had demonstrated the importance of feminists holding office. On April 29, 1982, Germantown NOW hosted a candidates’ forum for all candidates for state office residing in or near Northwest Philadelphia. Although both Pennsylvania NOW and Germantown NOW were on record as having eliminating racism as one of their top priorities, the Pennsylvania NOWPAC questionnaire distributed to the candidates did not raise the issue of racism. The lack of questions on racism was particularly surprising in the case of Pennsylvania NOW, given the resolutions passed by the 1981 Pennsylvania NOW Convention affirming that eliminating racism continued to be a top priority.53

How, then, does one explain the Pennsylvania NOWPAC 1982 questionnaire’s failure to include any questions on racism? Although National NOW and Pennsylvania NOW leaders declared their commitment to combating racism, Pennsylvania NOW activist Jo Ann Evans-Gardner stated that his was not the case with the grassroots membership: “Far too many can be heard to argue that to make racism a concern is divisive (or diluting) to feminism.”54 The commitment to eliminating racism apparently was not sufficiently internalized by the members, and the Pennsylvania NOWPAC questionnaire failed to include a question on racism.

One consequence of Germanton NOW’s 1982 prioritizing of the ERA over eliminating racism was a shift in press coverage of the chapter. Under Jocelyn Morris’s presidency, the Germantown Courier and the African-American-owned Philadelphia Tribune covered the events of Germantown NOW. In February 1982, apparently for the first time, an article about Germantown NOW appeared in the Chestnut Hill Local, the paper covering the most affluent neighborhood in Northwest Philadelphia. The Chestnut Hill Local reported that the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment was “tops on the priority list” of Germantown NOW.55 An accompanying article noted that Germantown NOW would hold “A Celebration of Black Women in Pennsylvania History” presented by Shirley Parham.56 The chapter’s focus on racism and outreach to women of color remained, but the emphasis had changed.

After the defeat of the ERA in June 1982, Germantown NOW focused on what could be achieved for women under the Pennsylvania ERA. At some point in 1983, Betsy Parziale could no longer continue as president—again, the all too familiar burnout story.In the early 1970s when chapter leaders expressed similar exhaustion there were many new recruits ready to move into leadership. The landscape was very different in 1983. Although NOW’s national leaders worked hard to create a new post-ERA agenda for NOW, many members who had put their lives on hold to work for the passage of the ERA could no longer sustain the same level of commitment. The heady social movement phase of the feminist movement was ending and with it the exhilaration of participating in a world-changing (and life-changing) movement. When Betsy Parziale left Germantown NOW, there was no one to pick up the torch and the chapter dedicated to racial and gender justice fell apart. Although leaders like JoAnn Gardner were championing the cause of racial justice, there were not enough members who shared sharing this commitment to sustain the chapter. The dissolution of Germantown NOW also illustrates a downside of very small chapters: when the leaders burn out, the pool of potential successors is small; eventually, the chapter dissolves or winds down to one or two members keeping the memory alive.

However, breakaway chapters had their advantages, in keeping dissident members within the big tent of NOW and thus paying dues to the national organization. The breakaway Germantown chapter was formed in response to philosophical differences as to what counts as a feminist issue and whether the struggle for gender justice and racial justice were intertwined. In the 1980s, the leadership of National NOW and of Pennsylvania were trying to educate their members about racism but the membership of the Philadelphia chapter was not yet ready for this. Chapters had a great deal of autonomy and national NOW had no mechanism for forcing the conversation. The struggle to educate NOW members about racial justice continues into the 21st century.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Feminist Organizing Across the Generations. Part I: Building the feminist movement, Chapter 2, Managing conflict

Karen Decrow, past president of national NOW and pioneer of what we now call intersectional feminism

Managing conflict

The enormous energy NOW members put into achieving their many victories led to exhaustion and volunteer burnout spreading throughout the organization. In its weakened state NOW on all levels was more vulnerable to internal division. By the mid-1970s the social movements that arose in the 1960s were experiencing deepening internal conflicts. The New Left was imploding and many of the loosely organized Women’s Liberation collectives were seriously weakened and in some cases torn apart by internal strife. Unlike NOW, most of these collectives had no formal mechanism for dispute resolution. NOW had a formal grievance procedure; elected boards on the national, state, and local levels, which made decisions by majority vote; and a process for ousting current officers and electing new ones whose priorities were in tune with the majority. In short, NOW had mechanisms for conflict resolution, which enabled it to survive the battles of the mid-1970s, bruised and battered but still standing.

Conflicts in national NOW were becoming increasingly bitter and, as a consequence of hosting the 1975 national conference, Philadelphia NOW was drawn into the disputes tearing apart national NOW. In the early 1970s, Philadelphia NOW newsletters focused on local projects and did not report on the dissension at the national level. The first account of problems in national NOW was then Philadelphia NOW president Karen Knudsen’s 1974 report: “The Convention in Houston taught us that ‘feminist politics’ aren’t much different than any other politics. They are intense, heated, stimulating, and sometimes unfair and cruel…. [often] feminists appear to confuse personal and political conflict.”46 The difficulty of disentangling personal tensions and competing ambitions from genuine political differences is a recurrent theme in the history of NOW. Maryann Barasko in her study of the structure of NOW quotes an unpublished 1973 letter from NOW activist Jo-Ann Gardner describing a power struggle within national NOW over “the question of who should run NOW and how. Some of the issues are ideological … and some are about power—e.g. whose project shall have how much funding, who shall make critical decisions, etc.”47

Philadelphia NOW in the early 1970s seemed largely free of such conflicts, but this would change in the middle 1970s. In the January 1975 national NOW president Karen DeCrow and her allies broke from the rest of the national board and formed a group they called the Majority Caucus.48 The Pennsylvania NOW board voted to escrow the dues owed to national NOW and to join the Majority Caucus, pledging to pursue “radicalization, decentralization, returning control to the membership and integrity to the organization.”49 There was no explanation as to what Pennsylvania NOW meant by “radicalization,” and members must have been confused as what actual issues divided the two increasingly antagonistic factions of NOW.

The situation deteriorated to the point where the two sides faced each other in court. The Majority Caucus had initiated a lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of proposed bylaws amendments; the judge decided in favor of the Majority Caucus, and “the bylaws were enjoined from further progress.” Fortunately, NOW had a structure and an existing set of bylaws, which a court could interpret to resolve the dispute. After coming dangerously close to splitting into two separate organizations, the two factions managed to agree on procedures for the October 1975 NOW conference in Philadelphia.50

The Majority Caucus then adopted the slogan, “Out of the Mainstream, into the Revolution.” This was quite a departure from the Statement of Purpose adopted at the first NOW conference in 1966: “The purpose of NOW is to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society.”51 In sharp contrast, national NOW president Karen DeCrow stated in 1975:
Most feminists have concluded that it is time for our aspirations and our actions to go out of the mainstream and into the revolution. To emerge from trying to get a piece of the pie which is tasteless and unfulfilling at best—to changing the very fabric of life for women and men and children alike.52

Many NOW members in the mid-1970s saw themselves as at a turning point in the feminist movement. This was especially the case with Pennsylvania NOW and Philadelphia NOW, which were among the strongest supporters of the Majority Caucus.

Philadelphia NOW saw the Majority Caucus as the more inclusive feminist group, which would reach out to non-elite women. From Philadelphia NOW activist Lillian Ciarrochi’s description of the opposition to the Majority Caucus: “We nicknamed them the whole-wheat caucus because they were so namby-pamby … . And they were the ones who wore white gloves and pillbox hats and nylon stockings and we were the rabble-rousers.” The opposition to the Majority Caucus formed a short-lived “network” called “Womensurge,” which according to Ciarrochi, “didn’t want to support abortion rights like we did: ‘Oh that offends people you know and we’re going to lose people.'" An article in Electric Circle, a Majority Caucus publication, expressed a similar perspective, noting that as the feminist movement achieves more public support, some NOW members have wanted “to abandon the abortion issue until the ERA is ratified … [and] push lesbians back into the closet and pretend the 1971 resolution supporting lesbian rights, doesn’t exist.”55

Although some Philadelphia NOW activists saw the split as at root a class divide exacerbated by lingering tension over abortion and lesbian rights, in its official publications the Majority Caucus did not present the divide in those terms. Despite the radical theme—“out of the mainstream into the revolution”—the booklet prepared by the Majority Caucus for the National NOW Conference was far from incendiary and stressed democratic process and procedures, pledging “to create an organization that will be responsive to and controlled by the membership … [and] adhere to principles that permit and demand open discussion, deliberation and fair play.56 Although the Majority Caucus conference booklet de-emphasized issues and focused on procedures, there clearly were serious ideological disagreements with the opposing faction about the direction of the organization. Beverly Jones, in an Electric Circle article, argues that the structural and procedural changes advocated by the Majority Caucus were essential to the realization of their radical vision:
A decentralized NOW will be more radical and aggressive … . With respect to racism, the poor, lesbianism, and classism as well as sexism, the national board and particularly its still-dominant conservative faction have played a timid, stand-pat game. Decentralizing NOW will free radical and aggressive state organizations … . It will liberate us to fight sexists instead of power-oriented sisters.57

In addition to demands for greater autonomy for state affiliates, the dominant theme emerging from Electric Circle was a longing for a feminist movement that would address broad social justice issues. Decades before Occupy Wall Street, Toni Carabillo framed the issue in terms of the 99 percent against the 1 percent. She argued for building coalitions “not only with all the dispossessed in our society—the women, minorities, the poor, the aged—but also with the disenchanted—those members of the middle class of our society who have in the past been manipulated into being angry with all those below them on the economic ladder, when their anger and hostility should be redirected up-ward to the top 1%.”58
The second issue of Electric Circle contained the platform of the Majority Caucus, and unlike their official conference booklet, the platform focused on revolutionary vision rather than democratic procedures:
The Majority Caucus affirms the necessity to include and support within the movement women who are doubly and triply oppressed because of the combined effect of sex discrimination and race, age, ethnic, religious, sexual preference, and economic discrimination. There should be no doubt regarding our conviction that creating jobs for all women who want them is as much a feminist issue as obtaining better jobs for those women who are already employed.58

The platform further committed NOW to “ensuring that its public image and all facets of NOW’s action program reflect the multi-racial, multi-cultural nature of feminism … utilizing NOW’s political clout, financial resources and membership energies to combat racism in America.”59 The Majority Caucus appears to have made a tactical decision: creating a convention booklet with moderate arguments designed to appeal to a broad cross-section of the membership and publishing the Electric Circle manifesto designed to inspire and energize those already committed
.
What Toni Carabillo, Karen DeCrow, Eleanor Smeal, and other members of the Majority Caucus saw as a broadening of the movement essential to its continued growth and success, their opposition saw as de-emphasizing gender discrimination and thus betraying the original mission of NOW. According to Jacqui Ceballos, who ran against DeCrow for the presidency of national NOW (but withdrew after the first ballot): “The Majority Caucus is taking the feminism out of the feminist movement and making it a political movement that will kill feminism in this country.”60 The election was close. On the second ballot Karen DeCrow faced one opponent, South Dakota’s Mary Lynn Myers. DeCrow won with 1,132 votes to Myers’ 1,034 votes.61 Each side saw victory as essential to the future of feminism and each claimed to be the majority. Mary Lynn Myers contended, “we represented at least one-half of the members here … . And we’re sure we represent the majority of the organization.”62 She did not, however, contest the election, which had been conducted by the American Arbitration Association.

Although what we now call intersectional feminism is often thought to be a movement of the 1990s, the concept was central to the Majority Caucus vision in 1975. In her keynote address Karen DeCrow declared: “This is not a woman’s movement; this is a people’s movement.” She made a public apology to lesbians and gays noting that “our failure has been in not seeing the unbreakable connection between sexual stereotyping and fear of gay people.” She also made an apology to women and men of color, pledging that NOW must use its resources to fight against racism in America, and affirming “this is not a white organization.”63 Although DeCrow’s message resonated with members of the Majority Caucus, whether NOW should move beyond women’s issues (strictly construed) and become a broad social justice organization remained controversial.

The divisions at the 1975 national conference provide an explanation for the very different perceptions of NOW in the 1970s; on the one hand, NOW was viewed as a white, middle-class liberal reform group; on the other hand, as an activist organization with a radical, counter-cultural edge. Someone who lived in Pierre, South Dakota and was a member of Mary Lynn Myers’ chapter would no doubt have the former impression; someone who lived in Syracuse, New York and was a member of Karen DeCrow’s chapter would in all likelihood have the latter impression. Karen de Crow’s determination to “move out of the mainstream and into the revolution” reflected the extent to which the Women’s Liberation movement and the social justice movements of the 1970s had influenced NOW.

In addition to differences about the scope of NOW’s concerns, divisions also existed over tactics. Despite its radical rhetoric and advocacy of more street demonstrations, the Majority Caucus also espoused tactics that were decidedly mainstream. Karen DeCrow and Eleanor Smeal were convinced that NOW must be directly involved in electoral politics; in her keynote speech DeCrow urged: “We should be the mayors, the governors; we should be President of the United States … . Instead of accepting those persons, we intend to be those persons.”65 Congresswoman Bella Abzug urged NOW members to run for political office and argued “the lobby is the outer room … . We have to be prepared to have our people in the outer and inner rooms of power.” Abzug, then a candidate for the US Senate, noted that although there were 19 women in the House of Representatives, “We have a stag Senate.”66 The opposition to the Majority Caucus was wary of involvement in electoral politics and in some cases adamantly opposed, fearing that endorsing candidates would tie NOW to the Democratic Party and alienate Republican feminists. However, the Majority Caucus call to enter the electoral arena resonated with many NOW members and permanently changed the organization, which formed a political action committee in 1977. Despite this shift in direction, how closely NOW should be allied with the Democratic Party remained a source of tension.

The bitterly fought 1975 election for the presidency of national NOW was both an exhausting and exhilarating experience for NOW activists and particularly so for Philadelphia NOW. Lillian Ciarrochi’s recollections of the 1975 conference convey the stress, the excitement, the passionate commitment to a new direction for NOW as well her fear of forces she thought were threatening the gains of the feminist movement: “We realized that we were infiltrated by the FBI, CIA; we even had people working for the FBI on our national board … . I can give you some names.” Ciarrochi’s fears of FBI infiltration were confirmed in 1977 when FBI files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act documented that the FBI used women informants between 1969 and 1973 to infiltrate feminist groups.

However, the FBI infiltration was no laughing matter. Historian Ruth Rosen, who documented the extent of FBI surveillance of the feminist movement, stated: “Still in my wildest flights of paranoia I never imagined the extent to which the FBI spied on feminists or how many people did the spying. We may never know the full extent of this infiltration, what damage it caused or how it affected the trajectory.” FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was obsessed with finding communists and convinced that the women’s movement was a communist front. According to Rosen, when FBI regional offices, unable to uncover any subversive activity, asked Hoover to end surveillance of the women’s movement, Hoover refused, stating “that members of the women’s movement should be viewed as part of the enemy.”68 The infiltration, and the belief that such infiltration was occurring, sowed discord in the feminist movement, fostering a tendency to suspect that ideological opponents were government agents or informers.

illian Ciarrochi saw threats to NOW coming from both government surveillance and left-wing organizations seeking to infiltrate NOW and disrupt planning meetings for the 1975 national conference. She recalled:
We started to notice at meetings that we were being infiltrated by members of the Socialist Workers Party. They would disrupt meetings and scream and yell. They all joined for ten dollars, which was the cheapest rate we had. They tried to make us dysfunctional, to shut down our meetings.
There was considerable fear of foul play at the conference and concern about security. Ciarrochi stated that the Majority Caucus thought it necessary to hire security twenty-four hours a day for DeCrow, Smeal, and several other leaders. As a result of members’ concerns about the credentialing process, NOW hired the American Arbitration Society to run the election for national NOW president.

For Ciarrochi and other Philadelphia NOW members, the 1975 conference was a transformative experience, one of the peak experiences of their lives, but it took a toll. There was considerable soul-searching about how feminists dealt with conflict in the aftermath of the conference. Toni Carabillo, in the post-conference issue of the national NOW newsletter, shared her thoughts on feminist ethics. She held feminists to high standards: “I know that to be genuinely feminist and committed to sisterhood, I cannot harbor or practice racism, ageism, or sexism, that sisterhood must encompass the old as well as the young, and that one can and must be sisterly to a feminist brother.” She advocated the values of participatory democracy, associated with the New Left and Women’s Liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, which largely disappeared when those movements imploded (in the case of the New Left) or lost some of their social movement fervor (in the case of the feminist movement). Carabillo pledged to “never sacrifice principles of participatory democracy to the false idol of organizational efficiency.”71

At a time when women were beginning to get jobs in feminist service and advocacy organizations or were building careers (e.g., in journalism, politics) as a result of their involvement in organized feminism, there were increasing possibilities for conflict of interest. Carabillo noted:
While my participation in a feminist action organization, particularly as a leader, may provide some financial rewards, I must be wary of becoming dependent on the organization and my position in it as a source of support or as a platform for professional advancement, knowing I may run the risk of confusing my personal needs or ambitions with the political necessities of our cause.72

Carabillo’s delineation of a “Feminist Ethic” is informed by her belief in women’s different values and different voice, which characterized much feminist thought in the 1970s and 1980s, a strand usually associated with Carol Gilligan among others.73 Carabillo argued that “cooperation and collaboration—not competition or authoritarianism—are the feminist approach.”74 It’s not clear to what extent NOW’s membership as a whole was grappling with the issues Carabillo addressed, but it is clear that members were learning, as Karen Knudsen did in the aftermath of the 1974 national conference: “feminist politics aren’t much different than any other politics. They are intense, heated, stimulating, and sometimes unfair and cruel.”75

The perceived threat of the Socialist Workers Party

Although national NOW eventually emerged from the 1975 conference stronger despite the battle scars, this was not the case with Philadelphia NOW. In 1977, a combination of exhaustion, volunteer burnout, and personal and political tensions threatened the existence of the Philadelphia chapter. Finally, the entrance of members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) into the chapter was a source of tension, and according to some veteran members, the primary cause of the near-dissolution of the chapter in 1977.

Socialist Workers Party members were not the only new members with an anti-capitalist analysis who joined NOW in the mid-1970s. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, critiques of capitalism were absent from NOW publications—the focus was very much on integrating women into existing socio-economic structures. The entrance of new members in the mid and late 1970s, many of whom were abandoning the then disintegrating New Left, led to an increasing number of NOW members questioning the US economic system. In Electric Circle, a series of articles called for redistributive measures such as a full-employment policy and massive public works programs concentrated in human services. The series began with a call to action: “If poverty is to be eliminated, the economic class structure must be eliminated.”77

The big tent of NOW could accommodate the perspectives of left feminists who questioned the compatibility of feminism and capitalism. What it would not accommodate was the attempt of a highly disciplined left-wing organization like the Socialist Workers Party to take over NOW. In the mid-to-late 1970s, the Socialist Workers Party attempted to infiltrate NOW on the national and local levels. Political scientist Jo Freeman documents that the SWP and its youth movement, the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA), had deliberately targeted the feminist movement as early as the late 1960s. Freeman quotes a 1970 YSA publication, which concludes: “the movement for women’s liberation represents an historic opportunity for the revolutionary socialist movement …The openness of the women involved in the movement, and the anti-capitalist thrust of the movement as a whole, offer excellent opportunities to the YSA to win the best of these women to revolutionary socialism and to the YSA.”79 The YSA may have over-estimated the anti-capitalist thrust of the feminist movement, but it was certainly correct about its openness.

NOW leaders feared that the openness of which they were justly proud would provide an opportunity for SWP infiltration, and they issued repeated warnings to members. An article in the October 1978 California NOW Times, “SWP in NOW: The Persistent Parasites,” alerts NOW members to an “insidious invasion into our organization,” and warns that the Socialist Workers Party will be attending the 1978 NOW National Conference in Washington “in full force with their usual hidden agendas, and a bag full of gratuitous resolutions—fashioned in SWP meetings, by SWP leaders—to accomplish SWP purposes, not NOW’s.” The California NOW Times asserted: “Most activists in NOW are feminists first and foremost and only incidentally Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, or whatever. This is not true of members of SWP when they join other organizations. Their primary allegiance remains to SWP.” Interestingly, the 1978 California NOW Times article refers to the 1966 NOW “Statement of Purpose” “to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society,” rather than the radical 1975 statement, “out of the mainstream, into the revolution.”80 The 1975 slogan gradually disappeared from the literature of national NOW. NOW’s focus was increasingly on passage of the ERA; the 1975 slogan would not have helped build broad-based support necessary for its passage.

California NOW’s prediction of a significant Socialist Workers Party presence at the 1978 National NOW Conference proved to be accurate. NOW members were aware of the dangers of over-reacting to the SWP and compromising their democratic beliefs in an attempt to squelch the perceived SWP threat. Yet they could not simply ignore SWP attempts to take over NOW chapters. They noted that when large numbers of SWP members joined a NOW chapter, that chapter tended to become embroiled in internal conflict and as a consequence declined in numbers and activity—a pattern that had been reported in all regions of NOW. The members at the 1978 conference passed the following resolution in an attempt to balance democratic values with the need to protect the integrity and independence of the organization: “WHEREAS, the National Organization for Women (NOW) has always been an independent feminist organization … THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that no political party be allowed to use NOW or any subunit of NOW as a vehicle to further its political goals.81

The tension between SWP and NOW chapters played out differently in different parts of the country. In Philadelphia, the situation was complicated by personal tensions and volunteer burnout. According to founding member Judy Foley: “Near disintegration of the ten-year-old chapter in December 1977 was a sobering reminder of the fragility of a purely volunteer organization.” She noted that membership had fallen and attendance at regular monthly meetings was minimal. SWP members who had been a vocal minority in the organization saw an opportunity to take over Philadelphia NOW. However, according to Foley, long-time NOW members mobilized to save the chapter.82 The response of founding members to the threatened demise of the chapter was a testament to their deep loyalty to the organization. However, in the Philadelphia case it is impossible to disentangle tension created by SWP influence from conflicts of a more personal nature.

The problems came to a head in the fall of 1977, leading to a split in the chapter leadership. There were several newspaper reports on the split, which is evidence that NOW was considered an organization with significant influence. (It is inconceivable that disagreements within a local NOW chapter would get press coverage today.) Marci Shatzman in the Philadelphia Bulletin reported that Philadelphia NOW was in disarray due to the resignations of eight of its nine officers and the closing of its office. Shatzman quotes resigning officer Kay Whitlock, who claimed that the root of the problem was the increasing SWP presence at chapter meetings: “At almost every meeting there were hideously long debates over mass action.”83 Shatzman reported that the one officer who did not resign, SWP member Clare Fraenzl, denied that the SWP presence was the cause of the split and said she would ask those who resigned to reconsider their decision. The eight were not interested in returning and applied to national NOW for a charter to form a new chapter in Philadelphia.

NOW president Eleanor Smeal approved the appointment of an interim steering committee chaired by Karen Knudsen to govern Philadelphia NOW until elections for new officers could be held.Knudsen thought that splitting into two chapters would only exacerbate the chapter’s financial difficulties, and she invited the former chapter officers to return: “Whatever the reason for their disaffection, we urge them to put the unity of the movement ahead of petty disagreements … . We will welcome back those who made a hasty and ill-considered decision to resign.”84 The tone of Knudsen’s overture with its reference to the resignations as a “hasty and ill-considered decision” suggests the statement was intended more as a reproach than as an olive branch. Knudsen charged that the chapter had outstanding bills and that the financial records were not in good order. Also, she reported that the newsletter had not been mailed regularly, phone calls went unanswered, mail was not picked up, and member participation was at an all-time low.

Press reports detailing the ensuing charges and countercharges continued to frame the split as a dispute over the SWP role in Philadelphia NOW. The local press for the most part tried hard to be even-handed, with the Philadelphia Bulletin printing a letter from each side under the heading: “Despite tensions, NOW is alive and well!”85 Longtime NOW member Judy Foley faulted the press for what she considered an exaggerated emphasis on the SWP. In her article “Sexism and the System: 19 Nonsensical Days in December,” Foley contended that only Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Sue Chastain told the full story by stating that the resignations followed months of conflict, that the former president acknowledged being overworked, that membership was shrinking, and that there were only seven SWP members among the 200 members of Philadelphia NOW. Foley saw the real story as: “feminists who try to maintain a big organization, homes, jobs and sanity eventually get tired.”86 In an interview thirty years later, Judy Foley’s analysis was unchanged. She recalled the emphasis on an SWP takeover as overblown and not the root cause of the problem, which she identified as volunteer burnout.87

Whatever the reasons for the near-dissolution of Philadelphia NOW, the founding members rallied to save their chapter. Newly elected secretary Irene Osborne reported that the December 19 meeting to elect new officers drew about a hundred people, many of them former members returning. According to Osborne, “The atmosphere was one of quiet celebration, of homecoming, of old friends glad to be back.”88 The election of new officers received a generally positive spin in the local press. From Marci Shatzman’s report in the Philadelphia Bulletin: “There was a collective ‘high’ at the meeting which produced a reunion of the faithful …Most of the women who brought feminism to Philadelphia a decade ago were there.”89

National president Eleanor Smeal attended the meeting and noted that chapters in large cities often experienced difficulties due to an influx of new members.89 The support Smeal provided to the chapter illustrates the advantage of being a part of a national organization. If a chapter becomes non-functional for a period of time, the organization continues to exist on the national level; thus it is relatively easy to revive the local affiliate. When small, unaffiliated organizations cease functioning they are far less likely to rebound. This was the case with many of the Women’s Liberation collectives, which consisted largely of unaffiliated groups, without any national organization that could mediate disputes.

Although the Socialist Workers Party had faded from the scene in Philadelphia NOW after the 1977 chapter election, it continued to be a source of concern on the national level. NOW publications focused on the disruptive tactics of the SWP but not on the ideological challenges. From its earliest days NOW had claimed that feminists of all political persuasions could find a home in NOW and that the movement for gender equality transcended political ideology. Socialist feminists who entered NOW in the mid-1970s challenged the idea that feminist beliefs trumped all political ideology. Claire Fraenzl in a letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer stated: “Many feminists, in their experiences in fighting for the rights of women, come to see the capitalist system as the source of their oppression and become convinced of the need for fundamental change in all social relations.”92 Fraenzl presented no evidence supporting her claim that a “significant” number of women in NOW shared this view. The literature suggests that her views were a minority opinion within NOW, but there were certainly NOW members and members of the broad feminist movement who questioned whether gender equality could be achieved under capitalism.

Some NOW members would argue that feminist goals were not incompatible with all forms of capitalism, but that the US model of low tax, largely unregulated capitalism could not provide the supports needed by working women and their families. They looked to the hybrid economies of the social democratic countries of Northwestern Europe for policies that would advance gender equality. However, direct arguments in favor of social democracy (or socialism) were rarely made in official NOW publications and were probably viewed as unhelpful in the struggle to build support for the ERA. With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the backlash against the utopian visions of the 1960s and early 1970s was in full force and the left-wing groups of those decades disappeared or were greatly diminished in numbers. The political center of gravity had shifted dramatically to the right and there was no longer any reason to fear disruption from the SWP.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Feminist Organizing Across the Generations. Part I: Building the feminist movement, Chapter 2, Victories in education and employment opportunities

Penelope Brace, the first woman detective in the Philadelphia police department.

Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act, for which NOW had aggressively lobbied, had placed a powerful tool in feminist hands. Any educational program receiving federal financial assistance could not discriminate with regard to sex; athletics programs quickly became a major focus of feminist efforts to provide equal educational opportunities for girls. Also, Billy Jean King’s trouncing Bobby Riggs certainly provided inspiration and much-needed publicity for women’s sports. NOW was not fighting for “separate but equal” athletics programs but rather for integrated gym and extracurricular sports activity. In a lengthy article in the Pennsylvania NOW Times Beverly Jones explained the rationale for NOW’s position on integrated sports activity:
One, we are interested in equality of opportunity not just to participate but to excel. And history has shown that when those who are under-privileged and discriminated against are shunted off into separate programs, the opportunity for any of their number to excel in the total community is ephemeral indeed.16

Jones contended that there was no evidence that in a fair, integrated athletic program girls and women would be unable to hold their own. In 1974 most people (including some feminists) were not ready for Jones’ vision. From the perspective of the 21st century, with women soldiers courageously serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jones’ ideas seem far less radical.

On March 19, 1975, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled 5 to 1 that the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) rule prohibiting girls from competing against boys in interscholastic athletics was unconstitutional. The majority decision, written by Judge Genevieve Blatt, rejected PIAA’s contention that, as a whole, girls are weaker and more injury-prone. NOW members were well aware that progress was not just a matter of changing laws. NOW itself was founded because of frustration with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s unwillingness to enforce existing laws against sex discrimination. In her analysis of PIAA’s decision to comply with the Commonwealth Court ruling, Philadelphia NOW member Carol Kranick concluded with a warning that the struggle had just begun:
For those who feel that once you win the legal battle, the war is over, they need only to look at the abortion scene. We won the Supreme Court decision. But we are still in the battle of improving the climate so that decisions can be, in fact, the law of the land.

Kranick noted that in sports, as in the battle for abortion rights, feminists have eliminated the legal barriers: “The legal victory placed us in the position of being able to fight the next barrier and we are much closer, much sooner than any of us dreamed to the goal of total equality—at least in sport."21

NOW used a variety of tactics, lobbying, rallying, demonstrating,and when all else failed, resorting to legal action. Philadelphia NOW found it necessary to take legal action to win one of its major victories over the Philadelphia School Disrict—-the protracted struggle to integrate Central High School, the once male-only school for the academically talented. In 1974, Susan Lynn Vorchheimer, an honors student and winner of multiple awards, decided she wanted to attend Central High School because “it had a better reputation than Philadelphia High School for Girls, the other academic high school in the City.”23 Although her academic qualifications were undisputed, Vorchheimer’s application was rejected. Her parents sued the School District and the court ruled in Vorcheimer’s favor. The Philadelphia Board of Education successfully appealed the decision, and Vorchheimer returned to her neighborhood school. The appellate court claimed that gender had never been a suspect classification, requiring the level of scrutiny required for claims of racial discrimination. The suit eventually made its way to the US Supreme Court which in 1977 issued a four-to-four decision allowing the appellate court ruling to stand.

The situation was not resolved until 1983, when Common Pleas Court Judge William M. Marutani ordered the Philadelphia School District to admit six girls to Central High School. Marutani’s ruling stated that Central’s facilities were “materially superior” to those at Girls High, and that the “educational opportunities are materially unequal”; therefore, the district’s policy violated the 14th amendment to the Constitution and the Equal Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.27 The desegregation of Central High received national attention; the New York Times reported:
The girls who walked up the steps at about 8 A.M. today to break the tradition appeared self-contained and pleased. “I’m excited, but nervous,” said Karen Seif. Elizabeth Newberg, the young woman who a year ago persuaded two friends to join her in instituting the suit, proclaimed. “I’m here. I feel fine.” Miss Newberg said she planned to start a women’s organization at Central but would not exclude males.28

Despite continuing opposition from Central alumni, the School District bowed to the pressure of public opinion and did not pursue appeals. By the time of the final victory in 1983, NOW was one of many organizations supporting the end of gender segregation. The tide of public opinion had turned, with the local establishment generally in support of integrating Central High. A Philadelphia Inquirer editorial stated: “Thus it is understandable, but no longer defensible, that the two schools have continued to maintain single-sex enrollments despite changing laws and customs.”29 Very quickly the enrollment of girls at Central, once unthinkable to some alumni and local power brokers, became the new normal. Sometimes NOW’s victories were swift and decisive (e.g., the desegregation of Help Wanted ads), at other times long and protracted (e.g., the nine-year battle to integrate Central High), but the trajectory of NOW in the 1970s was victory after victory.

NOW has sometimes been characterized as a middle-class women’s organization primarily concerned with expanding opportunities for relatively privileged women and girls. However, a major priority for NOW in the middle 1970s was the struggle to desegregate what were for women “non-traditional jobs”—well-paid blue-collar jobs traditionally held by men. Given the dramatic changes in our society, it is easy to forget what a radical notion it was to demand that police and fire departments and construction sites be open to women. According to historian Nancy MacLean, when civil rights groups fought to open jobs to African-American women, they targeted white women’s jobs rather than the relatively well-paid jobs held by white men. Female union activists focused on improving conditions and pay in the jobs women already held. MacLean quotes one labor activist: “We never questioned it when they posted female and male jobs…we didn’t realize it was discrimination … .”30 It took the conceptual breakthrough of the feminist movement to build labor union support for opening up traditionally male jobs to women.

National NOW’s ground-breaking campaign against AT&T in the case of Lorena Weeks vs. Southern Bell Telephone established the principle that an employer could not automatically assume physically demanding jobs could be performed only by men, but must consider the qualifications of individual applicants without regard to sex. The beneficiaries of this decision were largely working-class women. In 1966, Lorena Weeks, who had worked as a telephone operator for Southern Bell, applied for a better paying job as a “switchman” and was told this job could be performed only by a man. Weeks sued in Federal Court, but the US District Court ruled against her because the job involved “strenuous activity” such as lifting 31-pound equipment, a violation of a Georgia regulation prohibiting women employees from lifting weights in excess of 30 pounds. When Weeks’ court-appointed lawyer refused to file an appeal, she contacted NOW, whose attorneys took the case. NOW attorney Sylvia Roberts, “a little smaller than the average woman casually lifted all of the equipment required for the job,” thus demolishing the “strenuous activity” argument.31

On March 4, 1969 the Fifth United States Circuit Court ruled that sex was not a bona fide qualification for the job; thus, Southern Bell was in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which barred sex discrimination in employment. From the decision as quoted in NOW Acts: “Men have always had the right to determine whether the incremental increase in remuneration for strenuous, dangerous, obnoxious or unromantic tasks is worth the candle. The promise of Title VII is that women are now on equal footing.” The Court told Southern Bell it must consider Weeks for the job, and sent the case back to the lower court for “determination and appropriate relief.” NOW Acts reported: “Appropriate relief” came March 4, 1971, when Weeks was appointed to a switchman’s job, but then subjected to harassment on the job: “A Supervisor in her area told workers to treat her “just like any nigger” and co-workers took to calling her “switch bitch.” Her union, Communication Workers of America, condemned the use of “nigger” but dismissed “switch bitch” as “humorous office camaraderie.” In response to this harassment, on March 29, 1971, NOW members staged a nation-wide demonstration in 15 cities; among the picket signs was “Switch Bitch is Beautiful.” As a consequence of the media attention, Southern Bell took measures to protect Weeks from harassment.32

The major effort in Philadelphia NOW’s campaign to open non-traditional jobs to women was its strong, sustained support for NOW member Penelope Brace’s battle against discrimination in the Philadelphia Police Department. Brace had been a police officer in the Juvenile Aid Division for nine years when she decided she wanted to become a detective—a more challenging, better-paid position. She was told she wasn’t qualified to take the exam because she was a woman. She filed suit against the department; three days later she was fired. According to NOW member Lillian Ciarrochi, “The reason given was that she had not logged her coffee breaks!”33 The City Civil Service Commission ordered Brace reinstated three months later but, as Ciarrochi reported: “The harassment was just beginning. She was ordered to take psychiatric examinations, assigned to the district farthest from her home and received anonymous threats that her house would be fire-bombed.”34

Ciarrochi described how NOW supported Brace and encouraged her to file a lawsuit. The United States Justice Department also filed a lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department and withheld $4 million of federal funds because of its treatment of Brace. The Philadelphia Police Department appeared not to realize that the world had changed, and in federal court it “admitted to discrimination because, they said, women are constitutionally, emotionally, and psychologically unable to do the job.”36

On March 7, 1976, the City of Philadelphia and the US Justice Department entered into agreement in the Penelope Brace case. Under the terms of that settlement, the Police Department would hire a hundred women for street patrol duty and conduct a two-year study of the women’s performance. When a hundred new female police officers entered the Police Academy in June 1976, the Police Department did everything imaginable to discourage the new recruits. According to a Philadelphia Daily News article written on the 20th anniversary of 1976 agreement:
The women were to chop their hair off into what was called a “butch” cut. They were given men’s uniforms and shoes, and were told to wear T-shirts under their dress shirts so no trace of a bra showed. Finally, they were assigned to the six police districts with the highest crime rates in the city. And when they arrived at those districts, they were sent out on patrol alone, without the benefit of a breaking-in period with an experienced officer that all of the male cops enjoyed.37

Ironically, despite placing women officers in dangerous conditions, Police Commissioner O’Neill claimed that his reason for opposing women on the force was concern for their safety. In a 1996 interview with the then retired O’Neill, he still claimed to be motivated by concern for the women officers’ well-being: “I’m still very much concerned about their personal safety. Every time I see them roaming around alone, I express concern.”38

In 1978, under an order from US District Judge Charles Weiner, Brace became the city’s first woman detective. However, real change would come only with a change in top command. As late as 1978 in response to a federal attorney’s question why women were not assigned to patrol duty, O’Neill replied:
Because God in his infinite wisdom made them different … . In general they are weaker than males. I believe they would be inclined to let their emotions overtake their good judgment. I don’t mean to embarrass the ladies but there are periods in their life when they are psychologically unbalanced because of physical problems occurring within them.39

It was not until O’Neill retired in 1980 and Morton Solomon took over as police commissioner that the six-year lawsuit between the federal government and the Philadelphia Police Department was finally settled. Women were given the opportunity to work throughout the department, and Commissioner Solomon ended the petty cruelty of forcing women to wear uniforms designed for male officers, ordering that uniforms designed specifically for the female body be made available to women officers. The agreement also called for the city to pay $700,000 in back pay to be divided among the victims of sexual discrimination and committed the department to a 30 percent hiring goal for female police officers. Given what Brace and other female police officers endured, the financial settlement was woefully inadequate, but Brace and other victims had reached the end of the legal road. Brace said she would do it all again: “Looking back … if I had to do it again, I would file the suit, but I would have done it sooner.”40

As a result of her lawsuit, An important principle had been established, but the Police Department was very far from gender parity. Slow but steady progress occurred throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. In a 1996 interview with the Philadelphia Daily News, Brace urged other women police officers to continue the struggle: “I’m sure there are many qualified women … . I would urge them to file suit. It takes a revolution. You can’t change the Joe O’Neill’s of this world so you have to take them to court. It’s an old boys’ network that has to be stopped.”42

The ugly treatment of women aspiring to non-traditional jobs was not confined to the Philadelphia Police Department, but occurred in police and fire departments around the country. In her account of the resistance encountered by New York City fire fighter Brenda Berkman, Nancy MacLean stated: “What Berkman and her colleagues encountered when they crossed those once-undisputed gender boundaries was not simply reasoned, judicious skepticism from people who doubted the capacity of the new-comers to do the job. Repeatedly what they met was elemental anger that they would even dare to try.”43

The progress made in the Police Department would not have been possible without courageous women like Penelope Brace and without a feminist support network, which encouraged Brace to file her suit and supported her struggle. Both Brace and her allies in NOW saw her case as part of a much larger battle against employment discrimination—one played out on national, state, and local levels. With its federated structure, NOW was well positioned to mobilize politically to pressure politicians and judges, whether appointed by politicians or elected by voters.

By 1975, the feminist movement in general and NOW in particular had much to be proud of: the Supreme Court decisions guaranteeing the right to abortion and ending gender segregation in classified ads; the landmark settlement with AT&T; and Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act, which expanded athletic opportunities for women, to cite a few of the most dramatic victories. Major social institutions were undergoing rapid changes, which only a few years earlier would have struck many citizens as unthinkable. NOW activists themselves were dazzled by the speed and extent of the changes the feminist movement had wrought. Very few women’s lives were untouched.

NOW members were poised for still greater victories and confident that they would achieve passage of the ERA by the end of the decade. But the strains of building a movement on volunteer energy alone were increasingly apparent.There were clearly too few people doing too much work. In the early 1970s, the president may have been suffering from exhaustion, but there was always a new energized leader ready to take her place. By the mid-1970s, at a time when Philadelphia could justly savor its victories, burnout and exhaustion were spreading throughout the organization.

Not only were there many more phone calls for the volunteer staff to respond to, new members brought new ideas about the direction and focus of NOW. Throughout 1975, the national organization was roiled by major disagreements about the direction of NOW, culminating in the bitterly fought election at the national NOW convention in Philadelphia in October 1975. The following year, deep divisions were to emerge in the Philadelphia chapter as well. In many ways the conflicts were the inevitable by-product of NOW’s success—its dramatic growth and increasing ideological diversity.