Sunday, December 19, 2021

Article about Feminist Organizing Across the Generations which appeared in the Chestnut Hill Local


Longtime Mt. Airy resident Karen Bojar, professor emerita of English and Women's Studies at the Community College of Philadelphia, where she founded the women's studies/gender studies program, has been thinking for 20 years about the issues explored in her new book, “Feminist Organizing Across the Generations.” The book, which traces the evolution of the feminist movement over almost six decades, was just released on Nov. 25 by Routledge, a leading academic publisher based in Oxford, England.

“This actually goes back to when I co-edited 'Teaching Feminist Activism,' in 2002,” said Bojar, who served as president of Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women from 2001 to 2009 and in that capacity dealt directly with the challenges of feminist organizing. “Also, during this period, I began collecting archival material from the founding members of Philadelphia NOW. I published that material in 2013 in time for a panel, 'Documenting Our History,' at the 2013 National NOW Convention.

“I knew my study was far from complete and I intended to return to the material and write a more comprehensive account, which would include a major strand of feminist history often left untold -- the enormous energy put into building feminist service organizations such as battered women’s shelters and rape crisis centers which were founded on a shoestring by committed feminists.”

Bojar, who has contributed articles to the Local in recent years, earned a Ph.D. in English literature from Temple University and an M.S. in education from the University of Pennsylvania. “In neither program did I have an opportunity to take courses in women’s studies,” she said last week. “The total absence of any courses on women and feminism meant that, like other women who first developed women’s studies programs, I was self-taught. I read just about everything available about feminism... Now there is so much literature written on feminism and gender issues that it would be impossible for anyone to review all the literature in the field, as I attempted to do in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”

A former longtime committee person in the 9th Ward Democratic Committee’s 2nd Division, Bojar is also the author of “Green Shoots of Democracy within the Philadelphia Democratic Party.” When asked about her background and previous books, Bojar said she would rather “avoid personal questions … and questions about previous books and keep the focus on 'Feminist Organizing Across the Generations.'

“The personal experience that I do think is relevant is my political evolution. The short form: I was a socialist in the late '60 and '70s; in the '80s I lost hope in the possibility of fundamental change and became a Democratic committeeperson and a feminist activist. The feminist movement was changing women's lives all over the world, and I wanted to be part of a rising movement. I was not particularly enthusiastic about working within the Democratic Party, but I didn’t see any hope for socialism.

“Then Bernie (Sanders) came along, and I began to hope again that real change was possible. I believe that socialist feminism is the only hope of improving the lives of all women, but it has become clear that it will take a long time.”

One significant finding in Bojar's research was that women of color were organizing around feminist issues but did not receive media attention, which was largely focused on white, middle-class feminists. “Also,” she said, “many women of color were organizing to improve women’s lives but not under an explicitly feminist banner.

“Many were involved in civil rights organizations and the movement for Black political empowerment. Others were involved in grassroots neighborhood organizations. Susan Hartmann in 'The Other Feminists: Activists in the Liberal Establishment,' documents the work of African American feminists who found that the ACLU, the NCC [National Council of Churches] and the Ford Foundation were more convenient or congenial places to pursue feminist aspirations than mainstream feminist groups.”

Interestingly, Bojar said her new hardback book is very expensive but did not want to mention the exact price “as both Amazon and Routledge adjust price to attract sales… On the plus side, an academic publisher like Routledge can ensure the book will be available in libraries and provide access to a global readership. Although I cannot ask my friends and colleagues to buy an absurdly overpriced book, I have asked those who have access to university libraries to order the book.”

Monday, November 15, 2021

Feminist Organizing Across the Generations

My new book Feminist Organizing Across the Generations, which traces the evolution of the feminist movement over six decades, will be released by Routledge on November 25. Unfortunately, it will first be published in a crazily expensive hardback version. Although I cannot ask my friends and colleagues to buy an absurdly over-priced book, I would appreciate those who have access to university libraries to order the book.

Feminist Organizing Across the Generations is very much informed by my perspective as a feminist activist. In turn, my choices as an activist have been influenced by my study of social movements--primarily the feminist and civil rights movements, both fueled by strong social movement organizations. A key theme of this book, emerging from both my research and my activism, is the critical importance of strong social movement organizations for achieving lasting social change.

The major social movements of the second half of the 20th century, the civil rights movement and the second-wave feminist movement, were fueled by structured, federated organizations comprised of empowered members with voting rights. I began this study with the assumption that 21st-century feminists, unlike second-wave feminists, were not committed organization builders; I discovered that assumption was incorrect. Although some young feminists are involved primarily in online activism and a relatively small number are members of NOW, many are building on the ground, multi-issue progressive organizations and bringing a gender justice perspective to these groups. Instead of explicitly feminist organizations focused on women’s rights, many young women are drawn to broad-based human rights groups in which gender justice is integrated into a more inclusive progressive agenda. They are becoming engaged in electoral politics and are increasingly drawn to socialist politics rather than to the liberal reform agenda associated with feminist groups such as NOW.

As I delved more deeply into the history of the feminist movement, I was struck by how many second-wave feminists were extraordinarily skilled at organization building. Part I, describes a generation of women who had worked as volunteers, building community organizations, labor unions, and political parties who were re-directing their considerable talents toward building organizations combatting the discrimination they experienced as women. They were also creating organizations to provide services to victims of gender-based violence and feminist health centers for women ill served by male-dominated medical institutions. Within a relatively short period of time, second-wave feminists built an extraordinary range of organizations, which transformed the political, economic, and cultural landscape.

Although I have centered my history of second-wave feminism in Philadelphia, the same trajectory was taking place all over the United States: the political movement to end gender discrimination, closely followed by the creation of feminist service organizations. In most cities and towns, the local NOW chapter was the major driver of institutional change. In Part I, my analysis of Philadelphia NOW is placed in the context of its network of relationships with other organizations, both national and local. This is far from the complete story of the second-wave feminist movement in Philadelphia. In the 1970s, women of color were organizing to improve women’s lives, but generally not under an explicitly feminist banner. Many were involved in civil rights organizations and in the movement for Black political empowerment;others were involved in grassroots neighborhood organizations. Much of the work of community groups and of small Women’s Liberation collectives was not documented, or if documented, not deposited in archives accessible to me. My subject is feminist organizations, feminism with a paper trail and now an internet trail.

Part II focuses on a major strand of feminist history often left untold—-the enormous energy put into building feminist service organizations founded on a shoestring by committed feminists, organizations such as battered women’s shelters and rape crisis centers.
It is impossible in one book to document the range of service organizations nationwide; even with a focus on one location, the range of service organizations is beyond the scope of this study. Instead, I focus on the two kinds of organization most prevalent across the country—those providing services to victims of male violence (e.g., rape crisis centers and shelters for battered women) and those providing women’s healthcare services.

Although the advocacy groups and the service organizations were both outgrowths of the same movement, histories of the feminist movement have generally treated them separately, with historians and journalists documenting and analyzing the movement to end gender discrimination, and sociologists and social service professionals studying feminist service organizations. The feminist service organizations have received the least attention; to date there are only a handful of book-length studies. To my knowledge, there are no book-length studies that, like Feminist Organizing Across the Generations, examine both the political movement and the service organizations as closely related outgrowths of the same movement.

Many of the women who built feminist service organizations were influenced by the rejection of hierarchy and commitment to participatory democracy that characterized much of the late 1960s and early 1970s feminist movement—particularly that strand generally referred to as the Women’s Liberation movement. Just as it is difficult to completely disentangle the liberal reform strand of second-wave feminism from what was considered the more radical Women’s Liberation movement, it is difficult to clearly separate the political movement against sex discrimination from the movement to build feminist service organizations. There were activists who pursued both paths, and the broad support for the feminist movement encompassed both.

The service organizations often started small, sometimes evolving out of Women’s Liberation collectives; however, as government and foundation grants became increasingly available, some of these shoestring operations morphed into strong organizations with stable funding, becoming the locus of feminist activism in many communities. As NOW chapters waned in significance in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in many localities the service providers such as rape crisis centers, battered women’s shelters, and feminist health centers became the feminist movement.

By the late 1970s the multi-issue feminist movement had begun to fragment into separate movements: the anti-rape movement; the domestic violence movement; the abortion rights movement; the women’s health movement. The service organizations were certainly implicated in this tendency as they generally focused on one issue, although it’s not clear to what extent the service organizations were a cause or a consequence of the fragmentation. Suffice it to say, by the beginning of the 1980s we find fewer references to a unitary feminist movement.

As the movement grew in the 1970s, both activist groups such as NOW and feminist service providers increasingly grappled with racial differences among women—a particularly urgent issue for the rape crisis and battered women’s movement. The racial blind spots of many feminist service organizations led to the formation of service organizations specifically focused on the needs of women of color-–for example, the National Black Women’s Health Project and its network of local affiliates.

Part III shifts from the achievements and blindspots of second-wave feminism, which can be viewed from the perspective of some distance, to the much greater challenge of documenting and analyzing 21st century feminism, a landscape which is changing as I write. This study focuses on two periods in which feminist activism was unfolding within the context of a social movement—-20th century second-wave feminism and the 21st-century upsurge in social activism, much of which is led by young feminists. Although feminist organizing continued after the heyday of second-wave feminism, references to the “women’s movement” gradually disappeared. What continued were references to more focused, issue-specific movements—e.g., the abortion rights movement, the equa pay movement, and the anti-violence movement.

It wasn’t until the 2017 Women’s March that references to a unitary women’s movement reappeared. In response to the election of Donald Trump, the 2017 Women’s March, which began as a Facebook post, coalesced almost overnight, both demonstrating the power of social media-driven campaigns to rapidly mobilize millions of people, and also demonstrating their limitations. When conflicts arise, there are no agreed-upon mechanisms for resolving tensions and for holding leadership accountable. Although a non-profit Women’s March Inc.emerged from the initial march, it was not a membership organization with members empowered to set the agenda, elect board members and officers, and develop procedures for holding leaders accountable.

Although many young women were drawn to the 2017 Women’s March, established feminist organizations such as the National Organization for Women have struggled to attract young women and meet the challenges of supporting grassroots activism in a climate very different from that of the feminist heyday of the 1970s. However, some 21st century feminists are choosing to build and become leaders in not explicitly feminist organizations, such as local chapters of Black Lives Matter (BLM) or Sunrise. They are playing leadership roles (even when they deny they are leaders)in a range of locally based social justice organizations and are bringing a feminist perspective to these groups.

Prior to the election of Donald Trump, many of the newer progressive organizations such as Occupy were not involved in, and did not encourage their members to engage in, electoral politics. Resistance to Trump’s election has resulted in more young women becoming engaged in electoral politics and running for office and winning. Also, younger women interested in political activism are increasingly drawn to socialist politics rather than to the liberal reform politics generally associated with NOW. Socialist feminists were involved in the second-wave feminist movement of 1970s; however, their numbers were relatively few and the larger society was antagonistic to socialism. Socialist feminists in 2021 are finding a far more receptive audience. Unlike the socialist organizations of the 20th century who were often hostile to feminism, 21st century socialist organizations are led by young feminists and place a high priority on gender justice, viewing all issues through a gender, racial and economic justice lens.

It may be too soon to gauge the strength and potential of socialist feminism, but we do know that feminist organizing in the 21st century will be multi-issue, intersectional, and international, with 21st century feminists bringing a feminist perspective to an ever-widening range of social justice issues.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Early Fall Garden

Japanese Anemone

We just got back from a trip to New England. We found our garden in that in-between stage; the summer flowers are mostly gone and the fall foliage fireworks have not yet begun.

The leaves are turning later than usual—as a result of the warmer night temperatures which are probably one more consequence of global warming.

Fortunately the Japanese anemone are in full flower—-the backbone of our fall garden along with the sedum


My garden is mainly a shrubs and perennials garden but I always try to squeeze in some annuals. Some summer annuals are hanging in there and the marigolds and vinca usually make it until the first frost.



And the caladium are still lighting up shady spots.


We had hoped to catch the peak of fall foliage in New England but it was late this year. However our trip was mainly a friends and family tour rather than a fall foliage tour. We enjoyed reconnecting with friends and relatives, although unfortunately some of them are dealing with serious health issues.

For me, the garden is a consolation. Unlike us, the flowers return year after year, generally on schedule. But will we be able to continue to count on this? The poet Wallace Stevens confidently asked “What has endured as April’s green endures?” But with global warming we can no longer be confident that the seasons will unfold and Fall flowers and foliage will arrive on schedule as they have throughout our lives. I try not to dwell too much on this.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

The last of the lilies

Casa Blanca

Fragrance is one of the main reasons I devote so much time and energy to gardening. You can’t buy it; you have to grow it. The florists shops are filled with flowers bred for durability and showy blooms. Fragrance tends to diminish or in many cases disappear altogether.

The queen of the fragrant lilies is Casa Blanca which appears in mid-July and disappears in early August. I've heard some people describe its fragrance as cloying, sugary, like cotton candy. To me, it's a heavenly scent--more like vanilla laced with a whiff of musk.

Then the species lilies with their elongated stamens. They are fragrant but you have to be up close-- unlike Casa Blanca, one of which can perfume a large garden. The first to bloom is the statuesque Black Beauty which can reach over 6 feet tall.

Then the delicate white species lilies:

And finally speciosum rubrum, the last of which is blooming in my garden in late August.

Sadly, I have to wait a year before I will see my lilies again.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Defending democracy in PA begins with the Judiciary

This article appeared in this week's Chestnut Hill Local

Over the 4th of July weekend, I had quite a few discussions with friends and relatives about the state of our democracy. This 4th of July was the first time I seriously considered the possibility that our democratic institutions were in jeopardy. For the first few years of the Trump administration, I thought our institutions were strong enough to withstand Trump’s blatant assault, but by 2020 I began to seriously worry if the guardrails would hold. They did, barely.

Trump may no longer be president, but the threat to our democracy continues. The latest Trump-inspired attempts to undermine the electoral process target election workers with threats of stiff fines and prosecutions. Recruiting poll workers will become increasingly difficult if they face threats not only of bodily harm from right-wing zealots but also of criminal prosecution.

Republican-controlled state legislatures are racing to pass measures making it harder for citizens to vote. In March 2021, the Georgia state legislature passed strict constraints on the use of ballot drop boxes, barred election officials from sending out absentee ballot applications, reduced the time frame to apply for absentee ballots, and imposed identification requirements for voting by mail. Attorney General Merrick Garland intends to sue Georgia, stating: “The rights of all eligible citizens to vote are the central pillars of our democracy. They are the rights from which all other rights ultimately flow.”

Many of these voting rights disputes will be settled in our courts. Unfortunately, Trump’s legacy lives on in his judicial appointments. As the Guardian put it: “Donald Trump’s presidency was capricious and chaotic, but there was one issue on which he focused with laser-like discipline: tilting the judiciary to the right.” According to, Trump appointed 234 judges, including 54 appellate judges, more than Barack Obama’s first term total of 172 and George W Bush’s 204.

In the November general election, Pennsylvania voters have the opportunity to push back against Trump’s campaign to change the composition of judiciary as we elect one PA Supreme Court justice, one judge of the Superior Court, and two judges of Commonwealth Court.

Before the Republican party became the party of Trump, Republicans committed to democracy were elected in judicial races. Some of these judges, whose primary allegiance was to the Constitution rather than to partisan politics, dismissed Trump supporters’ lawsuits to overturn a fair, democratic election. Increasingly, however, Republican judicial nominees will be chosen by a Trump-controlled Republican party.

The statewide judges elected in November will in all likelihood become involved in the congressional redistricting process. In 2018, the Democratic majority on the PA Supreme Court threw out the state’s 2011 map of redrawn congressional districts contending it was it was gerrymandered to favor Republicans, who, despite losing the popular vote in the 2010 congressional elections held 13 out of 18 seats. The Court drew a new map, which was used in the 2018 elections resulting in a 9-9 division.

New maps will be drawn after the release of census data for the Congressional, state House, and state Senate districts in mid-August 2021. It is widely expected that the state courts will again play a role in the redistricting process and thus it is critically important that voters pay attention to statewide judicial races.

In Philadelphia’s general elections, statewide judicial races with no contested local races on the ballot have historically had very low turnout. In our one-party town, contested local races are decided in the Democratic primary, and many voters have relatively little interest in the outcome of statewide judicial races.

The 2013 race for Judge of the PA Superior Court was a close contest decided by a few percentage points, with only 11.3 % of voters participating in the decision. The media coverage of the race for Superior Court was almost non-existent, and in many neighborhoods around the city it appeared that committeepersons were making little effort to inform voters and get out the vote.

Fortunately party leaders and political activists made a serious effort to educate the voters in the 2015 Supreme Court race, and turnout in Philadelphia rose to 25.62%—still dismal, given the importance of the race, but a significant improvement over the 11.3% turnout in 2013. Turnout in off-year elections has not returned to the rock bottom levels of 2013, and has been slowly inching upward. Nonetheless, turnout for the 2021 May primary was only 21.29% -- certainly nothing to celebrate.

The judiciary is the first line of defense for our democracy. To begin to undo the damage caused by Trump’s assault on our democratic institutions, in November, we must elect judges who are committed to upholding free and fair elections. Our democracy is at stake.

Monday, June 28, 2021

June is the best month for flowers

First come the self-seeding foxgloves pooping up all over my garden in early June.
Then the roses which usually peak in mid June. I haven’t had a great deal of success with roses. After losing many, many rose bushes, I finally settled on David Austin roses as the most reliable, combining something of the fragrance and disease resistance of old-fashioned roses with the repeat blooming of hybrid teas. For me the most reliable and most beautiful of all is Don Juan:
Like roses, Clemstis with their thin brittle stems area challenge to grow. I've lost a lot of clems over the years , but I will never give up on these beauties. One of the most reliable and long lasting is Niobe.
Then in late June the Queen of the garden: the regal lilies with their powerful fragrance:
The Asiatic lilies also bloom in late June. Their large glossy flowers make up for their lack of fragrance:
And the most fragrant lilies are yet to come--the orientals of mid July

Friday, June 4, 2021

Allium and Iris --the stars of my late May and early June garden

Late May and early June is allium and iris time. Bearded iris have always been at the top of my list. The fragrance is intoxicating and compensates for their heart-breakingly brief season of bloom and unfortunate vulnerability to Botrytis Rhizome rot. This year I finally gave my Iris what they crave—full sun and good air circulation thanks to well-spaced planting. One of my great sins as a gardener is a tendency to cram too many plants into my garden beds. I’m finally breaking that bad habit.

Last year allium rose to the top of my list of most loved plants. When I returned home from a week in hell at Chestnut Hill hospital for major surgery, my garden never looked so beautiful. I was so happy to be home in my garden with Rick. It was allium time and I think I’ll always associate allium with that magical day.
After the allium and bearded iris have wrought their magic, it’s time for the Siberians.

They are tough, require little coddling and are very effective in a mass planting. The only downside is they have no fragrance, but then you can't have everything in one plant.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

The flowering shrubs of late April and early May.

This is azalea time. My husband Rick told me that a friend of his from France was amazed when he first saw our native azalea with their dense clusters of flowers. Because azaleas are everywhere in the Delaware valley at this time of the year, we may take them for granted. It is amazing that a shrub with such gorgeous, delicate flowers should also be so tough and long-lasting. There are many neglected gardens all over Philadelphia where in the middle of all the weeds we often find a healthy azalea, blooming its heart out.

Azaleas provide the color but the cherry laurel blooming all over my garden provides the powerful musky fragrance.
cherry laurel and pink azalea

Early May is when the tree peonies make their appearance—spectacular flowers that last for only a few days, but despite their heartbreakingly short season of bloom, they are worth a prominent spot in the garden.
Tree Peony

And in early May the late season tulips appear--the most beautifully shaped of all the tulips. My long-lasting Negrita is finally fading but the graceful white Maureen and the cherry-red Yosemite have emerged. For tulips, this has been a very good year!

Friday, May 7, 2021

A Brief History of Philadelphia NOW: The first 50 years


Focus on ending discrimination in employment

Philadelphia NOW was officially incorporated as a chapter of the National Organization for Women in 1971 with Mary Lynne Speers, as the chapter’s first president. However, Ernesta Ballard was generally acknowledged to be the founder and the force behind the chapter in the early years. Born in 1920 into a prominent Philadelphia family, Ballard was not the typical founder of a local NOW chapter. Her socialite background and life-long affiliation with the Republican Party notwithstanding, she was a passionate, committed feminist.

One of Philadelphia NOW’s first and most successful actions was challenging the sexist assumptions underlying a local job fair called Operation Native Son, sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Once a year, the Chamber of Commerce provided an opportunity for Pennsylvanians attending college outside the state to be interviewed by prospective employers from the Philadelphia area. The program was blatantly discriminatory against women. Thanks to the efforts of Philadelphia NOW the name was changed to Delaware Valley Career Opportunities.

On both national and local levels, NOW in the late 1960s and early 1970s focused on ending discrimination in employment. Among its many victories, NOW fought to end the practice of dividing classified ads into “Help Wanted for Men” and “Help Wanted for Women.”
Ernesta Ballard, founder of Philadelphia NOW

The consciousness raising movement

As the movement broadened in the early 1970s, it drew women who had never before been involved in political activism. Their primary interest was the impact of feminism on their personal lives, and they were drawn to the consciousness-raising groups cropping up everywhere.

Jean Ferson, a skilled organizational builder, was elected the second president of Philadelphia NOW at a time of tremendous growth in the feminist movement. As the movement broadened in the early 1970s, it drew women who had never before been involved in political activism. Their primary interest was the impact of feminism on their personal lives and they were drawn to the consciousness-raising groups cropping up everywhere. Jean Ferson, a psychologist, was in many ways the ideal person to lead the organization in the early 1970s; unlike some NOW activists, Ferson was very receptive to the rapidly growing consciousness-raising movement.

Although Philadelphia NOW has evolved as a multi-issue feminist organization that recognizes the intersection of gender, race/class and sexuality issues, Philadelphia NOW in the early years was focused almost exclusively on women’s rights. The road to becoming an intersectional feminist organization would be a long and rocky one.
Philadelphia NOW’s second President Jean Ferson and Philadelphia Women’s Political Caucus Founder and first President Sharon Wallis

Philadelphia NOW an early champion of lesbian rights

Despite the homophobia associated with Betty Friedan, many local NOW chapters such as Philadelphia NOW were strong supporters of lesbian rights, with Philadelphia NOW as the first chapter in the country to elect an open lesbian Jan Welch as President in 1973. The lesbian feminist movement was growing both in numbers and visibility. The talent and energy of many lesbian feminists was of critical importance in building NOW and the feminist movement in general; NOW’s embrace of lesbian rights contributed to the growth of the lesbian and gay rights movement.
Philadelphia NOW’s third President Jan Welch


The battle to integrate Central High; the battle against discrimination in the Philadelphia police department

In the mid-1970s National NOW made combating sexism in schools a top priority, focusing on advocacy for Women’s Studies Programs in high schools and colleges and for expansion of athletic opportunities for girls. NOW chapters across the country took up the crusade; the Philadelphia Chapter was especially active, no doubt because of the many educators among its activist core. The Philadelphia chapter devoted considerable energy to the nine-year battle to integrate Central High.

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. Philadelphia NOW provided strong, sustained support for NOW member Penelope Brace’s battle against discrimination in the Philadelphia Police Department.
Philadelphia’s first female police detective Penelope Brace receiving the City of Sisterly Love Award from Philadelphia NOW on February 15, 1979.

NOW built an organizational structure for the long haul, with national, state, and local affiliates, enabling the group to achieve an impressive number of victories in the early and mid-1970s. NOW’s organizational structure included a mechanism for managing conflict, which enabled it to survive the battles of the mid-1970s, bruised and battered but still standing.

Managing conflict

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.

Although what we now call intersectional feminism is often thought to be a movement which began in the 1990s, the concept was central to what was known as the 1975 Majority Caucus led by then national NOW president Karen DeCrow. At the national conference held in Philadelphia in 1975, DeCrow pledged that NOW would use its resources to fight against racism in America, and affirmed: “This is not a white organization.” DeCrow’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 were having an impact on NOW.

Karen DeCrow elected president of NOW at the national conference held in Philadelphia in 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. The presence of the Socialist Workers Party was a source of conflict within NOW, both on the national and local level. NOW members focused on what they considered the disruptive tactics of the SWP but not on the ideological challenges. Socialist feminists who entered NOW in the mid-1970s challenged the idea that feminist beliefs trumped over-all political ideology and questioned whether gender equality could be achieved under capitalism.


The struggle for gender justice and racial justice

Although by the late 1970s combating racism had become part of national NOW’s core mission, it was not among the priorities of most local NOW chapters. Local chapters expanded through the social networks of the members, and as the members acknowledged, those networks were largely white and middle class. Philadelphia NOW like many chapters at that time, did not see the struggle for racial justice as a feminist issue.

In 1980 Jocelyn Morris formed new chapter in Northwest Philadelphia, Germantown NOW, to focus on the connections between sexism and racism. NOW’s leaders developed an effective safety valve for dealing with potential conflict, allowing members whose priorities differed from those of their local chapter to easily form a new chapter, thus defusing tension while keeping everyone within the big tent of NOW. The core Philadelphia chapter remained focused on the ERA; Philadelphia NOW members who were interested in addressing racial issues either became involved in Pennsylvania NOW or joined Germantown NOW. Although some leaders on the state and national level were championing the cause of racial justice, there were not enough grassroots members who shared this commitment to sustain Germantown NOW which folded soon after Morris moved out of the Philadelphia area.
Jocelyn Morris, founder and first president of Germantown NOW, placing flowers on the grave of lucretia Mott on November 11, 1980, the 100th anniversary of Mott’s death.

The battle for the ERA

Through the mid-1970s the feminist movement achieved victory after victory. The momentum began to stall in the late 1970s, and on June 30, 1982 the feminist movement experienced a major defeat, all the more painful because a decade earlier an easy victory had been expected.

Lillian Ciarrochi,elected president of Philadelphia NOW in 1979, and Doris Pechkurow, elected in 1980, led the Philadelphia chapter in the final years of the struggle. The fight for the ERA convinced many NOW members that they must elect feminists to legislative bodies. The ERA campaign itself became a training ground in the basics of the political process, and in the aftermath of the defeat of the ERA, NOW chapters were building teams of politically savvy members capable of launching a run for political office or providing critical support for feminist candidates.
Lillian Ciarrochi, Philadelphia NOW President, 1979-1980

The mid 1980s through the 1990s

The heady social movement phase of second wave feminism had come to an end, but organized feminism, particularly the feminist service organizations, in some cases grew stronger than ever. NOW had won many victories, although the major prize the ERA eluded them. However, the movement’s glaring weakness—its lack of racial inclusiveness—was not seriously addressed and remains a source of tension.

In the mid 1980s and through the 1990s, the locus of feminist activity shifted to Pennsylvania NOW. This was partially because the struggle for abortion rights was waged primarily on the state level and because of the energy and commitment of Pennsylvania NOW state president Barbara DiTullio. In the late 1990s, DiTullio focused on racial justice issues and organized a Women of Color and Allies Conference held in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia chapter under the leadership of Kathy Miller was involved in planning for and publicizing the conference.

The early 21st century 2001-2009

In 2001 Kathy Miller became president of Pennsylvania NOW and in Philadelphia a diverse new leadership team was elected and served through 2009. The officers during this period were Karen Bojar who served as president Louise Francis who served as treasurer for 8 years. Others who served as officers during this period were: Francesca Alvarado, Cindy Bass, Kathy Black, Tammy Gavitt, Caryn Hunt, Dee Johnson, Doris Pridgen, Vicki Redmond, Marlene Santoyo, and Rosa Woods. For the first time in the history of the chapter half of the officers were women of color. These officers strengthened Philadelphia NOW’s connections with a range of progressive organizations, including the Coalition of Labor Union and the Coalition of Women100 Black Women.

The organization grew with the incorporation of the Philadelphia NOW Education Fund, incorporated as a 501c3 in 2005. PNEF was eligible to receive charitable contributions and foundation grants and sponsored several educational efforts including the very well attended 2006 Women of Color and Allies Conference chaired by Cindy Bass and a Town Hall on Reparations co-sponsored with the Coalition of Labor Union women in 2007. PNEF also sponsored a series of educational workshops encouraging women to become involved in grassroots politics, in particular by running for committeeperson in 2002, again in 2010 and in 2014.

In 2003 Philadelphia NOW established a political action committee which allowed it to endorse candidates and to raise funds to support its endorsed candidates. In addition to the chapter officers who served ex-officio, Gloria Gilman, Sharon Losier and Helen Seitz also served on the political action committee.

Philadelphia NOW’s political involvement also included lobbying campaigns such as the campaign to end the shackling of pregnant prisoners spearheaded by Dee Johnson, who represented Philadelphia NOW on the Anti-Shackling committee of the Working Group to Enhance Services for Incarcerated Women, sponsored by PA Prison society.
Philadelphia NOW President Karen Bojar, Lauren Townsend, award recipient Councilperson Maria Quinones Sanchez, Philadelphia NOW Vice-Presidents Cindy Bass, Rosa Woodxs, and Kathy Black at the 2006 Philadelphia NOW awards ceremony


In 2010 Caryn Hunt became president of Philadelphia NOW. She focused on women’s health issues and fought for improved services for pregnant women, including birthing centers in Philadelphia, a concern she advanced on the state level when she became president of PANOW in 2012.

Terri Falbo became president of Philadelphia NOW in 2012. A union organizer and active member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, she worked with CLUW president Kathy Black to strengthen ties between NOW and CLUW as both organizations worked to bring Earned Sick Time to Philadelphia Workers.

Nina Ahmad became president of Philadelphia NOW in 2013, the first woman of color and first Asian-American to become president of Philadelphia NOW. She reached out to women of color and especially to the immigrant community Her successful effort to expose blatant sexism in the District Attorney’s office dramatically increased the profile of Philadelphia NOW. She resigned in 2016 to become Deputy Mayor for Public Engagement in the Kenney administration.
Samantha Pierson, Pennsylvania NOW President, 2018-2020; Nina Ahmad, Philadelphia NOW President 2013-2016; Krishna Rami Philadelphia NOW President 2017-2019 at the launch of Nina Ahmad’s campaign for Auditor General, December 11, 2019. Photo Credit, Naroen Chinn.

From 2016 through 2019, Natalie Catin St. Louis, Krishna Rami, and Jenne Ayers served as presidents of Philadelphia NOW. Increasingly young women with demanding jobs and family responsibilities are finding that the chapter model with its high demands on the president is difficult to sustain.

In 2019, Vanessa Fields a recently retired African-American woman with extensive experience in women’s organizations and in the labor movement, was elected as chapter president. Fields organized a widely viewed and highly regarded virtual Town Hall on reparations for slavery held in December 2020.

Vanessa Fields currently serves as Chair of the Philadelphia Commission for Women and has co-developed several program jointly with the Commission for Women.

Vanessa Fields, current president of Philadelphia NOW

NOW’s history has been a long struggle to define what counts as a feminist issue. In the early 1970s NOW defined lesbian rights as a feminist issue; although many NOW chapters were receptive, a minority of members did not see this as a core issue. However, by the late 1970s the vast majority of NOW members were strong supporters of lesbian rights. The struggle to include racial justice as a core feminist issue has taken much longer to resolve and given the recent controversy over racism in NOW there is clearly more work to be done.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

My mid spring flowering trees and shrubs--so beautiful, so fleeting


My mid season flowering trees and shrubs are beginning to fade, but in their brief moment of bloom, they were glorious. Last fall my crab apples had some horrible fungus. I was considering chopping them down, but fortunately the tree service I rely on told me to wait and see what would happen in the spring. This spring there was no sign of fungus on the crabapples and they were more beautiful than ever. Thank you arborist Norman Still!
My most beautiful flowering tree is my beloved redbud. And next year I will have two redbuds. We had to remove a huge tree which was dying and becoming dangerous. There was considerable collateral damage and a huge price tag but the good news is that it opened up a space for planting. The new redbud—a purple leaved variety—will arrive next week.

My all time favorite is my lilac tree. It may be a scraggly nondescript tree and its blossoms last a heartbreakingly short time but the fragrance is spectacular.

Second only to the lilac in fragrance is the carlesi viburnum and like the lilac, here today and gone tomorrow.
carlesi viburnum

This has been a great year for flowering shrubs and to my surprise for tulips. In the past few years the critters who live in my garden have devoured all my tulips. This year they left some for me.
Negrita tulips and Thalia daffodils

Thursday, April 15, 2021

My early spring daffodils are fading, but the parade of flowering shrubs has begun

My early spring daffodils are fading, but the great joy of the garden is the succession of bloom--some flowers fade and others emerge.

Pieris , with its lily of the valley like flowers, is usually one of the first flowering shrubs to bloom. The flowers may be small, but they are fragrant and long lasting.
Next comes Cornell Pink, a deciduous rhododendron. The flowers are very showy but rarely last more than 5 or 6 days. Unfortunately, you can't get everything in one plant.
Quince has delicate and very beautiful flowers, but the plant is virtually indestructible. It is impossible to kill a quince.
Quince Contorta
Quince is especially beautiful paired with Forsythia which is the queen of my early spring garden.
PJM rhododendron is another tough early spring beauty with gorgeous magenta flowers which unfortunately, like so many early spring blooms, are here today and gone tomorrow.
These early flowering shrubs will soon fade but will be replaced by mid-spring shrubs and trees. It’s the greatest show on earth!