Monday, Mar. 31, 2003

Demanding Full Equality

June 30, 1966

"Sex discrimination" was added to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But there was no group to lobby for enforcement. I had written The Feminine Mystique in 1963, and I became a magnet. Everyone was trying to pass the torch to me because I knew how to command media attention. Even surviving suffragists, who had chained themselves to the White House fence to win the vote, would call me up in the middle of the night and tell me to do something.

The government sought to pacify us and convened the Third National Conference of the Commissions on the Status of Women at the Washington Hilton in late June 1966. The omens were not good. That week President Johnson and Lady Bird invited a few of us to tea at the White House. The President said he wanted to appoint talented women, but the problem was "finding these women." It was a weekend of lip service.

We learned that we weren't allowed to pass resolutions at the conference. So on its final day, June 30, as dignitaries yammered at the podium, I joined other furious women at the two front lunch tables, passing along notes written on napkins. We were putting together the National Organization for Women under the noses of the people who wanted to put us off. I wrote on one napkin that NOW had "to take the actions needed to bring women into the mainstream of American society, now ... in fully equal partnership with men." As people rushed to catch planes, the founding members collected $5 from one another as our charter budget. Anna Roosevelt Halstead, Eleanor's daughter, gave me $10.