The Nation: What Next for US. Women

Houston produces new alliances and a drive for grass-roots power

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The battle was over—and to the curators went the spoils. The blue-and-white lectern emblem proclaiming NATIONAL WOMEN'S CONFERENCE 1977, which had hung for three hectic, fractious, exhilarating days in Houston, last week was headed for Washington's Smithsonian Institution. It will repose with such other memorabilia as the star-spangled banner that flew over Fort McHenry and Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. And well it might. Over a weekend and a day, American women had reached some kind of watershed in their own history, and in that of the nation.

Declared Eleanor Smeal of Pittsburgh, housewife and president of the 65,000-member National Organization for Women: "Houston was a rite of passage." Ruth Clusen of Green Bay. Wis., president of the League of Women Voters, struck the same theme: "Even for women who are outside organizational life, who don't see themselves as part of the women's movement, something has happened intheir lives as a result of this meeting, whether they realize it or not."

What happened, particularly for the 14,000 who attended the Houston meeting, was an end to the psychological isolation that had constrained their activities and ambitions. They learned that many other middle-of-the-road , American-as-Mom's-apple-pie women shared with them a sense of second-class citizenship and a craving for greater social and economic equality. Said Ida Castro, an alternate delegate from New Jersey: "It was a total high to get together and discover so many people who agree on so many issues, and finding that I am not alone." Perhaps more important, many women also found out, as Sharon Talbot, a 19-year-old Smith College student and delegate from Maine, put it, "I didn't have to be a radical to be a feminist. Before I went, I hadn't really decided where I stood. Now I know that all those other women feel the same way I do, so if they call themselves feminists, or whatever, then that's what I am too."

"All those other women" had descended on Houston to argue, lobby, demonstrate and compromise. They were responding to an unprecedented request by Congress to "identify barriers that prevent women from participating fully and equally in all aspects of national life" and recommend ways to eliminate them.

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