On June 30, 1966, 28 women attending the Third National Conference of State Commissions on the Status of Women had had enough. The 1966 Conference delegates were prohibited from taking action even in the form of a resolution that recommended the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) carry out its legal mandate to end sex discrimination in employment.
Frustrated at the inaction, the group gathered in Betty Friedan’s hotel room to form a new organization. On a paper napkin Friedan scribbled the acronym “NOW.” Analoyce Clapp, an early NOW founder, wrote, "28 women met to set up a temporary organization for this purpose: To take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, assuming all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men."
By October, some 300 women and men had become charter members of the newly formed National Organization for Women. The slate of officers was elected including Betty Friedan as President, Aileen Hernandez—who had announced her impending resignation from the EEOC—in absentia as Executive Vice President, Richard Graham as Vice President, and Caroline Davis as Secretary/Treasurer.
In a 1966 report on the conference Friedan wrote: "We wasted no time on ceremonials or speeches, gave ourselves barely an hour for lunch and dinner...At times we got very tired and impatient, but there was always a sense that what we were deciding was not just for now 'but for a century...' We shared a moving moment of realization that we had now indeed entered history."
Today NOW has a membership of 550,000 contributing members set up for the advancement of women in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
VIEW the photo gallery above to meet the founders and early women of the National Organization for Women.
Betty Friedan: Her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique made her a leader in the revitalized women's movement. In 1966 she founded and was elected the first president of NOW, which aimed to bring women "into the mainstream of American society now [in] fully equal partnership with men."
Photo: Getty Images
Reverend Dr. Anna "Pauli" Murray: In 1965, the Yale law professor denounced the EEOC for its stance permitting segregated job advertising and caught Betty Friedan’s attention, leading to one of many historic link-ups that led to a reemergence of the feminist movement.
Photo: Carolina Digital Library and Archives
Sonia Pressman Fuentes: The first woman attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the EEOC, Fuentes was a founder of NOW who had been "privately suggesting the need for an organization to speak on behalf of women in the way civil rights groups had done for Blacks."
Aileen Hernandez: In 1965, she was appointed by Lyndon Johnson to be the only woman on the first established EEOC. Frustrated by her fellow commissioners’ lack of attention to women’s complaints, she became a charter member of the NOW and the group’s second president.
Photo: Denver Post via Getty Images
Gene Boyer: Gene was one of the 28 women who gathered in Betty Friedan's hotel room on June 28, 1966, and participated in the discussion that inspired NOW. She served as NOW's national treasurer from 1968 to 1974.
Kathryn Clarenbach: Political science professor Kay Clarenbach was one of the NOW founders who participated in the first meeting in Betty Friedan's hotel room and recruited others to attend. She was also elected Chair of the Board. She was a founder of the National Women's Political Caucus and of the Wisconsin Women's Network.
Photo: David Clarenbach
Inez Casiano: A member of the first National Board of NOW, elected in October 1966, Casiano co-founded the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women, now the National Puerto Rican Coalition. (Pictured receiving recognition at NOW's 40th anniversary celebration).
Catherine East: East worked closely with Betty Friedan in NOW's early days and Friedan described her as "the midwife to the contemporary women's movement." As staff to the JFK-created Commission on the Status of Women, East encouraged the creation of state-level commissions on women in order to generate local activism.
Elizabeth Farians: A NOW founder, Farians (pictured center) attended the first graduate program in theology for women at Saint Mary's College-Notre Dame. In 1966, she integrated the then all-male Catholic Theological Society, even though they threatened to arrest her if she tried to attend. Photo: NOW.org
Muriel Fox: Betty Friedan remembered the note Fox had sent her reading, "If you ever start an NAACP for women, count me in," and included Fox as one of NOW's founders. The night after NOW adopted its Statement of Purpose, Fox and a small group printed NOW's first press release.
Dr. Anna Arnold Hedgeman: Founding member of NOW, Hedgeman was the first black woman to serve on a mayoral cabinet in New York City from 1954 to 1958, and the first to hold a position in the Federal Security Agency.
Dr. Marguerite Rawalt: Rawalt was a member of NOW's Legal Committee in 1966, which took legal action on behalf of airline stewardesses who were fired after turning 32. In 1961, she was also appointed by President Kennedy to the President's Commission on the Status of Women.
Sister Mary Joel Read: She was one of the NOW founders who participated in the weekend of meetings in June, 1966. She served as President of Alverno College in Milwaukee from 1968 to 2003, making her the nation's longest sitting college president at the time.
Clara Wells: Wells was part of the Resources Committee and pictured at the 1966 October NOW organizing conference.
Inka O'Hanrahan: A NOW national Treasurer, O'Hanrahan worked on the Status of Women.
Alice Rossi: Founding member of NOW, Rossi was a pioneering feminist and sociologist who focused on the status of women at work, in the family, and their sexual lives.
Lucille Kapplinger: A founding member of NOW, Kapplinger was Legal Assistant for the Governors Commission.
Ruth Gober: An academic from Wisconsin, Gober was a founding member of NOW.
Caruthers Berger: A founding member of NOW and Attorney, U.S. Dept. of Labor.
Amy Robinson: Founding member of NOW, Robinson worked on the Governors Commission and the UAW.
Morag Simchak: Founding member of NOW known as the expert on the Equal Pay Act in the U.S. Department of Labor.
Photo: Denver Post via Getty Images
Ellie Smeal: President and Founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation, Smeal served as president of the National Organization for Women twice. She joined NOW in 1970 and served as president from 1977 to 1982 and again from 1985 to 1987. During this time, Smeal led the first national abortion rights march which drew over 100,000 activists to Washington, DC.
All the members of NOW Organizing Conference, Oct. 30, 1966. View here for key. Photo: NOW.org