Katherine Turk, The Women of NOW: How Feminists Built an Organization That Transformed America
“The Women of NOW gives an in-depth look at a vital part of feminism in America. The perfect read for those interested in women’s history, American history, and politics.” —Booklist
“[A] smart, clear-eyed history . . . a timely addition to the history of ‘second wave’ feminism that illuminates today’s debates about women’s rights.” —Publishers Weekly
The history of NOW—its organization, trials, and revolutionary mission—told through the work of three members.
In the summer of 1966, crammed into a D.C. hotel suite, twenty-eight women devised a revolutionary plan. Betty Friedan, the well-known author of The Feminine Mystique, and Pauli Murray, a lawyer at the front lines of the civil rights movement, had called this renegade meeting from attendees at the annual conference of state women’s commissions. Fed up with waiting for government action and trying to work with a broken system, they laid out a vision for an organization to unite all women and fight for their rights. Alternately skeptical and energized, they debated the idea late into the night. In less than twenty-four hours, the National Organization for Women was born.
In The Women of NOW, the historian Katherine Turk chronicles the growth and enduring influence of this foundational group through three lesser-known members who became leaders: Aileen Hernandez, a federal official of Jamaican American heritage; Mary Jean Collins, a working-class union organizer and Chicago Catholic; and Patricia Hill Burnett, a Michigan Republican, artist, and former beauty queen. From its bold inception through the tumultuous training ground of the 1970s, NOW’s feminism flooded the nation, permanently shifted American culture and politics, and clashed with conservative forces, presaging our fractured national landscape. These women built an organization that was radical in its time but flexible and expansive enough to become a mainstream fixture. This is the story of how they built it—and built it to last.
Katherine Turk is the author of Equality on Trial: Gender and Rights in the Modern American Workplace, which was awarded the Mary Nickliss Prize in U.S. Women’s and/or Gender History from the Organization of American Historians. She is an Associate Professor of History and Adjunct Associate Professor of Gender Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.