National Organization for Women

NOW was established by a group of feminists who were dedicated to actively challenging sex discrimination in society. NOW's actions have established itself as a major force in the sweeping changes that put more women in political posts; increased educational, employment and business opportunities for women; and enacted tougher laws against violence, harassment and discrimination.


The National Organization for Women (NOW) was established by a group of feminists who were dedicated to actively challenging sex discrimination in society. With 500,000 members and 550 chapters in all 50 states, NOW is the largest organization of feminist activists in the United States. Since its founding in 1966, NOW's goal has been "to take action" to bring about equality for all women. NOW’s original mission statement read: “The purpose of NOW is to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men…” (National Organization for Women) (2).

NOW strives to: eliminate discrimination and harassment in the workplace, schools, the justice system, and all other sectors of society; secure abortion, birth control and reproductive rights for all women; end all forms of violence against women; eradicate racism, sexism, and homophobia; and promote equality and justice in our society. NOW achieves its goals through direct mass actions, intensive lobbying, grassroots political organizing and litigation (National Organization for Women) (1).

NOW's actions have established itself as a major force in the sweeping changes that put more women in political posts; increased educational, employment and business opportunities for women; and enacted tougher laws against violence, harassment and discrimination (National Organization for Women) (2).

Historic Roots

In 1966, 28 women attending the Third National Conference of the Commission on the Status of Women established the National Organization for Women (NOW). The Commission reported that despite having won the right to vote, women in the United States still were discriminated against in virtually every aspect of life.

NOW initiated the growing involvement of women in politics with an agenda that included better education, employment and political opportunities for women. Pressure and activism from NOW continued to help women through the seventies. It fought to preserve the Supreme Court's pro-choice ruling in Roe v. Wade (1973) and helped pave the way for women to take more active roles in modern science, sports, and politics.

Since it’s beginning, NOW members have used both traditional and non-traditional means to push for social change. NOW performs extensive electoral and lobbying work and litigations. They also organize mass marches, rallies, pickets and non-violent civil disobedience and promote grassroots efforts.

NOW-organized marches have drawn significant support:
A 1978 march supporting the Equal Rights Amendment drew more than 100,000 people;
The Marches for Women's Lives drew 500,000 supporters in 1989 and 750,000 in 1992;
In 1995, NOW organized a demonstration focusing on violence against women drawing a quarter of a million people;
And, the 1996 March to Fight the Right drew more than 50,000 activists to kick off an electoral season focused on efforts to defend affirmative action.

Most recently in 2004, the March for Women's Lives became the largest mass action in U.S. history, bringing a record 1.15 million people to advocate for women's reproductive health options (National Organization for Women) (2).


Over the years, the National Organization for Women (NOW) has been instrumental in the progress of key issues in the women’s movement. NOW’s official priorities are: winning economic equality and securing it with an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that will guarantee equal rights for women; championing abortion rights, reproductive freedom and other women's health issues; opposing racism and fighting bigotry against lesbians and gays; and ending violence against women.

Some of NOW's most important work has been in the area of preventing sexual harassment and violence. NOW members organized the first “Take Back the Night” march, founded hot lines and shelters for battered women, lobbied for government funding of programs aimed at stopping violence against women and won the passage of a federal Violence Against Women Act in 1994.

In 1967, NOW was the first national organization to call for the legalization of abortion and for the repeal of all anti-abortion laws. To ensure women's access to reproductive health care, NOW's “Project Stand Up for Women” has trained members to use a three-pronged strategy including litigation, political pressure, and the direct defense of women's rights at medical clinics. In 1994, a U.S. Supreme Court case, NOW v. Scheidler, ruling affirmed NOW's right to use federal racketeering laws against anti-abortion extremists who organize campaigns of fear, force and violence to deny women their right to abortion.

One of NOW's strongest concerns is gaining recognition of women's work, both in the home and in the paid labor market. NOW first popularized the slogan, "Every Mother is a Working Mother" and the phrase, "women who work outside the home.” NOW pressed landmark lawsuits against sex discrimination in employment, winning millions in back pay for women. One case in 1969, Weeks v. Southern Bell, attorney Sylvia Roberts, NOW's Southern Regional Director, won a U.S. Fifth Circuit ruling that sex discrimination was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This landmark decision was the first to apply Title VII to sex discrimination (National Organization for Women) (2).

Additionally, NOW also has established a political action committee (NOW/PAC) that supports candidates for federal, state and local offices. NOW/PAC's work helps maintain and further women's rights by supporting candidates, both men and women, with feminist ideals that match those of NOW (National Organization for Women Political Action Committee).

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

In addition to the important legal and political accomplishment of the National Organization for Women (NOW), it also has established the National Organization for Women Foundation (NOW Foundation) devoted to furthering women's rights through education and litigation. Over the decades, NOW has promoted many of it own programs as well as donated to others.

In 1998, the NOW Foundation established the “Women’s Health Project” and launched the annual “Love Your Body Day”—a national day of action to speak out against advertisements and images of women that are harmful, offensive, disrespectful and demeaning. The NOW Foundation offers “Love Your Body Day” event planning tips and suggestions. To help young girls with their body image, activities are offered starting at the middle school age.

Part one of NOW’s Women's Health Project created and distributed the “Redefining Liberation” video that discusses how women and girls are viewed in society and how they feel about themselves. The second phase of the project campaign is focusing on the development of new and expanded educational materials and increased outreach. Their Web site offers more information on body image, cosmetic surgery, eating disorders, HIV/AIDS, drugs and alcohol, mental health, smoking, and reproductive health.

In addition to its own programs, NOW donates money to external programs such as the “Girls Exploring Math and Science Program” in California. In 2003, NOW teamed-up with the
American Association of People with Disabilities to co-host a national conference in entitled “Women with Disabilities & Allies Forum: Linking Arms for Equality & Justice for All” (National Organization for Women Foundation).

Key Related Ideas

Feminism is the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes and the movement organized around this belief (

Feminization of Power is the movement of more feminist women into policy-making positions in government, business, education, religion and all the other powerful institutions of society (National Organization for Women).

Homemakers' Rights describes a movement to gain full rights for homemakers and recognition of the economic value of the vital services they perform for family and society (National Organization for Women).

Homosexual Rights is an individual’s right to be free of discrimination based on sexual orientation in all areas, including employment, housing, public accommodations, child custody, and military and immigration policy (

Reproductive Rights is a term to describe a woman’s right to access to safe and legal abortion, to effective birth control, to reproductive health and education (National Organization for Women).

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Betty Friedan (1921- ): Friedan served as a leader of the twentieth century feminist movement beginning with her book, The Feminine Mystique, that charged housewifery and childbearing did not necessarily fulfill suburban middle-class housewives. In 1966, she helped found the National Organization for Women (NOW) and served as the first president. Friedan wrote NOW’s founding statement demanding full equality for women in American life and led the organization to support the Equal Rights Amendment for women and legalized abortion (Houghton Mifflin).
  • Aileen C. Hernandez: Hernandez served as the second president of the National Organization for Women (1970-1971) and has founded several black women’s organizations locally and nationally. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Hernandez as the only woman member of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She has won numerous national and local recognitions for her work in the civil rights and women’s rights movements and serves on the boards of many organizations dedicated to social and economic justice (Howard University).
  • Pauli Murray (1910 - 1985):  Murray co-founded the National Organization for Women in 1966 and served on the national board of the American Civil Liberties Union. As a black woman in the early to mid twentieth century, she overcame Jim Crow laws and Jane Crow regulations to be the only woman in her law school class at Howard University. She employed the uses of non-violent tactics such as sit-ins and letter writing campaigns. Murray was also the first black woman Episcopal priest in the U.S. and the first black Attorney General in the State of California (Maryland State Archives).
  • Gloria Steinem (1934- ): In 1971, Steinem founded Ms. Magazine, the first magazine to offer a woman's viewpoint on political, social, cultural, religious and other issues. Over the year’s she has also helped organize the National Women's Political Caucus, the Women's Action Alliance, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Voters for Choice, and Women Against Pornography, established the Ms. Foundation for Women and became an advocate for the women's liberation movement. Some of Steinem’s publications include Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983); Revolution from Within (1992); and Moving Beyond Words (1994) (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • The American Civil Liberty’s Union is a national non-profit organization that serves to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties of U.S. citizens. The mission of the American Civil Liberty’s Union is to preserve America’s original civic values - the Constitution and the Bill of Rights including First Amendment rights, the right to equal protection under the law, the right to due process, and the right to privacy (
  • Since 1974, the mission of the Equal Rights Advocates has been to protect and secure equal rights and economic opportunities for women and girls through litigation and advocacy. Equal Rights Advocates works to eradicate illegal discriminatory practices, demands employers provide women with a work environment that is free of sexual harassment and in compliance with health and safety laws, enforces family and medical leave and pregnancy protection laws, and is active in the effort to establish paid family and medical leave (
  • The Global Fund for Women is an organization committed to equality, social justice, and women's human rights by making grants to support women's groups around the world. The Global Fund for Women recognizes the variety of challenges women face across communities, cultures, religions, traditions, and countries and believes women should have a full range of choices. A flexible, respectful, and responsive philosophy is reflected in their grant making (
  • For 30 years, the Ms. Foundation has distributed millions of dollars in grants to local, state, and national organizations to seed and sustain innovative programs for women and girls. Additionally, they have strived to create a national movement of activists and organizations dedicated to girl’s and women’s issues through their training, networking, and mentoring activities. The Ms. Foundation awards grants, conducts public education, and provides training and assistance in three main areas including Economic Security; Health and Safety; and Girls, Young Women, and Leadership (
  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., is one of the world's largest voluntary reproductive health care organizations. Founded in 1916 by Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood believes in the right to choose when or whether to have a child that every child should be wanted and loved, and that women should be in charge of their own destinies. Each year, Planned Parenthood-affiliated health centers nationwide provide high quality, affordable reproductive health care and sexual health information to nearly five million people (

Related Web Sites

Loyola University’s Women’s Studies and the Women’s Studies Resource Center Web site, at, offers links pertinent in gathering information about women, women's studies, and feminism. This site represents a broad spectrum of ideas and issues relevant to women's needs and concerns. Categories include women's studies resources; women's studies organizations; feminist and women's organizations; resources for girls; gender, representation and the female body; women, society, and the political process; women and work; women, literature, and culture; women in science and information technology; and masculinity, men's movement and gender studies.

The National Council of Women’s Organizations Web site, at, offers links to a wide variety of organizations that address women’s issues, including workplace and economic equity, education and job training, affirmative action, Social Security, child care, reproductive freedom, health, and global progress for women's equality.

The National Women’s Hall of Fame Web site, at, offers biographies of more than 200 American women have been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

The National Women's History Project Web site, at, offers a list of women’s history links in the following categories including African-American women, art and music, aviation, math and science, peace and war, politics, sports, and women’s rights movement, and world history. It also recognizes and celebrates the diverse and historic accomplishments of women by providing information and educational materials and programs.

United Nations: Women Watch Web site, at, is an information gateway to resources on the promotion of international gender equality and the empowerment of women throughout the United Nations system. The site offers extensive information relating to gender equality and women’s human rights including reports, databases and archives, an international laws and treaty area, a section on “Women of the World” for region or country specific information, and a link to information on women in the U.N. system.

Bibliography and Internet Sources Feminism. Accessed October 2004.

Encyclopedia Britannica. Women in America History: Steinem, Gloria. Accessed October 2004. [Requires Encyclopedia Britannica Subscription] Gay Rights. Accessed October 2004. rights.

Houghton Mifflin. The Reader's Companion to American History: Friedan, Betty. Accessed October 2004.

Howard University. African American Women’s Institute Profiles. Accessed October 2004.

Maryland State Archives. Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame. Accessed October 2004.

MSN Encarta. Women’s Rights. Accessed October 2004.’s_Rights.html.

MSN Encarta. Employment of Women. Accessed October 2004.

National Organization for Women. (1).  FAQ. Accessed October 2004

National Organization for Women. (2).  History.  Accessed October 2004

National Organization for Women. (3).  Home Page. Accessed October 2004.

National Organization for Women Foundation (NOW Foundation). NOW Foundation Women with Disabilities & Allies Forum. Accessed October 2004.

National Organization for Women Political Action Committee. Accessed October 2004.

This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at Grand Valley State University. It is offered by Learning To Give and Grand Valley State University.