Attic Alert: Authors Need NOW Photos, Stories

NOW Organizing Conference, October 30, 1966

by Barbara Hays
Chapter/State Development Director

Rebecca Davison, an independent book editor in Vermont, had her "Eureka!" moment when she saw a copy of "Shoulder to Shoulder," by British film director and author Midge MacKenzie. MacKenzie had brought together a stunning collage of photos, documents and text to tell the moving story of women's suffrage in England.

Davison's research at libraries and bookstores turned up no similar treatment of women's liberation in the United States. She noticed that NOW was mentioned often in books on the contemporary women's movement, but she couldn't find a complete history like MacKenzie's.

Davison enlisted Marie Cantlon, an experienced editor in Boston, in exploring a book possibility. "Our first look at NOW's archives at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe convinced us that a documentary history with dramatic visuals and narrative would be a challenging and exciting project," Davison said.

With encouragement from NOW's officers and longtime members, Davison and Cantlon made the rounds of New York publishers. The enthusiastic response of Cathy Hemmings, a vice president at Viking/Penguin, led to a contract for the book.

A Varied NOW History
Cantlon and Davison said they quickly discovered that "NOW took on the world," fighting for equal employment opportunity and against sex discrimination, defending abortion rights, advocating for decent day care services and for help for battered women, demanding non-sexist textbooks and equal education, and carrying out a heroic campaign to ratify the ERA.

Very few issues that have touched women's lives have not been on NOW's agenda, they found, and NOW persistently charted a course for equality that has drawn both praise and criticism. "NOW has been called too conservative and too radical," Davison said. "Perhaps this is because it is uique among organizations in that its members directly determine its direction."

The authors have two priorities in writing this book. The first is a focus on the issues NOW has been involved with over the years. "NOW has been a major player in defining what equality is in our society," Cantlon said. "It has not been an easy task, and the organization has gotten hammered at times for standing firm on what its members believe is right."

The second priority came from Ellie Smeal, whose early endorsement helped get the project going. Smeal urged the authors to include as many grassroots stories as possible. "The women we've spoken with so far are extraordinary," Davison said. "Many of them became activists out of personal need and then quickly saw how their cause was every woman's cause."

Davison cites the example of the women in New Jersey who took on the textbook industry and went on to publish one of the first comprehensive analyses of sexism in textbooks, "Dick and Jane as Victims." Because NOW is grassroots, she said, "it has an incredible history of spinoffs. NOW raises or becomes involved in an issue and members take it on and take it forward."

Contributions, Stories Needed
Many NOW members, past and present, have generously taken the time to dig through their closets and attics to share photographs and documents. Cantlon said their previously untold stories "will enrich our understanding of the contemporary women's movement -- where we've been and where we're going."

To supplement the Schlesinger archives and the interviews to date, the editors would like to review as many more photographs, documents and individual stories as possible. They are looking for behind-the-scenes stories of actions and campaigns in which NOW members have been involved.

If you'd like to share materials or be interviewed about your story, please contact Barbara Hays at the National NOW Action Center, 1000 16th Street NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20036, or call 202-331-0066.

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