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National NOW Times >> Spring, 2001 >> Article

Sometimes You Have to Rock the Boat

By Liz Gilchrist

NOW joins with allies in the labor movement in mourning the passing of Dorothy Haener, long-time advocate for women in unions and one of the founders of the National Organization for Women.

A life-long resident of Michigan, Dorothy began working in Detroit auto plants before World War II. She became a member of the United Auto Workers (UAW) in 1941, where she began her career as a union activist. In 1942, she joined the war effort as a defense worker at the Ford Motor Company bomber plant.

She later said that one of her earliest experiences of sex discrimination on the job came at the end of the war when she was demoted from her higher-paying inspector’s job to a lower-paying clerical job because of her sex. An account of her war years at Ford is featured in Tom Brokaw’s recent best-selling book, The Greatest Generation.

Dorothy was a strong advocate for women and equal participation in both the workplace and the union. She took a position with the International UAW in the Women’s Department, where she met and networked with other women’s rights activists around the country. Many of them worked through women’s bureaus and state commissions on women to improve the legal standing of women in this country.

However, by the mid-1960s, Dorothy and many of her compatriots were convinced that in spite of the passage of legislation like Title VII, the equal employment provisions of the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other federal agencies and commissions were not going to actively or effectively protect women’s rights.

In June 1966, Dorothy and a handful of women attending the Third National Conference of the Commission on the Status of Women met informally in Betty Friedan’s hotel room. There, they talked over the idea of establishing, in Dorothy’s words, “an NAACP for women.” Within days, Dorothy Haener and 27 other women and men founded the National Organization for Women. The rest, as they say, is history.

Dorothy was part of the temporary steering committee that laid the groundwork for the organization of NOW and was later elected to the first Board. She handled most of NOW’s membership and finances out of her UAW office in Detroit in those early years. Dorothy went on to serve in a wide variety of capacities at NOW and remained an active member until her death in January 2001.

Her work in the women’s rights movement spread beyond NOW. In 1968, Dorothy helped found the Women’s Equity Action League, an organization that focused on equal opportunity for women in education and employment.

She was also active in the Michigan Democratic Women’s Caucus, the Coalition of Labor Union Women and the NAACP. She was appointed to President Nixon’s Task Force on Women’s Rights and to the National Commission on the Observance of the International Year of the Woman. Dorothy has been honored by the Veteran Feminists of America, the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, and the Michigan Senate for “her outstanding work in labor unions, civic and political organizations and the feminist movement.”

Dorothy was once asked how she viewed her life as a union organizer and fighter for women’s rights. She replied: “You have to take a look at how to rock the boat. You don’t want to spill yourself out if you can avoid it, but sometimes you have to rock the boat.”

To honor Dorothy Haener and all the other feminists who have taught us how to “rock the boat,” NOW has established the Founders Fund. Contributions to this special fund will be used to carry on the work of building the strong and vibrant feminist community that is NOW. From sustaining grassroots activism to developing new chapters to reaching out to new constituencies, the Founders Fund will be used to ensure that NOW continues to grow and thrive for many years to come.

If you would like to make a gift to the NOW Founders Fund in honor of Dorothy Haener or any of the organization’s founders, send your check – made payable to NOW – to:

NOW Action Center
733 15th Street NW - 2nd Floor
Washington, DC 20005
Attn: Liz Gilchrist.

If you are making your donation in honor or memory of someone and would like that person or the family notified of your gift, please be sure to include all the necessary information, including names and addresses, with your check.

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