former Vice President for Membership, 1993-2001
former Executive Vice President, 2001-2005
Karen Johnson was elected Executive Vice President of NOW in June 2001 after serving eight years as Membership Vice President. Prior to her ten years in national office, Johnson spent 18 years as a grassroots NOW activist at the chapter, state and regional levels. She brought to NOW more than 20 years experience in management, nursing, and military service; the diversity of perspective she gained growing up poor, female and African American; and a global feminist vision sparked by living three years in Asia and Europe.
Born in Jersey City, N.J., Johnson overcame the hurdle of growing up in a violent urban ghetto to pursue an extraordinary nursing career, encompassing service in the emergency room, orthopedics, medical-surgical units, pediatrics and the operating room. Johnson currently is a Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist.
Twenty of Johnson's years as a nurse were spent in the military (photo). During the latter part of the Vietnam Warat a time when less than two per cent of the military was femaleshe joined the Air Force as a nurse officer. Stationed a year in Thailand, Johnson served on the base's Human Relations Council and as the hospital's Equal Opportunity and Treatment Officer. She joined NOW in 1975 while stationed in Spain.
Through an Air Force sponsored education, Johnson received a B.S. from Loretto Heights College in 1977 and an M.S. from Yale University in 1984. In 1980, Johnson was selected "Nurse of the Year" at the Air Force's largest medical center in San Antonio, Texas. In 1992, she retired from the military as a Lieutenant Colonel with an Air Force Commendation Medal, a Humanitarian Service Medal and two Meritorious Service Medals.
As a NOW leader, Johnson has been a member of the National Board of Directors (1986-1990), the Great Lakes Regional Director (1988-1990), Ohio NOW Action Vice President (1990-92) and co-chair of NOW's national Committee on Racial Diversity (1990-1993) before serving as Vice President for Membership (1993-2001) and Executive Vice President (2001-2005).
After taking national office, Johnson organized seven national NOW Conferences, two Young Feminist Summits and the Women's International Symposium on Health. Johnson participated in the 1995 U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, and the Beijing +5 follow up activities. She is a member of the International Liaison Committee of the World March for Women and chaired the U.S. steering committee of the World March. Johnson advocated, both as a NOW officer and a military retiree, for the admission of women to the Citadel and the Virginia Military Institute, an effort that turned into one of the inspiring feminist victories of the past decade. Johnson also heads up the NOW Foundation's Love Your Body Day campaign, part of the Women's Health Project.
Johnson has appeared on the networks' nightly newscasts, "Good Morning America," "Crossfire," "Face the Nation," and "Hardball," not to mention countless radio programs across the country. She has written opinion pieces on welfare for Essence magazine and The New York Times, a chapter on her military experiences for the book "Gender Camouflage," and testified before a Congressional committee on welfare reform.
Johnson's other volunteer services include work at soup kitchens, free clinics and battered women's shelters, as well as participation as a senior partner in a program for juvenile delinquents. Johnson was a board member of the American Cancer Society in Ohio for five years, and was selected as the group's "Nurse of Hope" for two years. In 1990, she received the "Keeper of the Flame" award from the state of Ohio for her political activism.
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