Thursday, May 21, 2020
Excerpt from Juneau News (Juneau, Alaska, NOW newsletter). Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryExcerpt from Juneau News (Juneau, Alaska, NOW newsletter). Courtesy of Schlesinger Library

The Schlesinger’s collections of the National Organization for Women (NOW) records document national issues and organizing around women’s rights and equity issues from the late 1960s to today. NOW had state and local chapters in addition to its national office, and our collection of NOW local chapter newsletters provides rich documentation of local and regional issues as women worked together to achieve equality at home, at work, in churches, in the media, and in politics. A portion of these newsletters were recently digitized.

These two 1974 issues of The Mind’s Eye from the Arkansas NOW chapter cover a wide range of topics and show connections among local, state, and national organizing efforts. The newsletters discuss national news, promote news from the Houston NOW chapter as well as events, and provide connections among local Arkansas town chapters. These newsletters also document men’s participation as NOW members and candidates for leadership positions. Other topics covered are the Equal Rights Amendment, women in poverty, and women’s rights and treatment in religion and churches. NOW members were encouraged to volunteer for open positions on relevant state commissions, including ones on Criminal Detention Facilities and Science and Technology. Of note in the September newsletter is a notice that Shirley Chisholm will be speaking on the ERA in Fayetteville, and a call for participants to staff an ERA table at the Arkansas Livestock Show.

Alabama NOW chapter letter writing campaign. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryAlabama NOW chapter letter writing campaign. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library

Coordination among state chapters is evident in this 1979 Anchorage, Alaska NOW newsletter, which reprinted a call from Florida NOW members for people in states that had ratified the ERA to lobby Florida’s officials to do so as well.

Newsletters from smaller cities show that organizing efforts were not limited to large coastal cities. The Bakersfield, California, NOW chapter raised funds for a physical meeting space; their first meeting in the new space in July 1973 featured a speaker from an organization doing outreach with prisoners and their families. That December, the chapter also opened a Rape Crisis Center staffed by NOW members and volunteers.

Newsletters of various titles from Tucson NOW begin in 1972 and end in 1999, allowing a view of women’s interests and organizing efforts in that city over several decades. Tucson NOW events in the early 1970s included a Feminine Identity Workshop, an ERA strategy session, workshop on rape, and programs on abortion, educational equity, and women’s health issues. Events in 1999 included an AIDS candlelight vigil, a conference on domestic violence in same-gender relationships, and a presentation on eating and body image issues.

The digitization of these newsletters was completed as part of a pilot project to test the capabilities of a new high-speed document scanner recently acquired by Harvard's Imaging Services Department. While only 1 of the 30 cartons of newsletters has been digitized so far, these issues available online give us a glimpse into local NOW organizing in several diverse states. Eventually researchers will be able to perform full-text searches across all the digitized NOW newsletters.

Anchorage NOW newsletter. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryAnchorage NOW newsletter. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library 

Jenny Gotwals