Founding & History of the VFA
By Jacqui Michot Ceballos, VFA Founder
Jacqui Ceballos by Linda Stein
In 1976, after ten years of heavy feminist activity in New York and nationally, I moved back to my home in New Orleans. It was the Reagan years. The Equal Rights Amendment had finally passed the Senate but failed to be ratified in the South. As always, men were being honored for their contributions to society but, except for Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, the feminists who’d changed America were forgotten, often disdained and, in fact, were dubbed “feminazis,” by some.
In 1989 destiny moved me to South Florida where I reconnected with NOW buddy, Mary Jean Tully of New York, who, among other things, had made the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund a thriving reality. Mary Jean was now funding an oral history project on the history of NOW and Betty Friedan for Harvard’s Schlesinger library. Would I help? How could I refuse?
Jacqui at Seneca Falls 1971
So, back I went to New York to interview early NOW activists. Since the women’s liberation movement had started at the same time as NOW, I decided to interview radical women, also. But, sadly, none of the early activists — from NOW and the radical movement, were in touch with one another! My visit excited them to reunite.
With help of long time buddies, Dorothy Senerchia from New Feminist Theater and Barbara Seaman of the feminist Health Movement, we founded a “reunion” committee and, to avoid in legal issues with the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) , we called ourselves the VFA — for Veteran Feminists of America.
I asked the group to think beyond a reunion to an organization that would keep us together so that we could document the history of our movement as well as inspire future feminists.
In May, 1993, we held our first reunion in honor of *Catherine East , the woman Betty Friedan credited as being her inspiration to found NOW. Over 250 people came to New York City from around the country to honor the beloved Catherine.
After that glorious occasion, Catherine, with D.C. attorney Mary Eastwood, also a founder of NOW, urged us to honor other NOW pioneers. So, in Spring of 1994, at the famed Sewall Belmont house in D.C., we honored Congresswoman Martha Griffiths, who had made it possible to include “sex” in Title VII; Virginia Allen, Director of the Women’s Bureau under President Nixon; and NOW founder, Phineas Indritz, the attorney who advised feminists to organize.
1996 was the 30th anniversary of NOW and VFA’s board chair, Muriel Fox, possibly the most responsible for NOW’s founding, helped us organize a landmark celebration that reunited VFA founders and early Movement leaders. Muriel has been chair of VFA’s board since then and VFA has been able to expand its projects, and has held events beyond New York and Washington.
VFA has a great web site for over 20 years, designed, written and managed by Jan Cleary. In 2017, the site was redesigned while preserving the original site for researchers, historians and students.
Our hope is that VFA will continue to offer support and camaraderie to pioneers of the “Second Wave,” to provide the recognition, respect and honor they so richly deserve, and to inspire and motivate young feminists.