THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
“I Wanted to Make History”
I joined NOW not only because I was angry at being told “We don’t hire women,” but was also because I wanted to make history. After thousands of years when women were subservient to men and it was taken for granted. We really changed the world.
Breaking The Glass Ceiling
My mother was what women had been for thousands of years. The housewife – hated it. She was a terrible cook, the house was a mess and I just knew that I did not want to be a housewife. When I went to Barnard, the Vocational Aid department told us to become secretaries. They said don’t look for jobs other than secretaries. This was 1948.
Carl Byoir was the world’s largest public relations agency at that time. When I had my interview the executive vice president said, “We don’t hire women.” Much later when I became executive vice president I was told – “Well, Muriel you know we love you – you’re wonderful but women cannot relate to CEOs of corporations – so that’s as far as you’re going to go.”
The Power Of The Feminine Mystique
In 1963 I was on the board of American Women in Radio and Television and I invited Betty Friedan to speak at our national convention. She had just published The Feminine Mystique. Some of the women were rather horrified because she used words like orgasm and was not a docile kind of person. But I wanted to give her a standing ovation.
I talked to her about the need for what she called an NAACP for women. And in 1966 when they were starting up this new organization called NOW, National Organization for Women – I was on Betty Friedan’s rolodex. And I got one of her carbon letters inviting me to join.
The founding conference of NOW was in the basement of the Washington Post building. I did the publicity. When I wrote the press release I said more than 300 women and men founded NOW. Which was true because we had about 300 around the country. But I was sort of implying that maybe we were in that room but there were 30 or 35 of us who started NOW.
Our goal was full equality for women and truly equal partnership with men. That was our slogan. The story that I wrote about the founding of NOW ended up on the front page of most of the leading newspapers in the country and they knew that this was the beginning of a revolution. On the other hand the columnist poked fun and there were cartoons. They certainly tried to put us down.
We Were Not Going To Be Stopped
NOW had to get all the laws changed. One of our very first campaigns was to – what we called de-sexagrate the help wanted male, help wanted female want ads in the newspaper. NOW said there’s only two jobs better suited to men or to women. One is wet nurse and the other is semen donor.
Landlords could say – I’m not going to rent to a woman. So we had to get the Fair Housing Act passed. A woman could not have a credit card in her own right. Only in her husband’s name and if she were divorced or her husband died she couldn’t get a credit card. We had to get the Equal Credit Act passed in the 1970s.
You Can Do It Too
I was very proud that I wrote the letter that helped persuade President Lyndon Johnson to admit women into affirmative action. Johnson signed Executive Order 11246 in the fall of 1967. That executive order opened the pipeline for millions of them. Look what we accomplished.
For every victory we had we were really helping our country and our society tap the talents and the energies of all these women who had been denied an opportunity to use their talents of the past. It’s not all over. Just think how much there still has to be done. You can do it too. You can make history and that’s very exciting.