The Women of NOW: How Feminists Built an Organization That Transformed America (Hardcover)
"A clear blueprint for change . . . A must-read." —Clara Bingham, The Guardian
The history of NOW—its organization, trials, and revolutionary mission—told through the work of three members.
In the summer of 1966, crammed into a D.C. hotel suite, twenty-eight women devised a revolutionary plan. Betty Friedan, the well-known author of The Feminine Mystique, and Pauli Murray, a lawyer at the front lines of the civil rights movement, had called this renegade meeting from attendees at the annual conference of state women’s commissions. Fed up with waiting for government action and trying to work with a broken system, they laid out a vision for an organization to unite all women and fight for their rights. Alternately skeptical and energized, they debated the idea late into the night. In less than twenty-four hours, the National Organization for Women was born.
In The Women of NOW, the historian Katherine Turk chronicles the growth and enduring influence of this foundational group through three lesser-known members who became leaders: Aileen Hernandez, a federal official of Jamaican American heritage; Mary Jean Collins, a working-class union organizer and Chicago Catholic; and Patricia Hill Burnett, a Michigan Republican, artist, and former beauty queen. From its bold inception through the tumultuous training ground of the 1970s, NOW’s feminism flooded the nation, permanently shifted American culture and politics, and clashed with conservative forces, presaging our fractured national landscape. These women built an organization that was radical in its time but flexible and expansive enough to become a mainstream fixture. This is the story of how they built it—and built it to last.
Includes 16 pages of black-and-white images
About the Author
Katherine Turk is the author of Equality on Trial: Gender and Rights in the Modern American Workplace, which was awarded the Mary Nickliss Prize in U.S. Women’s and/or Gender History from the Organization of American Historians. She is an Associate Professor of History and Adjunct Associate Professor of Gender Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Named a Best Book of 2023 by The New Yorker
"Superb history . . . Turk has done a much-needed service, writing the first full history of NOW . . . As Turk deftly guides her readers through NOW’s roller coaster of victories and defeats, we come away with a clear blueprint for change–replete with cautionary tales–as we face new challenges to women’s freedom and equality. The Women of NOW can show today’s feminists the path forward. It is a must-read." —Clara Bingham, The Guardian
“Turk’s true subject is NOW’s early years. Her account reveals a uniquely ambitious political organization, one that achieved remarkable successes while struggling with divergent feminist visions, competing egos, and insufficient funds.” —Moira Donegan, The New Yorker
"Terrific . . . ” Turk is insightful about NOW’s achievements in helping to gain equal status for women . . . [and] cleareyed about NOW’s shortcomings." —Barbara Spindel, Christian Science Monitor
“[A] nuanced understanding of [NOW's] institutional history . . . Establishing and maintaining NOW has been hard and valuable work, Turk amply demonstrates.” —Carl Rollyson, The New York Sun
"The Women of NOW gives an in-depth look at a vital part of feminism in America. The perfect read for those interested in women’s history, American history, and politics." —Booklist
"[A] smart, clear-eyed history . . . a timely addition to the history of 'second wave' feminism that illuminates today's debates about women's rights." —Publishers Weekly
"Turk tells a lively story of the development of the National Organization for Women . . . A thoroughly researched and well-balanced history." —Kirkus Reviews
“Finally, we have a book that centers a diverse array of women leaders who built NOW, a singularly important American organization formed to end male supremacy. The Women of Now is an excellent work of history and essential reading for those who continue to fight for a society that values the experiences, recognizes the rights, and supports the aspirations of all women.” —Tomiko Brown-Nagin, author of Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality
“Katherine Turk’s The Women of NOW: How Feminists Built an Organization That Transformed America is popular history at its most captivating: The story of a vital and complex moment in time, told with sensitivity, nuance, and an eye to the future. Anyone interested in America will be fascinated by this book. For a new generation of feminists, it is necessary reading.” —Kate Bolick, author of Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own
“A rich and textured account of the way NOW came together and came apart. Turk provides a deeply researched history of complex organizational politics and a vivid portrait of a group of remarkable women who devoted their lives to achieving equality. Turk’s description of NOW’s significant accomplishments and its disappointing failures offers important lessons that may guide us as we face the challenges of a post-Dobbs world.” —Drew Gilpin Faust, author of Necessary Trouble: Growing Up at Midcentury
“Katherine Turk’s The Women of NOW charts the emergence, growth, and endurance of one of the twentieth century’s most important organizations engaged in the struggle for equality. To tell this story, Turk introduces us not only to NOW’s famous founders but to many of the forgotten women who built the organization—women like Aileen Hernandez and Mary Jean Collins, whose ethnic and class backgrounds challenged NOW’s early assumptions that gender alone defined a woman and shaped her goals. Throughout the narrative, Turk demonstrates a profound understanding of the larger social context in which NOW arose and the growth of identity politics that threatened NOW’s survival. Beautifully written and remarkably well-researched, this is a book that should be read by every American committed to the ongoing campaign for equality, in which NOW still plays a critical role.” —Carol Berkin, author of Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence
“Katherine Turk’s rigorous archival research and groundbreaking cross-country reporting have culminated in this essential contribution to the history of feminism in America. The Women of NOW tells the story of a group of women, and three of their unsung leaders, who tried to change the world—and in so many ways, did.” —Ada Calhoun, author of Why We Can't Sleep
“Katherine Turk’s masterful The Women of NOW offers a long overdue and definitive look at the pathbreaking National Organization for Women and how it transformed both American feminism and American life. This book is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand what feminism is—or could be.” —Mary Ziegler, author of Roe: The History of a National Obsession
“Illuminating, unflinching, and galvanizing above all, The Women of NOW is more than a fascinating and accessible guide to the most influential American women’s political organization. It is a timely call-to-arms in a post-Roe society that reminds us that history may rhyme but it does not need to refrain. This will certainly be a favorite among activists, teachers, and students for many years to come, but, more importantly, it’s the kind of work that gives us hope in the fierce urgency of NOW.” —Charlotte Clymer, writer and activist
“I lived through the history inscribed in this book but I never understood it anywhere as richly as I do now, having had it all laid out for me with impressive clarity and imagination, as Katharine Turk has done.” —Vivian Gornick, author of Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader
"With The Women of NOW, Katherine Turk offers vivid prose and dramatic stories about the central role the National Organization of Women has played and continues to play in advancing American women’s rights through robust action—underscoring issues as urgent in the 1960s as they are now." —Daniel Horowitz, author of Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique