In June, 1966, hundreds of representatives of women's concerns nation-wide met for the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women in Washington D.C. Frustrated at the lack of agency they had within this U.S. government organization, some of the conference's attendees decided that the time had come for a private national organization to fight for the concerns of women, as Civil Rights organizations had done and were continuing to do for African-Americans. Assembled in Betty Friedan's hotel room, 15-20 of the conference participants hatched the plan to form the National Organization for Women (NOW).
In October, 1966, the organization's founders met for their first organizational conference. The organization had attracted 300 charter members, both male and female, but only 30 of them participated in the conference. The first slate of NOW officers was elected, including President Betty Friedan, Kathryn (Kay) Clarenbach as Chair of the Board, Aileen Hernandez Executive Vice President, Richard Graham as Vice President, and Caroline Davis as Secretary/Treasurer. NOW also adopted a statement of purpose at this meeting, which stated, among other things, that NOW was an organization dedicated to "take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men." The founding group also approved immediate actions to work for enforcement of title VII and against the sex based job discrimination of flight attendants.
Since it's inception in 1966, NOW has become the largest feminist membership organization in the U.S., with more than 500 local and campus chapters and more than 500,000 members. Actions taken by NOW have focused on many aspects of women's lives, including heavy emphasis on employment discrimination, reproductive rights, violence against women, and the ratification of the ERA. Some of the more substantial victories in which NOW was involved include the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that sex-based segregation in job postings is illegal, organization of the Houston Women's Conference in 1977, passage of the Rape Shield Law and Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, and passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994.
Though homophobia plagued NOW in its early years, the organization eventually came out in strong support of its lesbian members, holding the first of several lesbian rights conferences in 1984. Over time, NOW also made greater efforts to include the perspectives and voices of women of color in its agenda.
In 2006, NOW celebrated its 40th anniversary as an organization. Current priority issues for the organization are protecting American women's right to choose, promoting diversity and ending racism, ending violence against women, promoting lesbian rights, and fighting for constitutional equality and economic justice for women. NOW is also involved in anti-war activism and efforts to recognize and respect the contributions of mothers to our society. NOW's current statement of purpose reads: "Our purpose is to take action to bring women into full participation in society – sharing equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities with men, while living free from discrimination." Its current brochure also states "NOW is one of the few multi-issue progressive organizations in the United States. NOW stands against all oppression, recognizing that racism, sexism and homophobia are interrelated, that other forms of oppression such as classism and ableism work together with these three to keep power and privilege concentrated in the hands of a few."