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COLLECTION Identifier: Vt-241; MP-34; DVD-7

Moving image collection of the National Organization for Women, 1974-2006


Videotapes, motion pictures, and DVDs documenting the National Organization for Women's (NOW) conferences, marches and rallies, and political activism, as well as its role as plaintiff in NOW v. Scheidler.


  • Creation: 1974-2006


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

As of December 2015, written permission of the National Organization for Women (NOW) is no longer required for access to #Vt-241.70. As of January 2018, written permission of the National Organization for Women (NOW) is no longer required for access to #Vt-241.98-Vt-241.99.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the moving images created by the National Organization for Women is held by the National Organization for Women. Copyright in other materials in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Moving images may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


78 motion pictures (visual works)
404 videotapes
1 DVDs

The Moving image collection of the National Organization for Women (NOW) contains motion picture reels, videotapes, and DVDs documenting NOW's conferences, marches and rallies, and political activism, as well as its role as plaintiff in the legal case NOW v. Scheidler. Moving images in this collection were removed from the Additional records of the National Organization for Women, 1970-2011 (MC 666). Item labels were retained and expanded upon by the archivist.

Series I, GENERAL, 1974-2006 (#MP-34.1-MP-34.78, Vt-241.1-Vt-241.131, Vt-241.385-Vt-241.404, DVD-7.1), includes 78 motion picture reels (8 mm silent color film, 16 mm color film with sound, and 35 mm color film with sound), 151 videotapes (in 1/2," 3/4," and 8mm formats), and 1 DVD, documenting NOW's participation in and organization of marches, rallies, conferences, and other events. Most of the motion picture reels are silent footage taken of NOW's 1974 national conference. Notes on the film canisters indicate that corresponding sound reels once existed, but they are not included in this collection. Other reels contain original footage used in NOW's ERA public service announcements, final versions of which can be found in Vt-25. March and rally footage features coverage of speeches, as well as protesters carrying signs and banners supporting women's rights, gay rights, and abortion rights. Other events include conferences for young feminists, strategy planning meetings on abortion, and public hearings held by the Commission for Responsive Democracy, a group which assessed the need for a third major political party concerned with feminist and minority issues. Materials are arranged chronologically.

Series II, NOW V. SCHEIDLER, 1982-2002 (#Vt-241.132-Vt-241.384), contains videotapes relating to the court case filed by NOW in 1986, in an attempt to use federal antitrust and racketeering laws to bar pro-life protesters from blocking entrances to women's health care clinics providing abortion services. Initially NOW named pro-life activist Joseph Scheidler and other members of his Pro-Life Action League as the main defendants, but Randall Terry and his group Operation Rescue were added to the lawsuit in 1988. NOW's lawyers sought to prove that there was a conspiracy among pro-life activists and groups to restrict access to clinics. In part because of the novel attempt to apply antitrust and racketeering laws to such behavior, the court case continued for many years, with multiple decisions of the Illinois District Court appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. The case went to trial in the District Court in 1998, and a jury ruled in favor of NOW. Appeals continued until 2006, when the Supreme Court ruled that NOW had failed to adequately prove its case under the racketeering (RICO) statutes.

Videotapes that were produced by the various defendants and by NOW during the "discovery" phase of the lawsuit are identified with one or two letters identifying who produced the material, followed by a number. These numbers, called "Bates numbers," are used to track documents in court cases. Videotapes with "FB" prefixes were produced by Philip "Flip" Benham, who became the national director of Operation Rescue in 1994 (and in 1999 renamed the group Operation Save America). Videotapes with "OR" prefixes were produced by Operation Rescue. Most of the videotapes produced by NOW to the defendants do not have alphabetical prefixes; they are listed below solely by their Bates number. Videotapes with "N" prefixes are those that were entered into NOW's discovery database after 1996. The origin of other videotapes is unknown.

Videotapes largely document the pro-life movement and include footage of rallies, lectures, and abortion clinic protests and blockades. Also included are commercially produced movies and documentaries intended to recruit viewers to the pro-life cause and motivate them to join protests at abortion clinics and pro-choice events. Videotapes demonstrate the rhetoric used to galvanize pro-life individuals and to vilify those in the pro-life movement, and reveal tactics such as sitting or lying down to prolong mass arrests at clinic blockades, using belts and bike locks to chain oneself to cars or fences to prolong protests and prevent patients from entering clinics, and blockading clinic entrances to prevent patients from getting abortions. Videotapes also show the camaraderie among protesters, who often arrived at protests with fellow church or family members and sang hymns and prayed together during clinic blockades and protests. Videotapes in this series also include local and national news coverage of pro-choice rallies, marches, and protests, as well as copies of local and national talk shows such as Donahue, Chicago, and Rolanda, featuring debates between pro-life and pro-choice supporters. Videotapes are arranged with discovery items first, followed by those submitted as exhibits in the case. Discovery items are arranged alphabetically by Bates number prefix, followed by a sequential arrangement of tapes without prefixes. Exhibits are arranged sequentially with defendant's exhibits first, followed by plaintiff's exhibits.


The largest feminist organization in the United States, the National Organization for Women (NOW) began when a group of representatives attending the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women (June 28-30, 1966) became angered by their unsuccessful attempts to force the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to enforce federal regulations ending sex discrimination. Meeting with Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique and a guest speaker at the conference, the invited group of 28 women and men decided to establish a civil rights organization for women. The group included Gene Boyer, Kathryn Clarenbach, Mary Eastwood, Dorothy Haener, Anna Roosevelt Halsted, Esther Johnson, Pauli Murray, Inka O'Hanrahan, and Caroline Ware. On the last day of the conference, they drafted their statement of purpose: "to take action to bring women into full participation in the main-stream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men."

A temporary steering committee publicized the group's purpose and recruited members. By the time the organizing conference was held October 29-30, 1966, NOW had more than 300 members. It quickly grew into a group with tens of thousands of members and hundreds of state and local chapters. For the first two years there was no central office; officers performed their NOW-related duties and kept their files at home or in their workplaces. NOW established an office in Washington, DC, in 1968, and moved it to New York City in 1969, where it operated from two consecutive apartments of NOW Executive Director Dolores Alexander. Subsequently, NOW split the headquarters into three offices, setting up and maintaining operations in New York City (Public Information Office, 1973-1976), Washington (Legislative Office, 1973-1976), and Chicago (National Office, 1973-1976) before centralizing all functions in one national headquarters in Washington, DC, in January 1976.

From its inception, NOW worked on numerous issues affecting women's lives. The NOW Bill of Rights for 1968 laid out those areas it considered of highest importance:

  1. 1. Equal Constitutional Amendment [more commonly called the Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA]
  2. 2. Enforce law banning sex discrimination in employment
  3. 3. Maternity leave rights in employment and in Social Security benefits
  4. 4. Tax deduction for home and child care expenses for working parents
  5. 5. Child day care centers
  6. 6. Equal and unsegregated education
  7. 7. Equal job training opportunities and allowances for women in poverty
  8. 8. The right of women to control their reproductive lives

NOW set up task forces and committees to address these and other issues. In the 1970s, NOW began to devote more and more time to passage and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, which was finally passed by Congress on March 22, 1972, almost 50 years after it was first introduced. In 1977, NOW declared ratification of the ERA to be their "top national priority," and in February 1978 declared a "State of which [we] turn all [our] resources to the ratification effort and to extension of the deadline for ratification an additional seven years." The United States Congress, however, only approved an extension of three years, three months, and nine days. In spite of a massive national campaign, carried out by NOW organizers and members in states across the country, the ERA expired in 1982, three states short of ratification. NOW has continued to work for passage of a federal amendment, and for enforcement of the various state ERAs.

In the 1980s and 1990s, NOW also devoted its resources to campaigns for reproductive rights; to end violence against women; to eradicate racism, sexism and homophobia; to influence judicial selection; and to promote equality and justice in our society. In 2011, NOW identified the six core issues that it addresses as abortion rights/reproductive issues, violence against women, constitutional equality, promoting diversity/ending racism, lesbian rights, and economic justice. Additional information on NOW's activities and history is available on its web site.


The collection is arranged in two series:

  1. Series I. General, 1970-2006 (#MP-34.1-MP-34.78, Vt-241.1-Vt-241.131, Vt-241.385-Vt-241.404, DVD-7.1)
  2. Series II. NOW v. Scheidler, 1982-2002 (#Vt-241.132-Vt-241.384)

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 92-M8, 2004-M62, 2005-M98, 2006-M44, 2006-M91, 2006-M203, 2006-M217, 2009-M53, 2010-M7, 2010-M32, 2010-M98, 2010-M112, 2015-M45

These moving images of the National Organization for Women were given to the Schlesinger Library by the National Organization for Women between January 1992 and February 2010. Additional materials were given by Mary Jean Collins in March 2009 and Fay Clayton between May 2010 and March 2015.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see National Organization for Women Records, 1959-2002 (MC 496); National Organization for Women Additional records, 1970-2011 (MC 666); National Organization for Women videotape collection, 1977-1988 (Vt-25); National Organization for Women audio collection, 1966-1991 (T-29); National Organization for Women additional audiotapes, ca.1970s-2001 (T-466).

Processing Information

Processed: April 2015

By: Johanna Carll

National Organization for Women. Moving image collection of the National Organization for Women, 1970-2006: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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