Moving image collection of the National Organization for Women, 1970-2006
Language of Materials
As of December 2015, written permission of the National Organization for Women (NOW) is no longer required for access to #Vt-241.70.
Conditions Governing Use
Copying. Moving images may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.
78 motion pictures (visual works)
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), 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.
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. Equal Constitutional Amendment [more commonly called the Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA]
- 2. Enforce law banning sex discrimination in employment
- 3. Maternity leave rights in employment and in Social Security benefits
- 4. Tax deduction for home and child care expenses for working parents
- 5. Child day care centers
- 6. Equal and unsegregated education
- 7. Equal job training opportunities and allowances for women in poverty
- 8. The right of women to control their reproductive lives
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.
- 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)
- Series II. NOW v. Scheidler, 1982-2002 (#Vt-241.132-Vt-241.384)
Immediate Source of Acquisition
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.
By: Johanna Carll
- Abortion--Press coverage
- Abortion--Religious aspects
- Abortion--United States
- DVD-Video discs
- Demonstrations--United States
- Equal rights amendments--United States
- Feminism--United States
- Gay pride parades
- Gay rights
- Motion pictures
- Pro-choice movement--United States
- Pro-life movement--United States
- Reproductive rights--United States
- Second wave feminism--United States
- Strikes and lockouts--Abortion services
- Television programs
- Television public service announcements
- Women political activists--United States
- Women's rights--United States
- Women--Legal status, laws, etc.--United States
- Women--United States--Social conditions
- 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
- EAD ID
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