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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 313

Records of the National Abortion Rights Action League, 1968-1976


Records of the National Abortion Rights Action League, a national lobbying and membership organization devoted first to obtaining, and later to maintaining, the availability of safe, legal abortion.


  • Creation: 1968-1976


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Open to research except for folders #89-93 and 98-101, which contain fundraising correspondence and membership forms and are closed until January 1, 2028.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the records created by the National Abortion Rights Action League is retained by the National Abortion Rights Action League. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Open records may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


10.84 linear feet (26 file boxes)

The NARAL records contain by-laws; minutes of annual meetings; correspondence, mailings, and other material related to annual meetings; minutes, correspondence, and mailings to and from the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee; reports and some correspondence of the Executive Director; some correspondence of the Director of Field Service; minutes, mailings, and correspondence of various committees; some financial and membership records; correspondence files by subject, and by state; and mailings, newsletters, and other publications.

Many sections, most notably financial and membership records, are incomplete for the years covered. Information on the First National Conference on Abortion Laws, which led to the founding of the organization, is also sparse, although some correspondence about it may be found in the state correspondence ("Illinois, 1968 - July 1969"). The following kinds of records have not yet been located: documentation of program planning for the annual meetings; records of founders, officers, and staff; tapes, films, and paper documentation of television and radio ads or of televised panel discussions.

Files labeled correspondence by state include correspondence about setting up and working with state affiliates, correspondence with Board members residing in the respective states, membership correspondence, acknowledgments of donations, requests for information, reports on meetings with state representatives, and other papers. Much of the correspondence during NARAL's first few years was filed by the state of the sender.

Files labeled subject correspondence originally formed a correspondence and reference file, with printed materials interfiled with the correspondence. A complete list of original folder headings is in the first folder of the series. Printed material was removed by the Schlesinger Library archivist and transferred to the Librarian. This series now contains correspondence and relevant printed material. NARAL's folder headings have been retained.

In general, NARAL's filing system has been retained, except that most of the printed reference material, originally filed throughout the collection, has been removed and transferred to the book division of the Schlesinger Library. Since all the major correspondence series contain similar material, it is often necessary to search in several places for a certain record. For example, correspondence with a Board member serving on the Executive Committee while residing in Minnesota may be in Board correspondence, state correspondence (for Minnesota), subject correspondence, or Executive Committee correspondence, or in two or more of these categories.

NARAL's web site is being captured periodically as part of Harvard University Library's Web Archive Collection service (WAX); searchable archived versions of the web site will be available through this finding aid in 2010.


NARAL is the only national lobbying and membership organization devoted solely to maintaining the availability of safe, legal abortion. Originally called the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, NARAL was established at the First National Conference on Abortion Laws: Modification or Repeal?, held in February 1969 in Chicago. The conference, sponsored by 21 organizations and attended by 350 people, included a planning session for NARAL and the report of NARAL's pre-formation planning committee: Lawrence Lader of New York, Garrett Hardin of California, and Dr. Lonny Myers of Chicago. Those attending the session elected a 12-person Planning Committee: Lawrence Lader (Chairman), Ruth Proskauer Smith (Vice Chairman), Ruth Cusack (Secretary), Beatrice McClintock (Treasurer), Constance Bille Finnerty, Mrs. Marc Hughes Fisher, Betty Friedan, Norval Morris, Stewart Mott, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, Edna Smith, and Percy Sutton. The committee held its first official meeting in New York on February 25, 1969. It hired Lee Gidding as the first Executive Director; she opened NARAL's office in New York City on March 3.

The Planning Committee, meeting regularly between February and September 1969, defined NARAL's purpose and program, drafted by-laws to submit to the membership for approval, prepared a slate to run for the Board of Directors, and directed NARAL's activities. The Committee defined NARAL's purpose as follows:

NARAL, recognizing the basic human right of a woman to limit her own reproduction, is dedicated to the elimination of all laws and practices that would compel any woman to bear a child against her will. To that end, it proposes to initiate and co-ordinate political, social, and legal action of individuals and groups concerned with providing safe abortions by qualified physicians for all women seeking them regardless of economic status.

The original NARAL program had six parts:

  1. 1. Assist in the formation in all states of direct political action groups dedicated to the purpose of NARAL;
  2. 2. Serve as a clearing house for activities related to NARAL's purpose;
  3. 3. Create new materials for mass distribution which tell the repeal story dramatically and succinctly;
  4. 4. Train field workers to organize and stimulate legislative action;
  5. 5. Suggest direct action projects;
  6. 6. Raise funds for the above activities.

The Board of Directors, elected by the membership, officially replaced the Planning Committee at the first Board meeting, held on September 27, 1969. The Board elected Honorary Officers (Dr. Lester Breslow and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm as Presidents, Senator Maurine Neuberger as Vice President), Officers (including New York City Councilwoman Carol Greitzer as President), an Executive Committee (Lawrence Lader, Chairman), and a Nominating Committee. In addition, the Board adopted a very specific program of action (see NARAL News, Winter 1970).

From 1969 till early 1973, NARAL worked with other groups to repeal state abortion laws and to oversee implementation of abortion policies in those few states that had liberalized their laws. On January 22, 1973, in Roe vs. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, during the first three months of pregnancy, abortion should be a private decision between a woman and her doctor, and that during the second three months state regulation should be permitted only to protect the health of the woman. To reflect the Court's repeal of restrictive abortion laws, NARAL became the National Abortion Rights Action League in late 1973.

The Court decision did not settle the issue of women's right to choose abortion. Anti-abortion groups, funded predominantly by the Roman Catholic Church and some other religious organizations, stepped up their political activities, exerting pressure on hospitals, abortion clinics, state legislatures, and the U.S. Congress to limit, or prohibit, abortions. In response, NARAL began to recruit members and funds more actively, expanded its staff, moved its headquarters to Washington, D.C., to facilitate lobbying, and established a political action committee (NARAL PAC) to solicit funds and work on behalf of political candidates. Since its establishment in 1969, NARAL has sponsored workshops, symposiums, and conferences; initiated legal suits; raised funds; published and distributed educational materials; cooperated with numerous other groups in a variety of projects; and demonstrated, lobbied, and testified on behalf of women's right to legal, safe abortions.

NARAL's newsletters, press releases, mailings to members, and annual meeting minutes are a good source of information on the history, resolutions and policies, and activities of the organization, as well as information about abortion rights activities in the states and overseas. Additional published material about abortion, reproduction and birth control, activities of pro-choice and anti-abortion groups, and related information has been transferred from the NARAL subject files to the book division of the Schlesinger Library.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 77-M189

The records of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) were given to the Schlesinger Library beginning in November 1977.

Related Material:

There is related material: Additional records of the National Abortion Rights Action League (MC 714); National Abortion Rights Action League Videotape collection (Vt-4) National Abortion Rights Action League, State affiliates newsletter collection (Pr-5); and National Abortion Rights Action League, State affiliates printed material collection (Pr-3).


  1. Box 1: 1-3, 5-10, 12-15, 17-26
  2. Box 2: 27-47
  3. Box 3: 48-80
  4. Box 4: 81-99
  5. Box 5: 100-109
  6. Box 6: 110-120
  7. Box 7: 121-134
  8. Box 8: 135-147
  9. Box 9:148-160
  10. Box 10:161-174
  11. Box 11: 175-188
  12. Box 12: 189-199
  13. Box 13: 200-209
  14. Box 14: 210-222
  15. Box 15: 223-235
  16. Box 16: 136-250
  17. Box 17: 251-267
  18. Box 18: 268-286
  19. Box 19: 287-302
  20. Box 20: 303-319
  21. Box 21: 320-337
  22. Box 22: 338-358
  23. Box 23: 359-372
  24. Box 24: 373-391
  25. Box 25: 392-407
  26. Box 26: 408-427

Processing Information

Processed: October 1980

By: Katherine Gray Kraft, Zephorene L. Stickney

National Abortion Rights Action League. Records of the National Abortion Rights Action League, 1968-1976: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
The collection was processed with a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (#79-4).

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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