The Statement of Purpose issued by the National Organization for Women in 1966 reflected some of the tensions present within the U.S. and many European countries during the 1906s. While NOW’s purpose was to promote equality for women, its statement also mentions issues of race, as the civil rights movement continued to blaze along in America in 1966. The 1960s are often remembered in the collective consciousness of Americans as a decade of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, but for many, it was a time of tension between changing social mores and conservative Christian culture.
In NOW’s statement, it explains that since women now commonly live to the age of 75, childrearing can no longer be their main purpose in life, and that as many households own labor-saving devices (such as vacuum cleaners and washing machines), housework no longer needed to occupy all of a woman’s time. Thus, NOW advocated for women to become educated and enter the workforce. NOW’s advocacy for women to shift their focuses away from wifely and motherly duties came in the midst of a national controversy over use of an oral contraceptive–a.k.a., the Pill.
In 1966, the Pope and the Catholic Church remained opposed to the Pill, and birth control use remained restricted in many of the states in the U.S. (1) While NOW supported women leaving the domestic sphere, conservative social norms still attempted to keep women locked in the role of the mother–a continuation of the Christian dichotomy of women as either the Madonna or the whore. However, by 1965, the year before NOW formed, 6.5 million American women used the Pill. (2) Clearly, NOW entered the American scene at a time when American women were poised to take control of their lives and ready for opportunities beyond motherhood.
Of course, NOW faced many challenges that it mentioned in its statement of purpose, including a sexist media, unfairness in rulings by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and lack of encouragement by parents and teachers of young girls seeking an education, but the organization maintained that women had to take action, demand equality, and create a new image for themselves. This idea of conviction and belief in one’s own truth was a common theme of activism and social protest in the 1960s.
(1) “The Pill.” PBS. Accessed April 16, 2015. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/timeline/timeline2.html.