Early History

About the Caucus

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This early document from the Caucus archives (circa 1979), has been re-typed from original hard copy. It provides important historical information about the founding of the organization:

Founded in 1971, the National Women's Political Caucus is the only national organization dedicated exclusively to increasing women's participation in all areas of political and public life -- as elected and appointed officials, as delegates to national party conventions, as judges in the state and federal courts, and as lobbyists, voters and campaign organizers. With state and local affiliates, our membership today spans across the nation.

Our founders include such prominent women as Gloria Steinem, author, lecturer and founding editor of Ms. magazine; former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm; former Congresswoman and current president of Women USA Bella Abzug; Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women; Jill Ruckelshaus, U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner; Ann Lewis, Political Director of the Democratic National Committee; Elly Peterson, former vice-chair of the Republican National Committee; LaDonna Harris, Indian rights leader; Liz Carpenter, author, lecturer and former press secretary to Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson; and Eleanor Holmes Norton, former chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Spurred by Congress' failure to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in 1970, these women believed legal, economic and social equity would come about only when women were equally represented among the nation's political decision-makers. Their faith that women's interests would best be served by women lawmakers has been confirmed time and time again, as women in Congress, state legislatures and city halls across the country have introduced, fought for and won legislation to eliminate sex discrimination and meet women's changing needs.

Significant increases in the numbers of women elected officials since the Caucus' founding speak to our success. In 1971, women numbered just 363, or 4.7 percent, of state legislators; today, they are 1,738, or 23.5 percent.

In 1971, there were only 7 women mayors of cities over 30,000, or 1 percent of the total; today, there are 76 women mayors, or 16,7 percent. And while there were only 15 women members of Congress in 1971, there are now 89, or 16.5 percent.

Equally important has been the Caucus' role in moving women and women's concerns to the forefront of American politics -- an achievement best marked in terms of the low priority status accorded these issues at the time of our founding. In an essay in Women Organizing: An Anthology, author Rona Feit observes that "at the time the Caucus was born, women as a group were not a political factor of any importance. The issue of how many women were serving in political leadership roles had not scratched the public consciousness. No one, in fact, monitored or knew how many there were in public office nationwide. The representation of women at national party conventions was of interest only to a small group of reformers, and the concept of women's issues as a sub-group of political issues did not exist. There were no national campaign funds for women candidates and no one was lobbying for the appointment of women to public office. The Caucus was the leader in changing all of this."

While much work remains, the Caucus is proud of the great changes that have already been won. Below is a year-by-year account of major activities and achievements since our founding.

1971

• National Women's Political Caucus is founded at July 10-11 organizing conference attended by more than 320 women from 26 states. Statement of purpose calls for action "against sexism, racism, institutional violence and poverty" and contains pledges to recruit and train feminist women candidates for public office; reform party structure and rules to ensure women equal decision-making power; work for equality in the delegate selection process; register new women voters and raise women's issues in all elections; lobby and testify for legislation to meet women's needs; and create a strong national network through state and local caucuses.

• Caucus leaders meet with 1972 presidential candidates, including George McGovern, Eugene McCarthy, Edmund Muskie, Hubert Humphrey and Shirley Chisholm, to press for fair representation of women in state delegations to the Democratic national convention.

• NWPC launches Women's Education for Delegate Selection, a nationwide campaign to assist women in becoming delegates to the 1972 national party conventions. Conferences to educate women on the rules and procedures for becoming delegates are conducted in selected states across the country.

• Major organizing effort by Caucus founders results in the formation of affiliate caucuses in 30 states by December 1971, with groups organizing in all the rest.

1972

• Caucus leaders meet with heads of the Democratic and Republican national committees, gaining their pledges to work toward 50 percent representation for women delegates at 1972 national conventions.

• NWPC members across the nation organize massive grassroots ratification campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment following congressional passage in March.

• NWPC delegate selection efforts succeed in doubling the number of women at the Republican national convention (from 17 percent in 1968 to 30 percent in 1972) and tripling the number at the Democratic convention (from 13 percent in 1968 to 40 percent in 1972).

• Under Caucus leadership, women delegates to the Democratic national convention mount credentials fights challenging state delegations with unacceptable percentages of women; battle for inclusion of reproductive freedom and other women's issues in the platform; organize an unexpectedly strong campaign for the nomination of Frances "Sissy" Farenthold for vice president, resulting in 404 votes on her behalf and bringing her in second to Senator Thomas Eagleton.

• Caucus-backed delegates to the Republican convention win planks stating party support for the Equal Rights Amendment and federally sponsored child care centers. Republican women delegates also succeed in passing Rule 32, stating that each state should "endeavor" to have equal representation of men and women in its national convention delegations.

1973

sissyfarenthold_0.jpg• Caucus holds its first biennial convention in Houston, Texas -- the first national political convention of women in over 100 years. Delegates decide on formal structure for the organization, and Sissy Farenthold, former Texas state legislator and 1972 Democratic candidate for vice president, is elected NWPC's first national chair.

• Caucus leaders testify in Congress in support of pension reform, family planning health care, public financing of campaigns, and educational equity.

• NWPC Chair Sissy Farenthold meets with Barbara Mikulski, then chair of the Democratic Party's Committee on Delegate Selection and Party Structure, to discuss guidelines for the delegate selection process for the 1976 Democratic national convention.

1974

• Caucus conducts first Win With Women campaign to recruit, train and support feminist women candidates for local, state and Congressional office. In November, the number of women state legislators jumps 26 percent, the number of women statewide officeholders, 36 percent.

• On election night, NWPC runs its first Women's Election Central to gather information on the outcomes of women's races across the country and disseminate it to the press.

• Caucus Democrats argue case for affirmative action and other women's interests at the August 1974 meeting of the Democrats' Charter Commission and at the Democratic mini-convention in Kansas City.

1975

• NWPC Republicans and Democrats form permanent task forces to work for continued reforms in the two national parties.

audreyrowe.jpg• Second national Caucus convention is held in Boston, Massachusetts. Election of pro-ERA women candidates in unratified states is established as top priority, and black Republican Audrey Rowe is elected national chair.

• NWPC Campaign Support Committee is established to provide funds for feminist women candidates -- the first political action committee of its kind.

• NWPC lobbies successfully against amendment to prohibit the use of Medicaid funds for abortion.

1976

• NWPC Democratic Task Force meets with presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, winning support for proposals concerning the appointment of women to the Cabinet and the Supreme Court and equal division of women delegates at the 1978 mid-term and 1980 national conventions.

• NWPC Democratic Task Force conducts major campaign for women's rights at the Democratic national convention in New York City, securing platform support for the Equal Rights Amendment, equal pay and federally funded child care.

• NWPC Republican Women's Task Force (now called "NWPC Republicans") wages victorious battle to retain endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment in the Republican platform. Individual Task Force members lead successful effort to prevent party endorsement of a constitutional ban on abortions.

• NWPC organizes Coalition for Women's Appointments to increase the number of women in governmental policy-making positions. Comprising 50 women's organizations with a combined membership of over one million, the Coalition is chaired and staffed by NWPC. Within three years, the number of women in full-time appointed positions increases 10%.

1977

• At President Carter's request, NWPC leaders meet with Cabinet appointees from each department to discuss women's employment status in the government agencies.

• NWPC launches Judicial Appointment Project to push for women's appointments to state and federal courts. Aided by passage of the Omnibus Judgeship Act, a law adding 152 seats to the federal judiciary, the number of women on the federal bench jumps from 5 to 41 by 1980.

Mildredjeffrey_1.jpg• Caucus holds third national convention in San Jose, California. Mildred Jeffrey, a veteran union organizer and Democratic Committeewoman from Michigan, is elected third national chair (center in photo).

1978

• NWPC Democratic Task Force is rewarded for three years of work when Democratic National Committee passes measure requiring equal division of men and women delegates at the 1978 mid-term and 1980 national conventions.

• NWPC-ERA Fund is established to provide direct financial and technical assistance to state legislative candidates in unratified states. Of 143 pro-ERA candidates given support, 75 percent are victorious.

• Intensive lobbying effort by NWPC and other women's organizations results in extension of ERA ratification deadline to June 1982.

1979

• NWPC organizes nationwide campaign to defeat anti-abortion amendments in the House and Senate.

• NWPC Delegate Selection and Training Program sponsors 22 workshops in 18 states to train women in becoming delegates to the national party conventions, resulting in record numbers of women delegates in 1980.

• Fourth Caucus convention is held in Cincinnati, Ohio. Democrat Iris Mitgang, a California attorney, is elected national chair.

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