(Special thanks to Sarah E. Frazer, University Archivist, Special Collections and Archives of theUniversity of Houston Libraries for her generous assistance in indentifying notable persons)

1) On the damp and foggy dawn of November 18th, 1977, the red carpet was conspicuously absent from Houston’s greeting of 22,000 women arriving in the city for the National Women’s Conference. A National Plan of Action (developed by 2000 delegates elected from fifty states and six territories) included twenty-six resolutions that were open to debate prior to being adopted in Houston as the official voice of American women .
A Harris County Republican party official noted that the conference slated for the Albert Thomas Convention and Exhibit Center was bringing “a gaggle of outcasts, misfits and rejects” to Houston. A sense of foreboding was shared by many women who considered it sheer lunacy to convene in the deep south.
On the other hand, while Texas was the epicenter of conservatism, it was also the first southern state to elect a black woman to Congress (Barbara Jordan). Conference organizers also liked the fact that Houston’s Mayor Hofheinz was the first to establish a women’s advocate position in city government . Created in 1976, the position was swiftly abolished by the Houston city council even before the 1977 Conference began.

2) The historical crest of feminism’s Second Wave started quietly with muffled voices and footsteps of runners crossing the knoll as they arrived with the torch carried from Seneca Falls, New York.

3) Across 1800 miles and 129 years, the flame had been passed from woman to woman. It was in Seneca Falls in 1848 that feminists gathered for the first time for the Women’s Rights Convention and debated over the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, ultimately signed by 68 women and 32 men The plan they adopted set an agenda for the First Wave of the feminist movement.
The 1977 Plan of Action is equally essential to the advancement of women’s interests, defining rights deemed inalienable by the majority attending the federally funded state-level conferences that were mandated by public law.
Contained in The Plan is the demand for ratification of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment); enforcement of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade guaranteeing reproductive freedom; and the enactment of Congressional and state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual and affectional preference.

4) The Conference departed from history by providing heightened visibility for women of color. Also participating were public figures who remained within the crowd and accessible all weekend.
• Betty Friedan 1921- (red coat)
• Michele Cearcy (left of Betty)
• Pat Kokernot (left of Michele)
• Sylvia Ortiz (left of Pat)
• Jean Stapleton (face emerging from left)

5) Betty Friedan, the founder and first president of the National Organization for Women, was adamantly opposed to including the sexual preference resolution in The Plan for fear that the women’s movement would be damaged by associating with the “lavender menace.”. As a result she was the subject of intense criticism for creating a division between N.O.W. and many of the women who had given rise to the Second Wave of feminism.
• Betty Friedan (red coat)

6) New York’s unstoppable U.S. Congresswoman, Bella Abzug, was appointed by President Carter to preside over the Conference for which she and Congresswoman Patsy Mink had introduced legislation and championed the appropriation of funds for the development of The Plan. With even greater determination, Bella devoted herself tirelessly to unifying the factions within the movement, itself.
Bella died in 1998.
• Bella Abzug (wearing her trademark wide-brimmed hat)
• Billie Jean King (front row, second from left)

7) Rain began to fall, as the Conference officially opened under the somewhat reluctant gaze of national media.
• Bella Abzug (hat)

8) Aspirations for reshaping society were firm. While it was risky to protest in the aftershock of Kent State, the Second Wave did, indeed, protest and dream. Many of the social changes that were boldly envisioned that year have, in fact, been realized.

9) The diversity of delegates from various ages, races, geographic locations, political parties, religions and economic classes continues to empower The Plan as the will of Everywoman from Everytown, America. )

10) Far from a “done deal”, The Plan was subject to extensive revision, if not destruction, under the pressures exerted by conflicting groups who demonstrated aggressively for the inclusion or omission of various points based upon their respective agendas prior to calling for the final vote.

11) The convention hall was surrounded by scroll-toting men. Fear was ever-present and some delegations packed first aid kits in the event that debate over abortion and lesbian rights would erupt into violence.

12) Women arriving from Nebraska.

13) In concert with right-wing Christian men preaching damnation through bullhorns, there were significant numbers of women who came to Houston in an effort to advance an anti-E.R.A., anti-choice, anti-lesbian and anti-liberation platform they called “pro-family.”

14) Bridging the civil rights camps were feminists with a long history of participation in anti-war protests. The very logo of the conference recognized women’s unsung contributions to the peace movement by unifying the the symbol of womanhood with the dove.

15) Photography has been critical in preserving women’s history. By gross omission from the textbooks and media, women have had to reconstruct their heritage almost exclusively through surviving letters, diaries and personal snapshots. It is no wonder that cameras were carried by so many.
• Donna F. Long (with cameras)

16) Getting into the conference was never easy.

17) Consistent with a woman's right to education and expression worldwide, the exhibition hall was packed with diverse displays and literature on everything from Harriet Tubman to menstrual sponges.

18) The ingenuity of the classic Supermom was invaluable in providing child care during conference “working” hours, which turned out to be around the clock.

19) In a microcosm of the larger challenge confronting women of that time, when a radical feminist flannel-shirt yankee photographer approached the southern lady bowlers, distrust and uncertainty toward each other needed to be overcome in an effort to assert our commonality beyond the differences.
• Betty Williams (left)
• Janie Brown (right)

20) ...our commonality beyond the differences.

21) ...our commonality beyond the differences.
• Cynthia McGowan

22) Atrocities routinely committed against women in foreign countries were painfully exposed in photographs. Today’s forced invisibility of women and random murder in fundamentalist Muslim countries was first protested at the Conference in 1977.

23) Travel wasn't necessary, however, to encounter the rule of weapons and the vulnerability women share when endeavoring to empower themselves.

24) As the delegates convened, filling the chairs section by section, the full impact of what was about to occur began to register. Out of the cacophony of regional dialects and the arrangement of purses and notebooks, beyond the boundaries of anyone's expectation, a singular whooping ovation for the historic moment erupted.

25) Upon completion of her keynote address, Barbara Jordan was stormed by autograph seekers who were humourously received by the beloved and highly respected U.S. Congresswoman from Texas. Barbara died in 1996.
• Barbara Jordan

26) Much to the chagrin of the Secret Service, then First Lady Rosalyn Carter instinctively strengthened the collective spirit of the movement when she crossed the great divide and grasped the hands of delegates who had come forward to welcome her onto equal ground.
• Rosalyn Carter

27) The red phone kept the goal of global peace in the forefront of the proceedings as Lady Bird Johnson and a host of dignitaries came to the podium one-by-one.
In 1977 it was an innovative hallmark of women’s events to sign the proceedings from the stage out of consideration for deaf observers.
• Lady Bird Johnson (speaker)
• Bella Abzug (hat)
• Rosalyn Carter (green dress)
• Betty Ford (turquoise dress)
• Gloria Scott, President National Girl Scouts (white dress, first row)
• Barbara Jordan (silver blouse next to Gloria)
• Fred Hofeinz, Mayor of Houston (next to Barbara)
• Helvi Sipila (blond hair next to Fred)
• Jane Culbreth (white blouse second row)

28) One could only imagine how far-reaching the impact of the gathering might extend.

29) Through the thankless task of archiving, several collections of personal notes and official documents generated by women at the Conference have been preserved. Not surprisingly, few women today even know that The Plan exists and that it is a product of four of the most important days in women’s history.

30) In support of the sexual preference resolution, a small group of women brought imprinted balloons declaring, “WE ARE EVERYWHERE” and invited lesbians to identify themselves. That bold assertion of visibility, particularly in the context of the effort to exclude lesbians from The Plan, was a brilliant tactical contribution to the advancement of lesbian and gay rights in America.

31) Once underway, the Conference held the 2000 hostage to their responsibility for coming to an agreement on whether or not to retain each resolution presented in the draft and how, exactly, to word it.
The women of the floor had 72 hours in which twenty-six points needed to be approved before a vote could be taken on the final Plan for the U.S. Congress to follow. In their midst, the ERA, reproductive freedom, and lesbian / gay rights (three of the most controversial issues in American history) had to be resolved .
The physical and emotional rigors of debate were grueling. Beyond a doubt, what the Second Wave accomplished by ratification of The Plan at the National Women’s Conference is on an order of magnitude equal to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, created by American men in relative leisure.

32) Surrounding the main assembly hall were smaller conference rooms in which official and unofficial workshops took place. The 20,000 who had come to observe flowed from the main balcony overlooking the delegation to a wide range of meetings related to specific issues in The Plan.

33) Contrary to the assumption that feminism is a movement comprised exclusively of women, there were many men present at the Conference. While some were there to intimidate and disrupt, many contributed blood, sweat and tears in support of the liberation of their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters. Sophisticated in their understanding of the global significance of women's equality, the men who participated, ironically, ran the same risk of ridicule as the lesbians.

34) It was without fanfare that Margaret Mead sat reading during one of the workshops. Those around her and the child playing at her feet reflect the remarkable synthesis of personal and political, famous and common, old and young, of color and not of color.
• Margaret Mead (holding small open book)

35) Margaret’s powerful presence could be felt even as she sat among the audience at rest. The anthropologist who opened the sociological door through which a sexual revolution stormed, died within a year of the photograph.
• Margaret Mead

36) Tireless conversations unfolded in the lounge, weaving the fabric of the very identify of "woman," one who had never before been called upon to state her will to Congres.

37) Underlying the gathering was a spiritual life that gave rise to the New Age. From Wiccans to nuns, there were women practicing and sharing visions and ceremonies in privacy and in public.

38) Come sundown, the workshops on the periphery gave way to an variety of performances in both folk and fine arts.

39) Long into the night, the delegates pressed on, caucusing and reconvening. As the end of the weekend drew near, the emotional strain began to show on the faces of those charged with defining the future of American women and the imperatives of social reform.

40) The resolution in support of the ERA was approved early on. Because, however, the agenda was alphabetical, time was running out for the reproductive freedom and sexual preference resolutions, both still open to debate before a final Plan could be adopted.

41) A woman’s right to choose abortion had already been upheld by the Supreme Court in it’s 1973 ruling on Roe v. Wade. In addition, the vast majority of delegates elected at the state conferences won on pro-choice platforms, so it was expected that the resolution in support of reproductive freedom would pass.
However, anxiety among delegates and observers, alike, was escalating quickly with the realization the anti-abortionists might gain enough anti-gay delegates from N.O.W. to defeat the entire Plan on the final vote should the sexual preference resolution pass.

42) Consistent with the move to exile lesbians from public visibility, Oxford scholar Kate Millett was relegated to speak from the ancillary lecture hall. Despite her authorship of Sexual Politics, the academic tour-de-force upon which the Second Wave ideologically surged, Kate’s confessed love of women in a later book proved to be her fall from grace, as well as from the podium.

43) Under the gaze of men on the streets surrounding the convention center, the possibility of violence was of increasing concern as the votes on reproductive freedom and sexual preference approached.

44) From their centralized headquarters in a nearby hotel, the conservative right worked diligently on a strategy for disrupting the Conference. Eagle Forum leader, Phyllis Schafley and Indiana State Senator Joan Grubbins would later successfully spearhead the defeat the nation’s progress toward ratification of the ERA.

45) At one point, the entire proceeding collapsed as hundreds of protesters surrounded the delegates, blocked the exits and displayed anit-ERA, anti-abortion and anti-lesbian banners. Among them, were troupes of Cub Scouts and various church organizations like the Methodists Against the ERA and International Women’s Year. Despite the protesters' efforts, however, the right to reproductive freedom was overwhelmingly approved for inclusion in The Plan.

46) Outside, a solemn candleight vigil developed in the last hours of the conference as the vote on freedom of sexual preference loomed.

47) Among those expected by the National Organization for Women to sacrifice their freedom and protection was Ivy Botini, the artist who designed the logo for N.O.W..

48) Out of nowhere, a group of young protesters climbed on top of a wall and began chanting. Despite the presence of national television cameras, many older women, then, emerged from the darkness and grabbed balloons.

49) Even impassioned supporters of lesbian and gay rights felt pressured to reject the resolution rather than risk losing all the previous gains should the final vote fail because of the minority's interest.

50) Hundreds of new balloons were carried into the hall as Betty Friedan took the podium on behalf of N.O.W. to deliver her death blow to the sexual preference resolution. In one of the most defining acts of feminist history, however, Betty instead called for the protection of lesbian rights and further apologized for having lacked the courage to fight for equality next to the women loving women .

51) Thanks to the solidification of the movement., the sexual preference resolution was approved. The Plan containing all twenty-six resolutions was then ratified by the final vote.
The delegates and observers returned to their homes and, in March of 1978, the President of the United States and Congress were given, as requested, a document declaring the will of American women


The delegates and observers returned to their homes and, in March of 1978, the President of the United States and Congress were given, as requested, a document declaring the will of American women