While Gloria Steinem is one of the most famous feminists in American history and is often credited with furthering the women’s liberation movement, she didn’t work alone.
Throughout the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, women all over the country fought for equal rights, abortion rights, and LGBTQ rights. The women who fought on the frontlines used politics, organized events, and wrote powerful books in a fight to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which gives equal rights to all Americans regardless of sex, and to give a voice to the female experience.
This International Women’s Day, here are 10 unsung heroes from the women’s rights movement.
Betty Friedan became one of the most influential leaders of the women’s liberation movement after she published her book “The Feminine Mystique.”
In 1963, Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique” after interviewing women around the US for five years. In the book, she described women feeling unfulfilled in their roles as mothers and wives. The book became an instant bestseller, sparking a new wave of women’s rights battles and launching Friedan as a leader in the movement.
“Each suburban wife struggles with it alone,” Friedan wrote in the book. “As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night — she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — ‘Is this all?'”
Three years later, she helped found the National Organization for Women and became its president. The organization mainly fought for equal employment for men and women.
Friedan continued fighting for women’s rights throughout the liberation movement and into the ’70s.
Pauli Murray co-founded the National Organization for Women and coined the phrase “Jane Crow.”
In 1965, Murray published and co-authored an article, “Jane Crow and the Law: Sex Discrimination and Title VII,” in which she discussed the discrimination she faced while being the only Black woman in a classroom full of men at Howard University’s law school. The term “Jane Crow” stuck and became a guiding principle for her and the women’s liberation movement.
With Betty Friedan, Murray founded the National Organization for Women.
Amid the women’s liberation movement, Shirley Chisholm ran for president of the United States.
Chisholm was a school teacher who ran for Congress in New York in 1968. When she won the seat, she became the first Black woman to be elected to Congress.
At the time she said, “I have no intention of just sitting quietly and observing. I intend to focus attention on the nation’s problems.”
In 1972, she launched a run for the presidency, which garnered national attention when the country was in open debate about a woman’s place in the world. Although her bid didn’t go far, she eventually served seven terms in Congress, during which time she fiercely advocated for women and people of color.
Jill Ruckelshaus was a Republican who worked with liberals to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Ruckelshaus was a Republican and a feminist — she was even called “the Gloria Steinem of the Republican Party,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Ruckelshaus fought for women’s abortion rights and for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment throughout the ’70s. She was often used to appeal to the Republican party as some members wanted to stop the ratification of the amendment. In 1980, to protest the party’s stance, she led 4,500 supporters of the amendment as they marched past where the Republican National Convention was being held in Detroit.
Susan Brownmiller wrote a groundbreaking book about rape that made waves in the ’70s.
In 1971, Brownmiller, a journalist and writer, helped organize a conference focused on rape with radical feminists. At that conference, she decided to do research into the subject, and in 1975, she published “Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape.” When the book became a bestseller, people learned that rape should be considered a social issue.
She wrote that rape was a “conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.”
Kate Millett became a leading figure of the women’s liberation movement when she published “Sexual Politics.”
When Millett finished her doctoral thesis in 1970, she decided to publish it as a book known as “Sexual Politics.” In just two weeks, the book sold 10,000 copies and launched Millet into the spotlight. Time called her “the Mao Tse-tung of Women’s Liberation.”
In “Sexual Politics,” Millett criticizes the patriarchal world women are forced into without their knowing.
“It is interesting that many women do not recognize themselves as discriminated against; no better proof could be found of the totality of their conditioning,” she wrote.
Gloria Watkins was an influential writer during the fight for equal rights. She called for a more inclusive feminism.
Watkins used a pen name “bell hooks” to publish her first book “Ain’t I A Woman,” which took her 10 years to write, according to The New York Times. Published in 1981, the book “remains a radical and relevant work of political theory,” as it explores the treatment of Black female slaves and how it has affected Black women in modern society, and how the white feminist movement excluded them.
“A devaluation of black womanhood occurred as a result of the sexual exploitation of black women during slavery that has not altered in the course of hundreds of years,” Watkins wrote in the book.
As Watkins wrote more books throughout her career, she called for a more inclusive women’s movement. Her books focused on the “exclusion of minority women from mainstream feminism, and how black women need to think more about loving and celebrating themselves instead of just surviving and the dominance of men in all women’s lives,” the Washington Post wrote in 1999.
During this time, Audre Lorde was a poet who also focused on bringing more inclusion to the larger women’s movement.
Lorde once described herself as a “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” according to the Poetry Foundation. Her collections of essays focused mainly on being a queer, Black woman and explored the ideas of feminism.
“Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being,” Lorde said at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in 1981.
Lorde also joined the Combahee River Collective, which was a group of mostly Black lesbians who left the larger women’s liberation movement because they felt it was not addressing their needs or interests.
As the first female assistant to the president, Midge Costanza became known as a trailblazing feminist and an LGBTQ rights activist.
After becoming close friends with Jimmy Carter, Costanza helped the future president build his presidential campaign in New York. When he was elected to the Oval Office in 1976, Carter appointed her as his presidential assistant — the first woman to ever hold the title.
While in that position, Costanza challenged Carter on social issues, including equal pay, abortion rights, and LGBTQ rights. Eventually, the press singled her out for being a dissenting voice in the White House and she resigned from her position in 1978.