The National Organization for Women (NOW) was born in a hotel room in 1965, its name scribbled on a napkin no one saved. Hoping to guard against losing other details about the beginning of NOW, Patricia King of the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College is coordinating an oral history project of NOW and founder Betty Friedan.
The $100,000 project is being underwritten largely by Mary Jean Tully, a former president of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund.
"We were creating a revolution, a revolution that's changed .
. the way people think about women, the way they think about men and the way they think about each other. It also changed the way women think about themselves, their rights as human beings," Tully said from Juno, Fla., where she was vacationing.
"I want my granddaughter to be able to study these things. I want books to be written about it. It's affected everyone's life."
There is little solid documentation of the early years of NOW.
"We were using corporate hotel rooms and Xeroxes, lots of Xeroxes, but there was very, very little written down. We thought we were changing the world, and nobody was taking notes," said Tully. "The only way we can get any documentation is the memories of those of us who were there."
Tully is 64. Friedan is 69. Some of NOW's earliest movers and shakers are now in their 70s. The youngest are reaching 50.
The oral history project is expected to take three years and include interviews with about 40 people present at the early founding and establishment of NOW. It will also contain interviews with associates of Friedan before and after she wrote The Feminine Mystique, the 1963 analysis of women in American society.
Susan Ware, a historian of 20th-century U.S. and women's history at New York University, said she hopes to find in the first-person accounts of NOW's story a way to "trace the developing feminist agenda and the way in which issues like economics and the ERA, the whole controversy over abortion, how those kinds of issues began to develop, whether they were divisive, how they were mobilized."