Capturing Change at the National Women's Conference, Houston, Texas, 1977

Saturday, January 5, 2013: 3:10 PM
Gallier Room A (Sheraton New Orleans)
Amy Helene Forss, Metropolitan Community College
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy created the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women and its federally sanctioned commissions for each of America's fifty states. Originally intended to placate proponents of the Equal Rights Amendment, these commissions became the catalyst that caused the second wave of feminism, better known as the Second National Women's Movement. At the helm of this movement were a diversified group of leaders. Middle-class women like Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, and Phyllis Schlafly became the gate keepers and cheerleaders to a multitude of stratified American followers. Their unanimous goal of female equality culminated in two thousand delegates from six territories and fifty states, accompanied by approximately twenty thousand women and several men, meeting at the federally sponsored National Women's Conference in Houston, Texas in 1977.

Diana Mara Henry was the official photographer of the conference. Her images of the meeting, informally known as "Women on the Move," covered its entirety from November 18-21, but her photographs showed much more than a large, predominantly female gathering. Henry's images demonstrated the power of four days of grassroots activism. Her photographs are historical artifacts. They captured the evolution of American women’s rights. Candid picture upon picture show the delegates voting on twenty-six resolutions demanding federal action on pertinent issues such as sexual discrimination, reproductive rights, ageism, and civil rights. Even though those gathered at the conference were ultimately unable to ensure the passage of an overall Equal Rights Amendment, they were integral in changing women's history.