Early NOW in Maine

November 15th, 2011 by Ann Morrissey

Nancy Cushman Dibner (1926-2007) was a political activist interested in many causes but perhaps best known for her work in the early 1970s on the formation of the Maine Chapter of NOW.  National NOW was a powerhouse that lobbied for a multitude of women’s causes.

The collection contains 148 files mostly from 1970-1973 and is separated into sections on national NOW, the state NOW chapter in Maine, issues materials, a short biographical section and a collection of Memorabilia.  These papers were donated to MWWC by her sons, Steve and Eric Dibner.

Some of the highlights of the papers are:

1. How to start a NOW chapter!  The political world of women in the early 70s was dominated by nationwide efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (the ERA).  National NOW was the most powerful and most visual champion of that effort.  Women all over the country wanted to be part of NOW and to have chapters within their own states.  NOW sent out instructional pamphlets with specific instructions on how to organize their chapters.  The Dibner papers contain a copy of the 1970 manual from NOW which includes advice on officers, money raising and available materials.

2. ERA Efforts in Maine.  NOW’s Bill of Rights had as its first demand the passage of the national ERA which required state-by-state efforts.  The battle for the ERA passage in Maine was particularly hot in 1972 and 1973 and is well documented in the Dibner papers.  As the proposed amendment went to the Maine legislature a second time, the language intensified and all out efforts to support the funding of the amendment’ passage were developed including a softball game whose proceeds went toward the ratification of the ERA.

3. Issues Series.  The array of issues in the NOW and Maine NOW files are varied and colorful.  Besides these files, Dibner kept over 50 files of clippings and white papers on some expected issues (abortion, education, employment, legal issues, religion & politics) and on some unexpected issues (feminist items for sale, vegetarian feminists, marriage & name choice, and women & credit.  These folders are an eagle’s eye look at the early 70’s and the concerns of women.

4. Feminist / Political Buttons.  One of the great joys of the collection are the over 100 political & feminist buttons that show the range, humor and pathos of the period.  They range from Nixon eats lettuce, Uppity Women Unite and Abortion Upon Demand, to Sexism is a Social Disease and Respect Animals Don’t Eat Them.

For any researcher interested in the early 70’s, in NOW, or in feminism in general, the Nancy Dibner papers are a treasure of materials.