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.

From the Vote to the ERA: Feminist Waves

December 15th, 2010 by Cathleen Miller

In the 1970s, women fought for property rights, equality in credit, fair divorce laws, wages for housework, and urged the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Ramona Barth

Flo Kennedy

The ERA was first proposed in 1923 by Alice Paul under the name the “Lucretia Mott Amendment.”  This amendment was introduced in every term of Congress thereafter, finally winning passage in 1972.  Indiana was the last state to ratify the ERA in 1975, leaving the amendment three states short of ratification.

Because the ERA has not been approved as an amendment to the nation’s constitution, women still lack full protection under the law.  Supporters of the ERA continue to introduce the amendment in congressional sessions, and strategize to win its passage.

from the Nancy Dibner papers

The 1980s marked a backlash against feminism, and many debated the value of, or need for, the feminist movement.  In the 1990s, the “third wave” of feminism began to find its voice, calling for a deeper understanding of the intertwining of oppression based on race, class, gender, and sexuality.  Third wave feminists have worked to examine popular culture and politics, and have looked deeply at the notion that the “personal is political,” a slogan made famous by their mothers’ generation, who argued that the choices women made in their personal lives were absolutely connected to the inequalities in society.

About the collections included in this exhibit:

Ramona Sawyer Barth papers
Ramona Barth (1911-2002) was a feminist activist, author, spokesperson for the National Organization for Women (NOW), and teacher.  She was one of the founders of Maine NOW, but participated in protests and actions in many cities along the East coast.   The photographs here represent a small portion of the materials she collected.  These photos document actions, and highlight some of the activists who Ramona Barth worked with during her years in the feminist movement.

Nancy Cushman Dibner papers
Nancy Dibner (1926-2007) was instrumental in the formation of the first Maine chapter of the National Organization for Women.  She served as the chapter’s secretary from its inception. In her own words, she stated that her significance in the NOW organization was her diligence in reminding people of the “necessity in chap[ter] and state of adequate record keeping and files [of the] communications within chap[ter] and organization, [and] press coverage of day-to-day activities as well as actions.”  Dibner was appointed by Governor Ken Curtis to serve as council member from Portland for the Governor’s Advisory Council of the Status of Women activated by the 106th Legislature.  Nancy Dibner became president of the Southern Maine chapter of NOW in 1973 and represented Maine at the 8th NOW National Convention.  She was also the co-editor with Anne Hazlewood-Brady of Mainely Now.

Anne Hazlewood-Brady papers
Born in Sloatsburg, NY in 1925, poet and playwright Anne Hazlewood-Brady graduated from Vassar College in 1946. She completed graduate work in literature at NYU, Columbia, and the University of Maine. She now lives in Arundel, Maine.  She became increasingly active in the women’s movement upon moving to New York City in 1969. Her activities there included the founding of the Women’s Interart Center and involvement in the organization of the Women’s Strike for Equality (1970), which commemorated the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage.
Anne Hazlewood-Brady’s papers document her writing and the production of her work, as well as her personal life and activism.

National Woman’s Party collection
While these papers primarily document the Massachusetts chapter of the NWP, the influence of these women was felt across the country. The suffragists held bold pickets, confronted state and national government officials with the reality that women were being treated as second-class citizens, and were jailed and physically assaulted for their actions. This collection includes photographs, campaign books, journals, records of members and officers, copies of laws affecting women, membership forms, newspaper clippings, and scrapbooks.

We hope you have enjoyed this online exhibit.  These collections offer wonderful resources on the study of feminist action in the United States in the twentieth century.  If you are interested in viewing material from any of these collections, please contact the curator for assistance.

From the Vote to the E.R.A.: an exhibit by installment

November 17th, 2010 by Cathleen Miller

This is the first installment of the online version of our new exhibit in the collection, “From the VOTE to the ERA: Women’s Activism in the 20th Century“.  Each post will feature a few images and a short interpretive text that introduces the historical context for women’s activism, as it evolved during the twentieth century.

We ask visitors to the exhibit to reflect upon the meaning of feminism in the 21st century, and encourage them to share their comments with us in the voting box (pictured above, atop the display case).  We would like to ask you, our readers, to reflect on these questions:

What defines the feminist movement today?  Does the movement speak to you/for you?  Do you think we need feminism now?  What agenda should feminists have for activism in this century?

We would love to hear what you think!

One of many buttons from the Nancy Dibner papers at the MWWC.

From the early years of the American republic, women have been speaking out for equal rights.  In her famous letter to her husband John, Abigail Adams asked that the Continental Congress “Remember the Ladies” as they were writing the Declaration of Independence.  The final wording of the Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal.”

Women’s place in American society after the Declaration was certainly not one of equality, and as women began to see continuing evidence of political and societal inequities, they started to envision a world in which they would be treated as equals.

Photo of suffragists from the National Woman Party collection at the MWWC.

The collections included in this exhibit document women’s activism in the suffrage movement and during the second wave of feminism in the 1970s.  The Maine Women Writers Collection holds a small collection of papers from the Massachusetts branch of the National Woman Party; we also have the papers of writers and activists Anne Hazlewood-Brady, Ramona Sawyer Barth, and Nancy Cushman Dibner.  We pulled materials from each of these collections for this exhibit.

We will be posting a new piece of the exhibit daily for the next week.  Please check back tomorrow for more about the progression of the feminist movement leading up to women’s enfranchisement in 1920.