Spotlight: National Women’s Conference of 1977

Photo No.: 220-WC-30-H, “Bella Abzug, Betty Freidan and Billie Jean King accompany torch relay runners into Houston.”  Photograph by Pat Field ©.  Record Group: 220 Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions, and Boards, 1893-2008. Series: WC Photographs Used to Illustrate the Report, “Spirit of Houston: The first National Women’s Conference”, 1977-1978.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the National Women’s Conference held November 18-21, 1977 in Houston, Texas. This conference was the United States’ answer to the United Nations World Conference on Women held in 1975 in Mexico City. After the United Nations declared 1975 International Women’s Year, President Ford issued Executive Order 11832 creating a National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year to promote equality between men and women. The Houston conference was the culmination of several events held over the next few years and was organized by the commission.

Around 20,000 people attended the Houston conference, including some 2,000 delegates who were sent to represent each state. Participants aimed to create a plan of action, a report titled The Spirit of Houston, to be presented to the Carter Administration and Congress for consideration.  Each of the resolutions included in the report were proposed to the delegates and voted upon. Topics of discussion included the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), reproductive rights, child care funding, sexual orientation, education reform, and the rights of minority, disabled and aging women.

The records at the National Archives relating to International Women’s Year and the Houston conference were created and compiled by the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year and can be found in record group 220: Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions, and Boards. Film documents produced by the committee make up the series IWY: Motion Pictures and Video Recordings Relating to International Women’s Year, 1974-1977.

The following film, Decade of Our Destinywas produced in 1976. It surveys the history of women’s efforts to gain equal rights and examines the contributions of prominent women to the women’s movement. The film also discusses the establishment of the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year.