“The 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston … may take the prize as the most important event nobody knows about. …
“It all began in 1972, when the United Nations declared that 1975 would be International Women’s Year — right up there with the Year of the Child or the Year of the Family Farm. In 1974, President Gerald Ford appointed a thirty-nine-member delegation to represent U.S. women, and named a man from the State Department to head it.
“But the one who took on this task of finding out what issues and hopes really did represent the female half of this country was Congresswoman Bella Abzug, a woman who never thought small. She enlisted Congresswoman Patsy Mink as coauthor and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm as coconspirator in writing a revolutionary piece of legislation.
“It called for federal funding for fifty-six open, economically and racially representative conferences over two years, one in every state and territory. Delegates elected and issues selected at each meeting would then go to a national conference in Houston. There, a National Plan of Action would be voted on. The purpose was to represent U.S. women not only to the rest of the world, but also to our own leaders in Washington and in state legislatures. At last, there would be democratic answers to the classic question: What do women want? …
“In Vermont, more than a thousand women slogged through ice and snow to create the biggest women’s conference ever seen there. If most hadn’t supplied their own brown-bag lunches and child care, our organizing goose would have been cooked at this first of all the state conferences.
“In Alaska, an auditorium designed for six hundred had to make way for seven thousand. Fortunately, most of the women goodnaturedly sat on the floor.
“In Albany, the capital of New York State, more than eleven thousand women — four times more than we planned for — lined up outside government buildings in the sweltering July heat, then waited most of the night in an airless basement to cast ballots for delegates and issues.