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Women’s Rights — NOW

Northwestern alumna Karen DeCrow led the National Organization for Women in the mid-1970s.

now president karen decrow
Former National Organization for Women president Karen DeCrowImage: Bettmann

Fall 2019
Features

After Karen Lipschultz DeCrow ’59 came across an interview about the National Organization for Women (NOW), the largest organization of feminist activists in the U.S., the former journalist joined the organization and quickly rose through the ranks.

DeCrow established NOW’s Syracuse chapter and coordinated the national Women’s Strike for Equality while working toward her law degree at Syracuse University in 1972. She ran for mayor as a student in 1969,  becoming the first female mayoral candidate in New York. Though she lost, DeCrow used the experience to organize a program to train women for politics.

An advocate for gender equality and representation of women, she served as the organization’s president from 1974 to 1977. Under DeCrow’s leadership, NOW campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, defended Title IX and ran the first Take Back the Night march. (She died in 2014.)

Three decades after DeCrow’s reign, Terry O’Neill ’74 was named president of NOW in 2009. Also a feminist attorney, O’Neill guided NOW’s updated multi-issue agenda until 2017 and oversaw the organization’s battle against Donald Trump’s travel ban. NOW also campaigned for awareness of voter suppression and worked to eliminate the culture of domestic violence in the NFL. Today O’Neill is executive director of the National Employment Lawyers Association.

Read about Northwestern University Library's 2016 exhibit on Karen DeCrow, “You’re No One ‘Til Somebody Hates You.”  She was inducted into the Medill Hall of Achievement in 2007.

This fall marks 150 years since women could enroll as Northwestern undergraduate students.

Read more of our 150 Years of Women alumni profiles

To learn about Northwestern’s 150 years of women and remarkable individuals like Ashley Nicole Black — present and past — who’ve left their mark on the University and the world, visit the 150 Years of Women website.

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