Eleanor Smeal

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Eleanor Smeal
Eleanor Smeal.jpg
Eleanor Smeal (Jim Wallace, 2001)
Born Eleanor Marie Cutri
July 30, 1939
Ashtabula, Ohio
Nationality United States
Alma mater University of Florida
Duke University
Known for Founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation
Served as president of the National Organization for Women

Eleanor Smeal (born Eleanor Marie Cutri; July 30, 1939) is an American feminist activist, political analyst, lobbyist, and grassroots organizer. Smeal is also the president and founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation and has served as president of the National Organization for Women twice.

Smeal has appeared frequently on television and radio and testified before Congress on women’s issues. As one of the major leaders of the modern day feminist movement, Smeal has organized numerous events around and given speeches on the concepts of feminism, equality, and human rights as they pertain to people in and outside of the United States.

Early life and education[edit]

She is of Italian ancestry, born to Peter Anthony Cutri and Josephine E. (Agresti), in Ashtabula, Ohio. Her father emigrated to America from Calabria, Italy and became an insurance salesman. After graduating from Strong Vincent High School in 1957, Smeal attended Duke University. At the time, Duke was not integrated and women made up only 25% of the enrolled students.

Smeal participated in the fight for integration at Duke and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1961. She also holds an M.A. in political science and public administration from the University of Florida. Since 2001, Smeal is also the publisher of Ms. magazine which is owned and published by the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Political activism[edit]

Eleanor Smeal joined the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1970 and served as president from 1977 to 1982 and again from 1985 to 1987. During this time, Smeal led the first national abortion rights march which drew over 100,000 activists to Washington, DC.

After leaving NOW in 1987, Smeal saw a need for a new feminist organization that combined research, educational outreach, and political action. A 1986 Newsweek/Gallup poll reported that 56% of women in the US self-identify as feminists. Smeal reconciled her vision of a new feminist organization and the task of empowering women and men who support equity in the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Several legislative measures bear Smeal’s imprint including the Free Access to Clinic Entrances legislation (influenced by Madsen v. Women’s Health Center) that President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994, the unsuccessful attempt to defeat Proposition 209 in California, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Equal Credit Act, the Civil Rights Restoration Act, the Violence Against Women Act, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the fight to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

Recognition[edit]

Eleanor Smeal and the Feminist Majority Foundation have received national and international recognition for their work. Smeal is the recipient of several awards for her work for feminism and human rights.

World Almanac chose Smeal as one of the most influential women in the United States (1983). Time Magazine chose her as one of 50 Faces for America’s Future (August 6, 1979). U.S. News & World Report chose her as the fourth most influential Washington lobbyist.

In addition to these accolades, Smeal has appeared on The Today Show, Nightline, Good Morning America, Larry King Live, and Crossfire. Her 1984 book How and Why Women Will Elect the Next President successfully identified a “gender gap” in politics. This “gender gap”, evident in the election of 1984, appeared again in the 1996 elections. Smeal’s term “gender gap” is now commonly used in the analysis of political elections.

In 2010 Smeal delivered the commencement address at Rutgers University's graduation and was conferred a Doctorate of Human Letters honoris causa.[1]

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Preceded by
Karen DeCrow
President of the National Organization for Women
1977 - 1982
Succeeded by
Judy Goldsmith
Preceded by
Judy Goldsmith
President of the National Organization for Women
1985 - 1987
Succeeded by
Molly Yard