August 10, 1931|
Newark, New Jersey, United States
|Died||May 13, 2008
Palm Harbor, Florida, United States
|Known for||Women's rights activist|
Dolores Alexander (August 10, 1931 – May 13, 2008) was a lesbian feminist, writer, and reporter. Alexander is the only Executive Director of the National Organization for Women (NOW) to have resigned because of the homophobic beliefs in the early inception of NOW. She co-opened "Mother Courage" with Jill Ward, creating the first feminist restaurant in the United States. Until her death, in 2008, she continued to believe in the need for the women's rights movement in contemporary times, stating that "It's bigotry, and I don't know if you can eliminate it".
Early life and career
Dolores Alexander was born in Newark, New Jersey, where she attended Catholic school. In 1961 she graduated from City College of New York with a Bachelor of Arts in Language and Literature. During her senior year she worked at The New York Times as an intern reporter for 10 months, gaining experience in journalism and her first taste of sexism within the news field: while applying for positions at the Times, she was not hired as a "copy girl" by a male employee because it would "cause a revolution in the newsroom". Upon graduation, she worked as a reporter, copy editor and bureau chief at the Newark Evening News from 1961–1964. She then went on to serve as a reporter, copy editor and assistant women's editor at Newsday, also serving as a feature writer for the publication's weekend magazine until 1969.
Until that time I had always felt like a weirdo, the only person who felt out of step with the world around her. I knew we needed a women's movement. This is what I had been waiting for. – Dolores Alexander, 2007.
In 1966, while working at Newsday, Alexander came across a press release announcing the creation of a new women's rights organization: the National Organization for Women (NOW). She interviewed Betty Friedan and with her media experience, she became chair of the Monitor Subcommittee of the National Task Force on Image of Women in Mass Media. In 1969 she became the first Executive Director of NOW. She established the headquarters in New York City, and served as an editor of NOW's national newsletter, NOW Acts. She offered to pay the $5 dues for women who could not afford to become members, and fronted a campaign to boost membership nationwide.
In May 1970, she resigned as director to protest against NOW's homophobic practices and policies. Even in her later years, she continued to be disgruntled by the negativity that the words "lesbian" and "feminist" had within the early organization, believing the terms were being used like "'weapons' to undercut NOW members". Alexander continued to lecture about women's rights and worked with the New Feminist Talent Collective, which was formed by Jacqueline Ceballos to provide the services of speakers about the women's movement. She co-founded and organized Women Against Pornography and worked with New York Radical Feminists. Alexander served as board member for the National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws, an advisory board member for the New York NOW chapter and was a member of the New York Newspaper Women's Club. Alexander was a notable figure in numerous events in the women's movement. She helped integrate the want ads in The New York Times, the lesbian purge of the National Organization for Women,[discuss] 1977's National Women's Conference in Houston, and the UN's Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995[dubious ].
In 1972, Alexander and Jill Ward opened "Mother Courage", a feminist restaurant in Greenwich Village, New York. The first feminist restaurant in the United States, it inspired three other feminist restaurants to open in the country during its first three years. The restaurant was named after Mother Courage, a character in a play by Bertolt Brecht. Their lack of restaurant experience made it difficult to obtain a bank loan, leading them to borrow money from friends to renovate a run-down luncheonette. Men and women attended the restaurant, and women took priority. Wine was poured for women to taste rather than their male guests, and checks were placed within equal distance of diners. The restaurant encouraged women to dine alone, creating a safe haven, allowing a solo diner to know "she won't feel like a freak and won't get hassled by men". Author Lucy Komisar described "Mother Courage" as "More than a restaurant, this is part of a social movement."
Later life and legacy
In 2003, Alexander donated some of her papers to the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College; the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University has another collection of her papers. As her health declined, she stepped back from the movement spotlight, preferring to watch a new generation of activists "lead the change". On May 13, 2008, Alexander died in Palm Harbor, Florida.
- Lane, Julie (June 27, 2008). "Feminist leader dies at 76". The Suffolk Times. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
- "Feminists hail a restaurant where the piece de resistance is an attitude not a dish". Mary Ellen Mark. 1975. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
- "Dolores Alexander Papers". Sophia Smith Collection. Smith College. 2007. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
- "Dolores Alexander oral history" (PDF). Voices of Feminism Oral History Project. Retrieved August 13, 2011.