Women's Action Alliance

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Gloria Steinem at a Women's Action Alliance news conference on January 12, 1972

The Women's Action Alliance ("WAA" or "the Alliance") was a feminist organization in the United States, established in 1971 during the Women's Movement.[1] It was founded by Gloria Steinem, Brenda Feigen Fasteau and Dorothy Pitman-Hughes,[2] combining their legacies in the civil rights movement to forge a network of activists dedicated to a vision of equality for women in all streams of life. Its founding mission was to assist women by coordinating resources and individuals working at the grassroots level on a broader national scale. Its founders intended to build on the previous success of the women’s movement to effect further change in society's recognition and treatment of women. The WAA's goal was, according to the founders, to help the "large numbers of women who want to change their lot in life" by becoming a clearinghouse of women's information. The WAA, among many other contributions, helped to open the first battered women's shelters.[3]

The board of directors of the WAA included several notable feminists such as Bella Abzug and Shirley Chisholm.[1] Gloria Steinem chaired the board from 1971-1978.[1]

The WAA was dissolved in 1997 due to lack of funding.[1]

Women's Action Alliance's Initiatives[edit]

The Women's Action Alliance attempted to connect women with community organizations and professionals interested in feminist causes. They would write to them to "change their lot in life" and ask about services the organization could steer them toward. Many early correspondences sent to the WAA asked for referrals to women or feminist professionals (psychologists, lawyers, doctors, etc.) and others requested information about starting feminist organizations or chapters.[3]

The WAA referrals were gathered directly from other women. Woman who belonged to a women's group to send their work and info through pamphlets so the WAA could direct other women in their areas to them when prompted. References for women and feminist-friendly doctors and lawyers were collected in a similar manner, with women sending in the names of women professionals and those specifically interested in helping women.[4]

National Women's Agenda[edit]

One of the group's goals was a national agenda of feminist legislation. The WAA members and other women organizations were wary about government control over certain aspects of women’s lives, such as reproductive rights. In January 1975, President Gerald Ford founded the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year, or the IWY Commission. This, along with other commissions that began during the John F. Kennedy administration, issued reports that would impose change in the federal and state government, but many groups including the National Organization for Women (NOW) and other independent feminist groups continued to push "hard from the outside to ensure that the government's cautious advocacy for women did not remain the only vehicle to improve women's status and expand their opportunities." [5] This led the Women's Action Alliance to mobilize and create the National Women's Agenda.

After writing to many organizations such as the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC), the Girl Scouts, the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women and the National Council of Negro Women, 70 groups responded by May and 24 ultimately participated in creating the agenda. It advocated for many different causes and problems women and marginalized peoples faced. The agenda called on fair representation in different aspects of the government and other areas, the end to racial and cultural stereotyping, recognition of working women as well as homemakers as workers, women in poverty (who they deemed as the most vulnerable), women affected by the criminal justice system especially those pertaining to victimless crimes (i.e. prostitution), and bodily autonomy and integrity.

The group's steps toward finalizing its agenda faced issues pertaining to representation, racism and diversity, but it was able form a coalition of 94 women's groups and labor unions, including:

The NWA was eventually overshadowed by the National Plan of Action (the Plan) created by the National Women's Conference in Houston, which had gained the approval of 2,000 delegates at this federally funded national women's conference (the first of its kind). There were differences between the two; one was the language used to express their plans and expectations, with the Houston plan being more "expansive" and the NWA being more "terse." The Plan also talked more about minority women while the NWA in turn had "a clearer statement on a welfare program." [5] The NWA had a more structured and forward stance on health care whereas the Houston plan had more specific words regarding "abortion, asserting support for the Supreme Court decisions and proposing inclusion in all plans to provide health care." [5] The National Women's Agenda Project collapsed in 1980 while the WAA continued for almost 20 more years.

Non-Sexist Childhood Development Initiative[edit]

An initiative of the alliance called on combating what they saw as the sexist way children were being taught in preschools. In September 1977, Barbara Sprung, director of the Non-Sexist Child Development Project, wrote about the initiative in Parents Magazine. This project was started because of the letters they received. Some expressed concerns because of the sexism in their children's school with regards to gender roles and gender conformity.[6] The group studied the "unfair sex-role-stereotyping" that went on in early childhood development and after finding problems, decided to start this project. The program received funding from different foundations.

To investigate this sex-role conditioning, WAA directors Carol Shapiro and Catherine Samuels set up programs to address sexism in preschools. They wrote that "sex stereotypes have already been learned" by children in higher grade levels, after having been fed "sexist" ideals of life. Sprung, a former teacher in early childhood development, led the project. In the fall of 1973, they launched the program in four childhood education centers in New York.[7]

Sprung writes that they believe this gender typecasting is harmful to both genders of young children. They cite that boys are taught not to cry and don't play with certain toys like dolls, whereas girls are expected to play quietly and stay clean.

The program stood on four components.[6]

  • "In-Service teacher training": This was a way for WAA staff could teach the current teachers and school staff on the harmful effects that were currently being taught. This allowed for them to (theoretically) keep going after the WAA left the schools.
  • "Parent education": This helped parents of the students identify what was harmful to teach children to break this cycle of sexist learning and conditioning. This would also bring these principles home and keep the education for the children going.
  • "Curriculum development": Along with teaching current, local staff about the initiative, they also came up with a curriculum to essentially teach the core lesson to children. This lesson was "to help children understand that men and women do all kinds of work both inside and outside the home, and that human beings are free to choose what the want to be regardless of their sex and race."[6]
  • "The development of non-sexist, multi-racial materials": To combat this sex-stereotyping that was going on in preschools, the WAA wanted to include diverse, positive, non-sexist representation in the learning materials, toys and books surrounding the children.

As a result of these four components, the WAA in these four preschools did many things like take the children to see different genders in "unusual" jobs, unusual just based on what society has taught them was normal up to this point (i.e. a woman in a senior, managerial or executive position). As stated before, once the WAA left these facilities, they still expected the work to continue and one of the ways they helped this along was with the development of a curriculum guide called Non-Sexist Education for Young Children: A Practical Guide. This was monumental as providing the first non-sexist early education materials for the classroom.

Women's Alcohol and Drug Education Project[edit]

In the 1970s, most rehabilitation and preventive programs were predominantly for white men with health insurance. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) awarded 40 grants for treatment programs specifically for women. However, due to blocked state grants in 1981, the programs like the WAA's Women's Alcohol and Drug Education Project were not funded until the late 80's.[8]

Established in 1987, the WAA's Women's Alcohol and Drug Education Project addressed the need for substance abuse help for women, especially women of color and those in poverty.[8] Paula Roth, director of the project in 1990, wrote Alcohol and Drugs Are Women's Issues. Its two volumes aimed to start a new conversation about substance abuse minority women and poor women and to highlight substance abuse by women as "critical women's issues."

The project set up model programs in six women's centers across America, integrating an alcohol and drug component with the work being done with women at the facilities. Prevention was made a priority in addition to intervention. Substance abuse was put in the context of women's issues, stating that whether it was the woman who was addicted or a person in her life, current events or news on this topic wouldn't reach the women in these shelters due to the fact that the women there wouldn't consume that media or information (due to lack of access to it).[citation needed]

Women's Action Almanac[edit]

In 1979, the WAA published Women's Action Almanac: A Complete Resource Guide. [9] It was a guidebook of women's issues and programs, organized by subject and included lists of women's organizations. It was partly funded by the Merit Gasoline Foundation. The book was written and compiled by the WAA, and edited by Jane Williamson, Diane Winston and Wanda Wooten.

The sections gave a summary of the "prevailing feminist perspective," background information, importance and status and current data followed by relevant women's organizations (national and local, if applicable) and ending with appropriate resources.

The book's subjects were (in the order they appear in the almanac):

  • Abortion
  • Affirmative Action
  • Battered Women
  • Birth Control
  • Breast Cancer
  • Career Development
  • Childbirth
  • Child Care
  • Child Support
  • Commissions on the Status of Women
  • Continuing Education for Women
  • Credit
  • Criminal Justice
  • DES
  • Disabled Women
  • Displaced Homemakers
  • Divorce
  • Earnings Gap
  • Employment Equal Pay for Equal Work
  • Equal Rights Amendment
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy
  • Executive Order 11246/11375
  • Feminist Spirituality
  • Financial Aid for Education
  • Flexible Work Schedules
  • Health Care
  • Higher Education
  • History
  • Homemakers
  • Incest
  • Insurance
  • International Women's Day
  • International Women's Year (Includes National Plan of Action)
  • Jewish Women
  • Labor Union Women
  • Language
  • Legal Status
  • Lesbian Mothers
  • Lesbians
  • Marriage and Equality
  • Minority Women
  • Name Changes
  • Nonsexist Education
  • Nontraditional Occupations
  • Older Women
  • Ordication of Women
  • Pacifism and Feminism
  • Politics
  • Pornography
  • Pregnancy Benefits
  • Prostitution
  • Psychology and Women
  • Rape
  • research and Information
  • Right-Wing Attacks
  • Rurual Women
  • Self-Defense
  • Sex Discrimination in Education
  • Sex Roles
  • Sex-Typing of Occupations
  • Sexual Harassment on the Job
  • Sexuality
  • Socialist Feminism
  • Social Security
  • Sports
  • Sterilization Abuse
  • Substance Abuse
  • Title IX
  • Title VII
  • Veterans' Preference
  • Vocational Education
  • Volunteerism
  • Welfare and Poverty
  • Women and Poverty
  • Women and Development
  • Women and Religion
  • Women and Owners
  • Women Business Owners
  • Women's Arts and Media
  • Women's Bookstores
  • Women's Centers
  • Women's Educational Equity Act
  • Women's Movement
  • Working-class Women

The letters sent to the WAA seeking advice or information inspired the almanac. The WAA realized women needed a resource to find solutions for themselves.

The almanac also served as a comprehensive directory of resources and services for women. Its primary goal was to "provide answers to questions on women's issues and program," through its catalog of subject matter and its directory of "national women organizations and women's caucuses or divisions of national organizations." [9]

Other Initiatives[edit]

The feedback to sexism is education, including inquiries and issues that were shared to the WAA, led the association to establish additional programs to address the issues. "Beginning Equal" was similar to the project that tackled gender roles in preschool, but the project observed preschoolers, their teachers and parents. Other projects were "Women With Non-Traditional Occupations" and "Children of Single Parents in the Schools".

"Computer Equity" focused its attention on computer use by boys and girls in six states. The research gleaned from the project was used to encourage girls to become more comfortable with technology.[3] Later programs, like the "Teenage Pregnancy Prevention" project branched out into healthcare and gathered data and information about teen pregnancy by surveying the agencies that served this demographic.

The Sophia Smith Collection of Women's Action Alliance Archives[edit]

The extensive number of letters generated by and notes taken by members of The Women's Action Alliance takes up 117.25 feet of records (or 318 boxes) located at the Sophia Smith Collection in Northampton, Massachusetts.[10] It is the Sophia Smith Collection's "largest processed collection" to date.[11] Everything from the group's inception in 1971 to its disbandment in 1997 is in these files and can be viewed at the facility today.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d "Women's Action Alliance Records, 1970-1996, Historical Note". Sophia Smith Collection. Smith College. Retrieved 26 February 2013. 
  2. ^ Feminist coalitions : historical perspectives on second-wave feminism in the United States. Gilmore, Stephanie. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 2008. ISBN 9780252075391. OCLC 177019477. 
  3. ^ a b c Miller, Marla R. (Summer 2002). "Tracking the Women's Movement through the Women's Action Alliance". Journal of Women's History. 14 (2): 154–156. doi:10.1353/jowh.2002.0051. 
  4. ^ "Sophia Smith Collection: Agents of Social Change Online Exhibit - Women's Action Alliance". www.smith.edu. Retrieved 2017-11-13. 
  5. ^ a b c Harrison, Cynthia (2008). Feminist coalitions: historical perspectives on second-wave feminism in the United States. Gilmore, Stephanie. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. pp. 19–47. "Creating a National Feminist Agenda; Coalition Building in the 1970s". ISBN 9780252075391. OCLC 177019477. 
  6. ^ a b c Sprung, Barbara (September 1977). "Equality now! For boys and girls". Parents Magazine. 53: 44–48 – via EBSCOhost. 
  7. ^ "Sex in preschools". Saturday Review of Education. 1: 48. March 1973 – via EBSCOhost. 
  8. ^ a b Alcohol and drugs are women's issues. Roth, Paula., Women's Action Alliance. Metuchen, N.J.: Women's Action Alliance. 1991. ISBN 0810823608. OCLC 22510833. 
  9. ^ a b Women's Action Alliance, Inc. (1979). Written at New York. Williamson, Jane; Winston, Diane; Wooten, Wanda, eds. Women's Action Almanac: A Complete Resource Guide. New York, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0688085254. 
  10. ^ a b "Women's Action Alliance Records, 1970-1996". Five College Archives & Manuscript Collections. 
  11. ^ Miller, Marla R. (2002-07-01). "Tracking the Women's Movement through the Women's Action Alliance". Journal of Women's History. 14 (2): 154–156. doi:10.1353/jowh.2002.0051. ISSN 1527-2036.