New York Radical Women
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
New York Radical Women was an early second-wave feminist radical feminist group that existed from 1967–1969. They drew nationwide media attention when they unfurled a banner inside the 1968 Miss America pageant displaying the words, "Women's Liberation".
The protest group was founded in New York City in the fall of 1967, by former television child star Robin Morgan, Carol Hanisch, Shulamith Firestone, and Pam Allen. Early members included Ros Baxandall, Patricia Mainardi, Irene Peslikis, Kathie Sarachild, and Ellen Willis. New York Radical Women were a group of young friends in their twenties who were part of the New Left, who had grown tired of the male-dominated civil rights and antiwar movements, and men who they saw as still preferring their female counterparts to stay at home.
New York Radical Women's first public action was at the convocation of the Jeannette Rankin Brigade. Members of the group led an alternative protest event, a "burial of traditional womanhood", held in Arlington National Cemetery. Kathie Sarachild wrote a flier for the keynote speech she gave at the convocation, and in this flier she coined the phrase "Sisterhood is Powerful".
The group also participated in the Miss America protest with their brochure No More Miss America in Atlantic City, NJ, on September 7, 1968. About 400 women were drawn together from across the United States to a protest outside the event. The women symbolically threw a number of feminine products into a large trash can. These included mops, pots and pans, Playboy magazines, false eyelashes, high-heeled shoes, curlers, hairspray, makeup, girdles, corsets, and bras, items the protestors called "instruments of female torture." Carol Hanisch, one of the protest organizers, said "We had intended to burn it, but the police department, since we were on the boardwalk, wouldn't let us do the burning." A New York Post story about the protest made an analogy between the feminist protest and Vietnam War protesters who burned their draft cards. It has been argued there was no bra burning, nor did anyone take off her bra. A local news story reporting on the event did report there was a burning of bras and other items. It said "as the bras, girdles, falsies, curlers, and copies of popular women's magazines burned in the 'Freedom Trash Can'..."
Hanisch said, "Up until this time, we hadn't done a lot of actions yet. We were a very small movement. It was kind of a gutsy thing to do. Miss America was this 'American pie' icon. Who would dare criticize this?" Along with tossing the items into the trash can, they marched with signs, passed out pamphlets, and crowned a live sheep, comparing the beauty pageant to livestock competitions at county fairs. A small group bought tickets and entered the hall. While 1967 Miss America, Debra Barnes Snodgrass, was giving her farewell address, four protestors unfurled a bed sheet from the balcony that said "Women's Liberation" and began to shout. They were quickly removed by police but drew coverage by newspapers from across the United States. "The media picked up on the bra part," Hanisch said later. "I often say that if they had called us 'girdle burners,' every woman in America would have run to join us."
In January 1969, the last event they attended was the Counter-Inauguration in Washington D.C. The protest targeted women who supported the Vietnam War. Protestors were sent invitations telling them not to bring flowers or even to cry at the 'burial', but to be prepared to bury traditional female roles.
The organization compiled and published feminist texts in Notes from the First Year (1968), followed by Notes from the Second Year (1970). "Principles" by New York Radical Women was included in the 1970 anthology Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From The Women's Liberation Movement, edited by Robin Morgan.
Notes from the First Year (1968)
In June 1968, New York Radical Women publishes Notes from the First Year. It includes "classics" such as an early version of Anne Koedt's "The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm," Kathy Amatniek's speech, "Funeral Oration for the Burial of Traditional Womanhood," and two texts by Shulamith Firestone.
Notes from the First Year is based on speeches given by members and discussions held at the weekly meetings of the New York Radical Women in 1968. This pamphlet was part of a movement of mimeographed movement journals that coincided with the new radical feminism erupting in the United States. Many pieces from this pamphlet were foundational in the development of what we now call women and gender studies. The pamphlet notably marks the first appearance of the theory that would late grow into Anne Koedt’s well known pamphlet and book, “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm.”
Notes from the Second Year (1970)
Notes from the Second Year was created in response to the popularity and demand for Notes from the First Year. It was produced as a radical feminist periodical to present new ideas and clarify relevant political issues. Articles chosen were seen to be politically important and/or influential and have the potential to open up further debate. With its choice to publish new material rather than material that had already been widely circulated , the publication notably marks the first appearance of foundational women and gender studies theories such as Carole Hanisch’s “The Personal is Political,” and Kate Millet’s “Sexual Politics: A Manifesto for Revolution,” which would later become part of her classic feminist book Sexual Politics.
By 1969, ideological differences split the group into a radical feminist faction and a socialist feminist (or "politico") faction. Tension grew between the two splinter groups until January 1969 when the organization fell apart. Socialist feminists like Robin Morgan left to form Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.), while radical feminists led by Shulamith Firestone and Ellen Willis started Redstockings.