The National Women’s Conference, held in Houston from November 18 - 21, 1977, was the largest political conference of women in the United States since the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. The primary job of the national conference was to formulate and pass a National Plan of Action, which would detail recommendations to improve the lives of women.
Approximately 2,000 voting delegates from fifty states and six territories participated along with an additional 15,000 to 20,000 observers. The conference was authorized by public law and supported with federal funds and was therefore required to include varied economic, racial, ethnic, religious, and age groups. Twenty-six major topics were identified by the delegates, including the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), abortion, lesbian rights, child care, minority women, homemakers, battered women, education, rape, national healthcare, and a cabinet-level women's department.
Former Houston Mayor Fred Hofheinz recalls, “It was not by accident that Houston was chosen to host the 1977 National Women’s Conference. I was elected Mayor of Houston on a platform of equal opportunity for women. As mayor I ordered affirmative action hiring and equal pay for women. To enforce my policies, and rally community support for them, I appointed Houston’s first Woman’s Advocate, Nikki Van Hightower. Her aggressive approach to her duties brought national attention. At the same time I had friends in New York who were spearheading the national movement for the Equal Rights Amendment, including Congresswoman Bella Abzug and the editors of Ms. Magazine. They knew me and they knew Houston. So when the Commission, led by Congresswoman Abzug, decided it needed a location central to the nation and friendly to the movement, Houston was the natural choice. The rest is history.”
While the National Women's Conference cannot be credited with fully resolving the complex issues defined in 1977, it is recognized as a major event in the women's movement in the United States.
Program booklets are part of the National Women's Conference Collection, Box 2, Folder 5 and 22. Contact our Houston Metropolitan Research Center for more information.