Marie Smeal Different ‘NOW’ President

Posted on July 8, 2014



Lubbock Avalanche Journal May 8, 1977
United Press International
So what’s an establishment housewife
type, mother of two school-age children
doing as the president of the National Organization
for Women?
Her name is Eleanor Marie Cutri
Smeal. She is 37 years old and lives in one
of those swell little towns with broad
lawns and executive families — Mount
Lebanon, outside Pittsburgh, Pa.
It was high class suburbia before the
word was invented.
She lives in a three-bedroom home with
her husband, Charlie, and their children
– Todd, 9, and Lori, 12.
She has a “perfect” marriage but
doesn’t wear a wedding ring — “a symbol
you ‘belong* to someone.” Charlie
wears his.
She insists on calling herself “a housewife.”
Does the election of Ellie Smeal in Detroit
a little while back mean the National
Organization for Women is going establishment?
Are those thousands of women banded
together to rock boats going to shift gears
and rock cradles?
Housewife Smeal is no squeaky little
mouse — though less strident than outgoing
NOW president, Karen Akee De-
Crow of Syracuse, N.Y., a fearless lawyer
noted for her incisive words on most
womanissue topics.
Housewife Smeal, as NOW president,
does not fit either the image created by
the organization’s founder and first president,
Betty Friedan, fasttalking, huskyvoiced
mother of the women’s liberation
movement and, incidentally, mother of
She is not casting a shadow similar at
all to other presidents who were neither
mothers nor housewives. Included were
women from executive suites and once, a
doctor’s wife.
Talk with Mrs. Smeal a few times, as I
have done, and you soon see that the election
of a housewife to the top post
doesn’t mean the National Organization
for Women’s headed for the graveyard.
The opposite is true.
NOW is entering into an expansion
phase, according to its new president.
Mrs. Smeal’s a housewife with a difference.
She’s not “just a” housewife. She is
proud of the role. She thinks every housewife
should feel that way.
“Our newest task force is the Homemakers
Committee.” Mrs. Smeal said.
“One of our goals is a Homemaker’s
Bill of Rights. Homemaker is another
word for housewife.”
Ellie Smeal was head of the Board of
the National Organization for Women before
becoming president, winning 90 per
cent of the votes at the annual meeting in
Her rise to the top ranks of the feminist
movement was pretty swift. She didn’t
even belong to the National Organization
for Women until 1970.
When she joined, her mate, Charlie, also
signed. The metallurgical researcher
for Westinghouse Corporation’s Atomic
Energy Laboratory moved into leadership
positions, too. Recently, he served
on the board of the Pennsylvania National
Organization for Women.
Mrs. Smeal became president of the
South Hills, Pittsburgh, branch of NOW
first. Then she was elected president of
the Pennsylvania chapter. Then the national
How Mrs. Smeal got into feminism and
became a militant leader is unusual.
Ten months after the birth of her second
child, she suffered a painful back injury—
a slipped disc — and had to stay in
bed for a year.
She read up on suffrage and other
women’s issues. Her books included
“The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan.
Mrs. Smeal said when she could move
about she participated in “August 26,
1970,” events celebrating the 50th anniversary
of the day men gave the women of
America the vote suffrage.
Then, just naturally, came both the
Smeals involvement in the National Organization
for Women.
“Thank, God, for Charlie,” she said. “I
would not be able to do this if Charlie
were not a fantastic husband and parent.”
Charlie’s lips turn up at the corners like
one of those Smllie faces when she says
that. His smile was absolutely cherubic
when Mrs. Smeal introduced Charlie to
members of the National Organization
for Women after being elected president.
The children looked a little that way,
too. They’re having some trouble dealing
with the new-found celebrity status of
their mother.
Lori wanted to know what a celebrity is
when she came home from Mount Lebanon’s
Stephen Foster school the other
“The teacher said you’re a celebrity.”
Lori said. “What’s that?”
In Ellie Smeal’s case, celebrity means
she’s going to have two places to sleep —
the Mount Lebanon home and an apartment
she will share with another NOW
official in Washington, D.C., national
headquarters of NOW.
She will be in Washington probably every
week for some time, steering the organization’s
campaign for the Equal
Rights Amendment through its most difficult
She also will be directing a big expansion
drive. “I was elected on a growth
plank,” she »aid.
“We hope to bring in a lot more people
– men and women. “I believe we are
very representative of the population.
“I believe we are the majority opinion
– and the majority believes In equal
rights for women.
“Our job now i« to activate that majority.”
Little fires blaze in Ellie Smeal’s big
brown eyes as she d r am herself up to her
full suture, five feet four, and talks
lough about the Equal Rights Amendtnent.
“It won’t pass just because we all beieve
in it.” she said. “We have to work.
The groundwork has been laid.
“We spent the first ten years raising the
issues and people agree with us. We
made the case that women were discriminated
against and needed equal opportunities.”
What about those who say the Equal
Rights Amendment will be bad for women.
“It is absolutely essential for equal opportunities
and rights for women,” Mrs.
Smeal answered.
“Anyone who says it is detrimental, 1
frankly disagree with. How could it be
bad when it guarantees women full and
equal rights and treatment before the
Other tough talk from Mrs. Smeal, who
smiles a lot and easily:
— “Married women who work are
ripped off by Social Security. The woman
pays in again and again and cannot collect
on her own. Her money Is confiscated.
She doesn’t even get a tax credit for
it. She can only collect as a beneficiary of
her husband’s social security.”
— “I am interested in disability insurance
for homemakers. They are doing
work and when laid up they need income
to replace themselves — just as any
worker. I really learned that when in bed
for nearly a year after the birth of my
second child.”
— “Homemakers or housewives should
have independently based Social Security
accounts. A person should have one in
her own name and not as a beneficiary of
her husband’s account.”
— “We’re working on the future bill of
rights for the homemaker. It should include
the concept that household income
is shared jointly. On the income tax repart
forms there should be a statement
on joint returns that the above income is
jointly shared by the undersigned.”
— “Our society should recognize that a
woman who is a homemaker is more
than a consumer. She needs to be recognized
as a producer.”

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