President of the Feminist Majority and the Feminist Majority Foundation
As Co-Founder and President of the Feminist Majority and former President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Eleanor Smeal has led efforts for the economic, political, and social equality and empowerment of women worldwide for over three decades. She has played a leading role in both national and state campaigns to win women’s rights legislation and in a number of landmark state and federal court cases for women’s rights.
One of the architects of the modern drive for women’s equality, Smeal is known as a political analyst, strategist, and grassroots organizer. She has played a pivotal role in defining the debate, developing the strategies, and charting the direction of the modern day women’s movement. Smeal was the first to identify the “gender gap” — the difference in the way women and men vote — and popularized its usage in election and polling analyses to enhance women’s voting clout.
For over 30 years, Smeal has been at the forefront of almost every major women’s rights victory – from the integration of Little League, newspaper help-wanted ads, and police departments to the passage of landmark legislation, such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Equal Credit Act, Civil Rights Restoration Act, Violence Against Women Act, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, and Civil Rights Act of 1991. She has pushed to make Social Security and pensions more equitable for women, and to realign federal priorities by developing a feminist budget. She has campaigned to close the wage gap and to achieve pay equity for women. Expanding feminist activism to a global level, Smeal in 1997 launched the international Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan to counter the Taliban’s abuse of women.
As President of the National Organization for Women, Eleanor Smeal led the drive to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), the largest nationwide grassroots and lobbying campaign in the history of the modern women’s movement. The ERA campaign reshaped the contours of women’s political participation in the U.S. and demonstrated the strength and breadth of public support for women’s rights. Ultimately, the ERA’s defeat exposed the entrenched interests opposed to women’s equality.
She called for the women’s movement, despite much controversy in both the media and the movement itself, to return to the streets in the mid-1980s to dramatize popular support for abortion rights. When many said it could not be done, she led the first national abortion rights march in 1986, drawing more than 100,000 participants to Washington, D.C. She has been in the leadership of every major reproductive rights march ever since, including the 2004 March for Women’s Lives, the largest march in our nation’s history. Over 1.1 million people gathered on the National Mall to demand that women’s health, access to contraception, and abortion receive adequate funding.
Smeal serves on a number of boards, including the National Council for Research on Women, the National Organization for Women, the Executive Committee of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, and the Leadership Circle of the Alliance for Ratification of CEDAW. She is also a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Duke University and holds an M.A. degree from the University of Florida. She received an honorary Doctor of Law from Duke University, an honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Florida, and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.