The growth and transformation of feminist groups in the 1970s had special significance for those organizations whose major goal was changing the American political system to make it work for women. By mid-decade, many of the political and educational associations joined forces in Washington and the various states to lobby for legislation and enforcement of existing laws that extended and protected women’s rights, and to seek greater representation of women among policymakers at all levels of government. Although women’s interests were represented in part by the leadership elite of the women’s policy network that emerged at this time, this mobilization of the feminist movement into a broad-based interest group was also visible at the grass roots, as millions of individual feminists became active in support of the Equal Rights Amendment and reproductive rights.
Choosing to work within the system, however, raises issues of cooptation. As long as feminists remained invisible or were seen as merely ridiculous, the possibility and contingent problems of seeking allies, funding, and political influence did not arise. This situation changed dramatically as the women’s movement became a recognized political force. The growth of support for feminist positions and acceptance of the label “feminist” (discussed in chapter 4) provided the context in which women’s organizations could coalesce and claim credibility as representatives of the interests of all American women.
In this chapter we trace the transformation of some of the educa-