I had no idea that the founding of the National Organization for Women grew from the immediate and strategic response of women civil rights leaders to the marginalization of women during the 1963 March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs.
Anna Hedgeman (who'd directed a civil rights campaign for March organizer A. Phillip Randolph) vociferously advocated for women to be included as speakers during the march - and was denied. Here's an excerpt from Hedgeman's letter to Randolph included in an article about women's involvement with the March from the Anna Julia Cooper Project:
...she prepared a letter to Randolph that she read aloud at the final meeting of the Committee on August 16, 1963. Her letter begins:
“In light of the role of the Negro women in the struggle for freedom and especially in light of the extra burden they have carried because of the castration of the Negro man in this culture, it is incredible that no woman should appear as a speaker at the historic March on Washington Meeting at the Lincoln Memorial.”
While no woman ended up giving a speech, her advocacy for women’s inclusion led to Daisy Bates being allowed to provide brief remarks, in which she gave awards to five other black women in the movement and made a pledge “to the women of America” to be active in fighting for civil rights and equality. It also resulted in Rosa Parks being presented onstage, “almost casually,” Hedgeman notes, and the inclusion of women on the dais.
Apparently the night after the march, Hedgeman, Dorothy Height (president of the National Council of Negro Women) and other women held a meeting that led to a series of events resulting in founding of the National Organization for Women. More insight from an interview that journalist Gwen Ifill conducted recently with historian William Jones:
Dorothy Height (far right)
Here are a few articles that will provide you with a great deal of information on the role of women during the march as well as those who made contributions to the progress of civil rights.
Unsung SHE-roes: The Top 8 Female Civil Rights Activists You Should Get to Know (YWCA)
50 Years Ago, March on Washington Had More Radical Roots Than Remembered Today (PBS NewsHour)
While Unsung in '63, Women Weren't Just 'Background Singers' (NPR)
The ERA and the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington (Feminism 2.0)
Women of the March on Washington Slide Show (Bet.com)
When You Remember the March on Washington, Remember Anna Hedgeman (Anna Julia Cooper Project)
VIDEO: Civil Rights Pioneer Gloria Richardson, 91, on How Women Were Silenced at 1963 March on Washington