Fort Myers NOW

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Fort Myers NOW, also referred to as Lee County NOW, was founded by Mary Baldauf in 1973[1] and was an active chapter during the 1970s. The chapter was involved in many different activities in the community and many of its members were involved in various task forces. The chapter distributed its monthly newsletter "Ms.Tique" for free until April 1975 when it requested a $2/year addition to chapter dues.[2]

The collection has information from the chapter in the following folders:

Abortion

It does not appear as though there was an abortion clinic in the area during the 1970s, but the chapter had a few events and discussions about abortion. Members were angered when a newspaper in the Fort Myers area refused to publish abortion referral information in 1973 from the chapter.[3] Writing to

The chapter also threatened the local chapter of the United Way with a potential picket in 1979 for their $20,000 donation to the Catholic Services Bureau, an anti-choice organization that worked as an "abortion alternative." The chapter was concerned over the advertisement's implication that women were coerced into receiving an abortion and that the Catholic charity was a better choice.[4]

We protest the fact that public charity funds are being used to fund an agency which runs an ad that makes it look like people are being pressured into abortion.
Kathy Shepard speaking to the Miami Herald in 1979.[5]

There are no documents in the collection that explain the outcome of the chapter's decision to protest or if the United Way reversed their policy on the donation.

Commission on the Status of Women

After discussing it in meetings and asking chapter members for feedback,[6] the chapter moved forward to create a Commission on the Status of Women, an effort that was popular with many other NOW chapters in the area.[7] Other organizations in the area supported the Commission, including the Women's Political Caucus, AAUW, Zonta International, and the League of Women Voters.[8] Mary Baldauf met with a member of the Lee County Commission in 1973 asking to pass an ordinance to establish a Commission on the Status of Women for the county.[9] When the all male group of County Commissioners refused, Fort Myers NOW submitted a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations on the basis of sex discrimination. Mary explained that the response of the County Commissioners was humiliating.[10]

You appear to me to feel inferior, and you need an ordinance so you won't feel inferior.
—County Commissioner Kenneth Daniels responding to Mary Baldauf's request to establish the Commission on the Status of Women in 1973.[11]
I for one know the status of women and have no desire to change it.
—County Commissioner George Goldtrap, recipient of Fort Myers NOW "Barefoot and Pregnant Award," responding to Mary Baldauf's request to establish the Commission on the Status of Women in 1973.[12]

Employment discrimination

In 1973, Mary Baldauf filed a complaint with the EEOC against her employer, the United Telephone Company, for employment discrimination based on sex. She alleged a violation of Title VII because the company failed to follow maternity rules and regulations, required women to submit to pregnancy tests before hiring, maintained sex-segregated jobs, and unequal pay for women.[13] Working with the local union of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (AFL-CIO), she filed because she and others were affected by discrimination, but her two other coworkers would not sign on to the complaint with her. They quit from their positions and she filed the complaint without a third party. Mary was uncertain if the EEOC would take up her complaint without a third party.[14]

After filing the complaint, she received retribution and other employees treated her badly.[15]

We have loads of jobs for operators. These jobs are for women. We've never put men on as operators because we felt they would get bored. We are trying this out with one man in Naples but he hasn't worked with us long enough to be able to tell whether or not the job is challenging enough.
—Dottie King, personnel administrator for United Telephone Company, quoted in the Fort Myers News-Press on 16 May 1972.[16]

The chapter also conducted a survey to businesses in the Ft. Myers area in 1974 to gather statistics on employment discrimination. The survey found that there were many major companies in the city that discriminated based on sex in hiring and promotions, specifically in management and upper-level supervisory positions.[17]

In 1976, the chapter submitted a request to all NOW chapters to submit a questionnaire indicating the number of complaints that their members had submitted to the EEOC for discrimination based on sex. The chapter intended to file a class-action lawsuit and were evaluating whether to file a state or national complaint.[18]

ERA coalition

The chapter created a coalition to work on ERA ratification. Diane Bright was elected as coordinator in 1973 and the group worked to raise awareness about the issue.[19]


References