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National Women's Conference Collection

Identifier: RG O 0001

Scope and Content Note

This collection includes administrative files of the local organizers of the conference, including lists of volunteers, delegates, and visitors, as well as agendas, reports, correspondence, and publications. The materials provide information both about the convention itself and concerning issues the participants discussed.


  • 1977-1978

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish or reproduce materials from the National Women's Conference Collection must be obtained from the Houston Metropolitan Research Center or the appropriate copyright holder.

Historical Note

The National Women's Conference of November 18-21, 1977, held in Houston, provided an opportunity to evaluate and make recommendations on the role of women in the US through a discussion of specific issues and ideas. Approximately 2,000 delegates from fifty states and six territories participated in the meeting, which was attended by an additional 15,000 to 20,000 observers. The conference was authorized by public law and supported with federal funds and was required to include varied economic, racial, ethnic, religious, and age groups. The conference was organized after a 1975 United Nations conference in Mexico City celebrating the "International Year of the Woman."

The conference opened with a clear sense of purpose as well as much fanfare. A torch arrived that had been lit in Seneca Falls in September and carried to Houston by more than 3,000 relay runners. Houston cultural institutions, such as the Rice Design Alliance and the Alley Theatre, sponsored special exhibits featuring women. Skills seminars, film festivals, soccer games, and special exhibits also were held in conjunction with the conference. Dignitaries who traveled to the Houston meeting included Rosalyn Carter, Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Coretta Scott King, Texas politicians John Hill and William P. Hobby, Jr., and Judge Sarah T. Hughes. Bella Abzug was named by President Jimmy Carter to serve as the presiding officer of the convention; Texas congresswoman and Houston native Barbara Jordan delivered the keynote address. The conference received complete coverage on public television.

Although the National Women's Conference was not a lawmaking body and could only propose nonbinding recommendations, it was directed to arrive at a national plan of action to help remove sex barriers and better utilize women's contributions. This plan, which grew from issues discussed at the state conferences, was to be submitted to the president and Congress within 120 days of the conference. Twenty-six major topics were considered by the delegates, including the ERA, abortion, lesbian rights, child care, minority women, homemakers, battered women, education, rape, health, and a cabinet-level women's department. As expected, the most heated debates arose over the issues of abortion and lesbian rights. The ERA, which at the time of the conference was three states short of the number needed for ratification, was the subject of some controversy before the convention passed a resolution urging its ratification. Even with these points of contention, however, the conference ultimately arrived at broad common ground and approved a plan of action urging federal involvement in all but one area it considered. The only proposal not receiving the convention's endorsement pertained to the establishment of a women's department. Despite the general agreement on the other resolutions, the conference closed on a controversial note as non-feminist delegates walked out of the meeting, claiming that they had not been given a fair opportunity to express their views. The National Plan of Action was submitted to the president and Congress in March 1978, and a month later Carter established the National Advisory Committee for Women.

Reference: Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, "NATIONAL WOMEN'S CONFERENCE, 1977," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed March 10, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010.


5.5 Linear Feet (5 boxes)

Language of Materials


Arrangement Note

The National Women's Conference Collection is arranged according to type of materials. Box 3 maintains the filing and naming system imposed by the conference chairperson.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Mary B. Keegan, Chair, National Woman's Conference, in 1978.

Related Materials

The Houston Metropolitan Research Center also has the Proposed national plan of action by National Women's Conference (1st : 1977 : Houston, Tex.) 305.42 N277 in the Texas Room collection.

Addition records on the National Women's Conference are held by the Women's Archives, University Archives, University of Houston Libraries, in their National Women's Conference Collection (WA-1).

Processing Information

Processed by April Speck on April 6, 1979. Updated by Emily Scott in March 2014.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center Repository


The African American Library at the Gregory School
1300 Victor Street
Houston, Texas 77019
Houston Metropolitan Research Center
Houston Public Library
550 McKinney St.
Houston, Texas 77002