The National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded in 1966 to advocate for women's economic, political, and social equality through education, fundraising, lawsuits, legislative lobbying, protests, and rallies. Betty Friedan and Pauli Murray, two of the founding members, defined the organization's purpose: "to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men." NOW remains committed to fighting discrimination, racism, sexism, and homophobia; seeking to end violence against women; and advocating for women's access to reproductive health care, birth control, and abortion. For example, the organization was active in demonstrating in support of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and campaigning in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
There are multiple levels of leadership in the organization, from the local chapter to state chapters to regional councils. On the national level, NOW consists of four elected officials (President, Vice President -- Action, Vice President -- Executive, and Vice President -- Membership), a National Board of Directors composed of elected representatives from nine regions of the United States, and national issues committees. It is NOW's members, however, who determine the organization's path and priorities at yearly conferences. The national leaders implement policies and actions determined by the conference, coordinate action across the country (for example, marches on Washington), and provide membership services and support to state and local chapters.
State NOW chapters similarly consist of a small group of officials elected at state conferences by the members of local chapters. State leaders implement policies determined at the state conferences, help members implement national NOW decisions on the local level, coordinate statewide actions (such as lobbying for or against a particular bill in a state legislature), and provide membership services to the local chapters. The Maryland Chapter of NOW was established in 1972 under the leadership of Casey Anne Hughes. The state organization coordinated activities in support of national actions such as campaigning for the ERA as well as supporting involvement in state and local politics. Beginning in the late 1970s, the state council raised funds to pay for a NOW lobbyist in Annapolis. The lobbyist was charged with keeping NOW's concerns for women's economic and political rights and, particularly, access to reproductive health care and birth control before the legislature and with keeping NOW members informed about current bills that affected women's issues.
State leaders struggled constantly with financial worries and disagreements over the division of power between national, state, and local chapters. In the later 1980s and 1990s, recruiting new members and finding candidates for NOW offices became increasingly difficult for the Maryland chapter, but members persevered, and, in 2004, the state boasted fourteen chapters.
For more information about the history of the National Organization for Women at the national and local levels, please see http://www.now.org/organization/faq.html, http://www.now.org/history/history.html, and www.marylandnow.org.