Feminist Buttons!

The Women’s Liberation Movement began during the height of the contemporary button craze. Consequently, buttons reflect the Movement’s history and development with greater consistency than its political tracts. The first new feminist buttons showed the civil rights origins of the Women’s Liberation Movement. At the 1967 National Organization for Women national board meeting Betty Farians, then of Bridgeport, Connecticut, appeared wearing a red-on-green button declaring BAN DISCRIMINATION BASED ON RACE-CREED-COLOR OR SEX. The sex provision of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was still being ignored by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission and virtually every nonfeminist. Tired of constantly reminding people that discrimination in employment on the basis of sex was as prohibited as that based on race, creed, and color, Betty Farians decided to say it with a button. This was as individual an action as that of Ti-Grace Atkinson, whose FREEDOM FOR WOMEN button was produced in the winter of 1968. Although Atkinson was then president of New York NOW, the organization was reluctant to commit itself to a button. So she took the initiative.
The next feminist button that came to my attention arrived in the mail early in January, 1969. Serving both as editor and as mailing address for “Voice of the Women’s Liberation Movement” (the only national Women’s Liberation newsletter publishing at that time), I was a logical recipient for news of almost anything that was happening in the Movement. Blue on white, this button urged that UPPITY WOMEN UNITE. It was produced for her class by Kimberly Snow, a graduate teaching assistant in a women and literature course at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. She sent me the extras she had, and I mailed them to feminists around the country. I ostentatiously wore UPPITY WOMEN UNITE so I could offhandedly inform people that our “chapter” in Grand Forks, North Dakota, was distributing them. In early 1969, there were only a dozen or so other cities — all of them major metropolises — known to have functioning feminist groups, so it sounded as though the Women’s Movement were making headway. UPPITY WOMEN UNITE has since become one of the most popular slogans in the Movement. Dr. Bernice Sandier, of the American Association of Colleges, carries large quantities of these buttons, which she scatters around the country like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed. Many other groups sell them to raise funds.

More from Jo Freeman*, feminist button collector par excellence here

*Freeman’s buttons also provide the image for my new header – thanks – it cheers me!

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