By Rebecca Romanchuk, Archivist
Mary Murphy is a Master of Arts in history candidate at Texas State University, specializing in women, gender, and sexuality. She recently completed an internship at the Texas State Archives to arrange and describe records of the Texas International Women’s Year Coordinating Committee. These records document a crucial period in the women’s rights movement in the late 1970s as the push to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment gathered strength and then failed to achieve its goal.
Romanchuk: Mary, tell us why you were interested in working with the Texas International Women’s Year Coordinating Committee records at the State Archives.
Murphy: My interest in women’s studies and desire to work with an assorted set of records and media was a good match for this collection. It was also an opportunity to learn about a subject I had surprisingly never come across in my formal education.
Romanchuk: What was International Women’s Year and how was this committee involved with it?
Murphy: The United Nations declared 1975 as International Women’s Year to draw attention to efforts by women around the world to achieve equal status as a human rights issue. The first international conference to discuss women’s status in the world occurred in Mexico City from June 19 to July 2, 1975.
As part of this global movement, the United States convened the National Women’s Conference to create a National Plan of Action to better women’s lives. Leading up to that conference, held in Houston from November 18 to 21, 1977, the states held meetings to elect delegates to represent them and their adopted resolutions. The Texas IWY Coordinating Committee served this purpose for Texas, holding the Texas Women’s Meeting at the University of Texas at Austin from June 24 to 26, 1977.
Romanchuk: Why are the records of the committee and the Texas Women’s Meeting important to preserve?
Murphy: These records reflect Texas’ contribution to the national recognition of women. The brightest women in Texas, such as Sarah Weddington and Ann Richards, helped organize the state meeting that was meant to represent a cross-section of Texas women and their divergent views. Directives from the chair of the national IWY committee, renowned feminist and congresswoman Bella Abzug, provide insight to the highest levels of the feminist movement. Pamphlets produced by national and state organizations promoting their concept of the ideal woman show how contested the idea of womanhood was.
Romanchuk: So there wasn’t full agreement on what women should work toward?
Murphy: Some women were critical of IWY. Issues that are settled today were not then, from guaranteeing that companies could not deny insurance on the basis of gender to ensuring women could obtain loans and credit cards in their own names.
Romanchuk: This was a time of major changes in attitudes toward women, even by women themselves. What things surprised you in these records?
Murphy: Some religious organizations were pro-choice. I didn’t expect the inclusion of prisoner’s rights, rural women, and more mature women’s concerns. Some of the records are in Spanish because Texas was one of the few states to seek participation of Spanish-speaking women.
Romanchuk: They were championing causes that continue to keep women active and vocal today. How did they prepare for the national meeting in Houston held five months later?
Murphy: The workshops and caucus rooms documented in the records show the variety of issues debated as well as the diverse population of the roughly two thousand and six hundred attendees from whom national conference delegates were elected. Resolutions coming out of these individual sessions were written by average women and show the day-to-day challenges they faced.
Romanchuk: We can also literally hear these women’s voices, right?
Murphy: Yes, a roving interviewer with an audio tape recorder asked attendees what they hoped the event would accomplish. These audio recordings and transcripts allow for candid and significant viewpoints to emerge.
Romanchuk: I’ve listened to those recordings and was struck by the range of perspectives held by women at this meeting, from those supporting the Equal Rights Amendment to those who opposed it and preferred traditional female roles. It’s fascinating to hear.
Mary, on behalf of the State Archives and everyone who will use and learn from the Texas IWY Coordinating Committee records, I want to thank you for all the work you did to make them more available to the public and for bringing your expertise in women’s history to this project.
Murphy: It was my good fortune to be assigned this project for my internship. These records connect local history with international history and have ties with other collections and records held at repositories around the state, nation, and world.
For more information:
The Texas Digital Archive features a portion of the records, available for viewing and listening online. View photographs of women at the Texas Women’s Meeting, a map of the outreach regions identified in the state, and tallied election results for delegates to the national conference, and listen to audio recordings of interviews with attendees on the meeting floor.
Visit the finding aid for this collection at http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/tslac/90049/tsl-90049.html.