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This week in history: Chicago’s women strike

On Aug. 26, 1970, thousands of supporters attended rallies at the Civic Center in the afternoon and Grant Park in the evening, according to city newspapers.

Women and supporters hold a National Women’s Strike rally in Grant Park
Women and supporters hold a National Women’s Strike rally in Grant Park in honor of the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage.
From the Sun-Times archives.

As published in the Chicago Sun-Times and its sister publication, the Chicago Daily News:

Fifty years after women won the right to vote, equality rights and protections stalled across the U.S. Women could be paid less for doing the same work as a man, and many industries retained a “boy’s club” mentality that excluded women.

Many of these problems still exist today, but in 1970, members of the women’s liberation movement called for a day-long strike to highlight these inequalities. Sponsored by the National Organization for Women, the National Women’s Strike brought women and supporters together in New York, Washington, D.C., and, of course, Chicago.

On Aug. 26, 1970, thousands of supporters attended rallies at the Civic Center in the afternoon and Grant Park in the evening, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“There has been tremendous growth of this movement in four years,” NOW chapter president Mary Jean Collins-Robson told reporter Patricia Koval at the Civic Center rally. “Women are teaching themselves — they are forging a new tradition. It isn’t easy for women to face themselves. It isn’t easy, for instance, to fight for abortion in a society that smirks at women’s sexuality. But sisterhood is powerful!”

At the afternoon rally, women pushed baby strollers and carried signs that read “I am a human being” and “Help America Cultivate Self, not Sex,” Koval reported. Speakers focused on the demand for better child care centers and the right to an abortion. A member of the abortion coalition “told the crowd that there were 50,000 illegal abortions performed in Cook County last year.”

Civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer intended to headline the Grant Park rally that evening, but she canceled due to illness, the paper reported. Instead, Wheaton mayor Marget D. Hamilton and Kathryn “Kay” Clarenbach, chairwoman of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, spoke at the rally.

The march had an immediate effect for at least one Chicago woman. Reporter Diane Monk filed a story for the Aug. 27 edition of the Chicago Daily News about working mom Carol Datil, who lost her job at a downtown firm when she brought her 2-year-old daughter to the office.

“About two hours after she reported for work as a cost accountant at Saratoga-Scott-Peterson, 4550 W. Jackson, a division of John Morrell & Co., a male ‘boss’ ordered Mrs. Datil to take little Nora home,” Monk reported. “Mrs. Datil replied that if she did, she would be gone for the rest of the day. Her boss told her not to bother to come back at all.”

Datil immediately called NOW’s Chicago hotline and asked for help, Monk wrote. Over at the Civic Center, Collins-Robson led a march of about 100 women from the center to John Morrell & Co.’s corporate office, 208 S. LaSalle. Collins-Robson and two other delegates from the group met with several company executives.

“The result was that Mrs. Datil’s supervisor was ordered to rehire her and to pay her in full for Wednesday,” Monk wrote.

That evening, Datil was “jubilant” in Grant Park, where she gathered with the other women’s liberation supporters, Monk reported.

“I’d do it over again, even if I hadn’t gotten my job back,” she told Monk. “I believe we need day-care centers, and I stood up for what I believe.”