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The Women of the ACLU

Susan N. Herman,
Former President
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April 13, 2011

(Editor’s note: We know it’s no longer Women’s History Month, but we still have a lot more to say! We’ll be featuring a few more posts in April.)

Then: Around ACLU circles, one hears a lot about founding father Roger Baldwin, but less about founding mother Crystal Eastman. Eastman attended New York University Law School, graduating second in the class of 1905. She cofounded the National Civil Liberties Bureau to protect World War I conscientious objectors and outspoken dissenters — in her words: “To maintain something over here that will be worth coming back to when the weary war is over.” The NCLB grew into the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920, with Baldwin at the head and Eastman functioning as attorney in charge.

1920 was, of course, also a notable year for women because the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote, was finally added to the Constitution.

Crystal Eastman

Crystal Eastman

Other women had paved the way for Eastman to become a lawyer – like Myra Bradwell, who persisted in her struggle to join the legal profession even after the Supreme Court told her that the “natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of life.” But Crystal Eastman was the pioneer of women’s equality within the ACLU.

Now: The ACLU models equality internally as well as fighting for women’s rights and equality throughout the nation.

  • Women comprise a full half of the ACLU National Board.
  • I am the second woman to serve as President.
  • Women are 60 percent of the national staff and 58 percent of executive directors in 53 affiliate offices around the country.
  • Women head two of our four new legal centers and fill the majority of senior staff positions.

Crystal Eastman would be proud.

We held a month-long blog symposium on women’s rights for Women’s History Month in March. See all the blog posts here, and learn more about women’s rights: Subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

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