We promise to accept nothing less than justice for every woman.
We pledge to work unsparingly to bring fair play to every public arena, to encourage honorable behavior in each private home.
We promise to develop courage that we may learn from our colleagues and patience that we may attack our opponent.
Because we are women, we make these promises.Maya Angelou, To Form a More Perfect Union (1977)
The United Nations declared 1975 the International Year of the Woman, hosting the first UN World Conference on Women in Mexico City that summer. To promote a national focus on the “rights and responsibilities of women,” President Gerald Ford established the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year. Within months, Congress had approved $5 million in federal funds to convene the National Women’s Conference. After Houston received national attention for creating a Women’s Advocate office, the IWY Commission selected the Texas city as the meeting location.
By 1977, conference preparations began with meetings in all 56 states and territories to consider agenda recommendations and elect delegates. To symbolize the tagline of “American Women on the Move,” next came a 2,600-mile torch relay from Seneca Falls, New York—the site of the Women’s Rights Convention in 1848—to Houston. Runners also carried a scroll bearing the Declaration of Sentiments written by Commissioner Maya Angelou. Olympians presented both to the trio of First Ladies in attendance during the conference’s opening ceremony.
From November 18-21, 1977, women took over the Sam Houston Coliseum and neighboring Albert Thomas Convention and Exhibit Center. Beyond the 2,005 delegates, the conference attracted an additional 15,000 to 20,000 observers and some 1,500 press representatives. While the conference was not a lawmaking body, organizers sought to produce a national agenda and the grassroots support needed to assist in its passage. With the nation’s eyes on Houston, feminist advocates further hoped to disprove expectations of infighting and instead represent the women’s movement as a diverse yet united force.