by Alyssa J. Wynne
After nine years of preparation and writing, Mt. Airy author Karen Bojar offers her personal recognition of feminism in Philadelphia during the glory years through her book “Feminism In Philadelphia: The Glory Years: Philadelphia NOW, 1968-1982.”
Bojar intends to inform readers on the ways local, volunteering women contributed significant change to women’s rights at the national level. She was fueled by her personal admiration for the women involved in the second wave feminism movement.
“These are the feminists that really broke down the institutional barriers,” Bojar said. “Any social movement that is going to be successful needs the boots on the ground. You can’t just do it on a national level.”
Bojar, a former professor of English and women’s studies at Community College of Philadelphia and a 30-year member of the 9th Ward Democratic Committee, began interviewing for her book in 2004. The material from the movement, from 1968 to 1982, dictates the organization of the book, beginning with positivity and ending with conflict.
After her retirement, she worked at a steady pace to condense member interviews and piles of information from Philadelphia NOW archives provided by the founding mothers.
Bojar explained that major works about second wave feminism generally focus on major cities such as San Francisco and New York City. Those cities provided more dramatic and exciting steps toward equality, she said, but all organizers pursued equality in tandem. She was driven by an intense curiosity of what Philadelphia NOW was like at that time with the founding mothers.
“I wanted to honor their tremendous achievements, but still be honest about some of the blind spots,” Bojar said. “These are good people, and they were not racist, but they just didn’t know how to go about [race] and they thought their focus should be about gender.”
Bojar recognizes the many personal sacrifices these women made for accomplishments and contributions to nationwide change. Her book discusses the impact of Philadelphia NOW being the first chapter with an out-lesbian president, Jan Welch, and how women from the chapter traveled across the country to fundraise and inform Americans about the Equal Rights Amendment. She said she was “astonished” at what they gave up and how few people made an enormous change, which she says came with the time.
“People just put their lives on hold for the [Equal Rights Movement],” Bojar said. “What made the women in this book willing to sacrifice so much was because the changes were coming thick and fast – when you can see it happening quickly, it’s easier to hang in there with it.”
Bojar hopes her book will inspire other small, under-the-radar chapters to document their historical movements, and that future works similar to her book will be taught in the classroom. According to Bojar, every NOW chapter handled different issues and took small steps toward the larger goal, making the independent chapters essential “building blocks” of the overall change.
“I found it was really important for Philadelphia women to know this history,” Bojar said.
Though Bojar joined the organization in 1984, she considered her transition into the feminist movement “late” because of her deep investment in the antiwar and civil rights movement. When Bojar served as Philadelphia NOW president from 2001 to 2009, she pushed for “diversity” and recruiting “women of color.” She began a political action committee to introduce the political spectrum of NOW to the chapter. Under her presidency, Bojar was able to influence women to run for office.
She continues to be an active member of the organization and said it has made great strides with racial, social and economic differences among its members. But she says the current, overall environment of NOW is not the same as the environment described in her book.
“This is definitely not a social movement phase right now,” Bojar said. “But it’s important to have people on the grass roots.”
Bojar believes that the “trailblazers” are the average women making a difference by simply spreading ideas of equality. She is hopeful that this upcoming movement will blindside us – just like the last one – because of the inevitable spread of ideas.