Matilda Cuomo

Eleanor Cutri Smeal became president of a local chapter of NOW, the first step in becoming the national president of the powerful women’s organization.

Eleanor Cutri Smeal (1939- ) was born in Astabula, Ohio, to parents of Italian descent including her father who emigrated from Calabria, Italy. Although from a Roman Catholic household she attended public school where she discovered her talents in debating and public speaking. She received a bachelor's degree from Duke University and a master's degree from the University of Florida in 1963, always maintaining her interest in women's issues. After her marriage she became a mother who also immersed herself in efforts to obtain disability benefits for working mothers. This background led her to involvement in activities of radical feminism including joining the National Organization for Women (NOW) an organization founded in 1966 to promote equal rights for women. An activist organization, it sought to challenge sex discrimination in all areas, especially employment and promoted child-care, pregnancy leaves, abortion and pensions. Smeal was elected president first of the local Pittsburgh area chapter of NOW and then of the Pennsylvania NOW chapter in 1972. She soon was elected to NOW's national board of directors emerging as a vocal advocate for housewives. In 1977 Smeal became the chief of NOW's effort to fight for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). It was in that same year she began her tenures as president of NOW between 1977-1982, and again from 1985 to 1987. In 1979 President Carter appointed her to the national advisory committee to the White House Conference on Families. Clearly Eleanor Cutri Smeal was one of the most influential women in the nation in the 1970s and 1980s.

It is instructive to note that in 1980 Italian American women formed the National Organization of Italian American Women (NOIAW) that parallels NOW but with special emphasis on fostering the interests and concerns of Italian American women. Thus NOIAW promotes accomplishments, history and heritage of Italian American women. Among the women instrumental in starting the group were Aileen Risotto Sirey, Geraldine Ferraro, Matilda Cuomo, Jackie Biaggi, and Roseann Stigliano.

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