Karen DeCrow, who was president of the National Organization for Women during the 1970s, a turbulent period in which she helped lead campaigns for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and against sex discrimination in education and sports, died on Friday at her home in Jamesville, N.Y., a suburb of Syracuse. She was 76.
The cause was melanoma, said her longtime friend Rowena Malamud, who is president of the Greater Syracuse chapter of NOW. Ms. DeCrow was the group’s current vice president.
Ms. DeCrow was a writer, a lawyer and a tireless campaigner for women’s rights. Her causes were national but also local. In the early 1970s, she represented a 7-year-old girl who wanted to play Little League baseball but was being denied.
“Over my dead body will girls ever play Little League baseball,” a coach told her at the time. “If one of them ever struck out a boy, he would be psychologically scarred for life.”
The girl played, but Ms. DeCrow was not done with sports. As president of NOW from 1974 to 1977, she fought off pressure from the National Collegiate Athletic Association to limit the reach of Title IX, the federal law passed in 1972 that bans sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal money. The law, which was strengthened in 1975 to ensure equal access to sports, has been widely credited with revolutionizing women’s athletics.
“I just hope all that playing and practicing won’t keep women out of the library, studying, learning, getting ready to take advantage of Title VII, the really important federal law, the one that prohibits job discrimination,” Ms. DeCrow told The New York Times in 1997.
Not all of her campaigns were successful. The Equal Rights Amendment, which would make discrimination against women unconstitutional, has yet to pass, but not for lack of effort by Ms. DeCrow. During the 1970s and ’80s, she crisscrossed the United States in support of it and had scores of debates with Phyllis Schlafly, one of its most prominent opponents.
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SOURCE: WILLIAM YARDLEY
The New York Times