Aileen Hernandez, Former President, NOW

Aileen Clarke Hernandez fought against discrimination in all of its forms for most of her life. She served as the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), commissioner of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and founder and president of the consulting firm Hernandez and Associates.

Aileen Clarke was born in Brooklyn in 1926, to a father who made painter’s brushes and a mother who was a homemaker. Clarke excelled in school and attended Howard University, where she was drawn into politics and the NAACP. In 1951, she took an organizing job with the West Coast division of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. In 1965, she was appointed by Lyndon Johnson to be the only woman on the first established Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Frustrated by her fellow commissioners’ lack of attention to women’s complaints, she became a charter member of the NOW, and became the group’s second president when Betty Friedan stepped down in 1970.

Under Hernandez’ guidance, NOW organized the Strike for Equality in 1971, an event that heralded the arrival to national prominence of the women’s movement. Hernandez is celebrated for having played a key role in ensuring a voice for minorities in the women’s movement. In 1973, she founded the group Black Women Organized for Action. In her 80s, she chaired the California Women’s Agenda, a state alliance of over 600 organizations. She was also the founder and coordinator of Black Women Stirring the Waters, a discussion group in the San Francisco Bay Area which, in 1998, published a book of essays by 44 of its members. Hernandez passed away at the age of 90 on February 13, 2017.