Molly Yard, an indefatigable advocate for women's rights, passed away last night in her sleep in Pittsburgh at the age of 93. Yard had suffered a major stroke in 1991, but kept working until the late 1990s at the Feminist Majority. Throughout her long life, Yard worked for women’s rights, civil rights, workers’ rights, and social justice.
Yard served as the political director and a leader of the campaign to pass the Equal Rights Amendment for the National Organization for Women in the late 1970s and 1980s, and was the president of NOW from 1987 until 1992. Yard led the March for Women’s Lives to keep abortion and birth control safe and legal in 1989. She was also active in Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) and the Democratic Party, leading George McGovern’s presidential campaign in Pennsylvania in 1972. One of her first jobs out of college was special assistant to Eleanor Roosevelt.
“She was a brilliant strategist and a tireless organizer for campaigns for social justice who could always rally the troops,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, former president of NOW, and a close friend of Molly’s. Smeal credits Yard with being a leader in winning equal representation for women within the Democratic Party on all levels. She worked for countless women’s candidacies and made sure that NOW and the Feminist Majority kept equal representation for women and the winning of elected office for women high on the agenda of the women’s movement.
“Her energy, commitment, and dedication were unmatched, and she would never get discouraged. She saw the women’s rights struggle as a process, and she was there for the long haul,” said Smeal. “She instilled her spirit for the fight for women’s rights in three generations of women.”
Among Yard’s many contributions to the women’s movement was helping to popularize the gender gap in voting and public opinion. She helped convince her brother-in-law, Lou Harris, the dean of pollsters in the early 1980s, to separate out his polls by gender, which at the time was not the norm. Harris’ polls on Reagan broken out by gender made it clear that the gender gap was real and has had a lasting impact on politics.
Yard recognized the importance of Title IX, the landmark 1972 legislation prohibiting sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs. As NOW’s political director from 1985 to 1987, and then as president of NOW, she helped lead the victorious fight to restore Title IX after the devastating 1984 Supreme Court decision in the Grove City case. “Molly was so dedicated to equal educational and sports opportunities for women and girls, that even after her stroke and her presidency of NOW, she led the Feminist Majority’s Task Force on Title IX to ensure it would never be gutted again. Time after time in the 1990s, she helped beat back attempts to weaken Title IX,” said Smeal.
Yard worked for women’s rights long after she suffered her stroke. She organized one of the largest delegations for the Feminist Expo in 1996, and gave her last major speech at Feminist Expo 2000, inspiring seasoned feminist activists and young feminist leaders alike.
There will be a Washington, DC celebration of Molly Yard’s life in the coming weeks. The Feminist Majority, the National Organization for Women, Americans for Democratic Action, and the countless progressive groups with which Molly worked will participate.