Karen DeCrow, former president of NOW, dies at 76

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NEW YORK (AP) — Celebrated activist and civil rights lawyer Karen DeCrow, who led the National Organization for Women in the 1970s, died Friday at her home near Syracuse. She was 76.

Longtime friend Rowena Malamud confirmed DeCrow’s death from melanoma.

She said DeCrow, who started out as a journalist and was a prolific writer, was the “perfect model” for the women’s rights movement.

As president of NOW from 1974 to 1977, DeCrow pressured government agencies and big corporations to hire more women and called on the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate gender discrimination.

She targeted Ivy League schools to bring in more female students, social groups to open up their male-dominated membership rolls and asked NASA to include more women in the space program.

Malamud, the president of NOW’s Greater Syracuse chapter, called DeCrow “a hero and a guide.”

“Together, with a lot of other people, we helped to change history,” Malamud said, stifling tears during a brief telephone interview. “She was in the forefront of that.”

DeCrow was born Karen Lipschultz on Dec. 18, 1937. She grew up in Chicago, earned a degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended a graduate journalism program and law school at Syracuse University. While a law student, she ran for mayor of Syracuse, the first mayoral campaign by a woman in the state.

She joined NOW in 1967, inspired by the pay inequality she saw in her own workplace — an issue that continues to simmer four decades later. She joined the organization’s national board a year later and remained there until becoming president.

DeCrow advocated state ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, passed by Congress in 1972, throughout her tenure and lamented each time a state legislature voted against it. She called a North Carolina defeat in 1977 “an absolute crisis” and said a loss in Florida evoked the “Old South.”

She continued her advocacy after her presidency, representing women in gender discrimination disputes — among them, helping get the first woman admitted to the New York Elks Club in Rome in 2003 — and writing a newspaper column.

The American Civil Liberties Union honored her in 1985 and she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2009.

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