MAKERS Profile

Aileen Hernandez

Former President National Organization for Women

In this video

Aileen Hernandez on how her experience advocating for women's equality in government turned her into a grassroots activist.
Aileen Clarke Hernandez has been fighting against discrimination in all of its forms for over six decades. She has been 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. Now in her 80s, she chairs the California Women’s Agenda, a state alliance of over 600 organizations, and is 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 forty-four of its members.

More From Aileen

Women of Color in NOW
Hernandez recounts how she fought for women of color to play a bigger part in the National Organization for Women.

A Different Kind of Reproductive Rights
Hernandez explains how making abortion a key issue in the women’s movement was controversial for women of color and poor women who were dealing with forced sterilization.

The Privileged Skew
Hernandez discusses how the National Organization for Women was skewed towards privileged, white women in its early years.

A Unique Girls' School
Hernandez remembers her high school as a unique place where girls were taught to dream big.

The Blank Slate
Hernandez implores everyone to be willing to make the most out of their life because everything Is a possibility.

MLK's Example
Hernandez admires Martin Luther King, Jr. for his commitment to constantly working on new causes and challenges us to do the same.

The Challenges in a Modern Marriage
Hernandez reflects that even in a modern marriage it's difficult to meet both partners' needs.