Women’s Liberation, (23 February 1972) Cleveland, Ohio


In the late 1960s, Gloria Steinem was a contributing columnist for New York magazine and an emerging activist living in New York City. Dorothy Pitman Hughes was a children’s rights advocate who also lived in New York City’s upper west side. Their partnership formed when Steinem interviewed Pitman Hughes for an article on childcare.1 Despite their different subject positions, the two became fast friends and realized their complementary strengths within the Women’s Liberation movement. Together they began a national speaking tour that took them across America for nearly three years.2

Steinem and Pitman Hughes were productive, but unprecedented, partners. As Steinem noted, the duo’s speeches “came at a time when even one feminist speaker was a novelty, and interracial teams of feminists seemed to be unheard of since the days of Sojourner Truth.”3 Their speeches created a spectacle of sorts for audiences who were not accustomed to seeing a black and white woman sharing the same stage. The pair went on to speak to many university audiences across the South, where integration was a contested work in progress.4 The speaking dyad modeled interracial collaboration during a time of racial tension and uncertainty. As Steinem commented in her autobiography: “we discovered that a white woman and a black woman speaking together attracted far more diverse audiences than either one of us would have done on our own.”5

As the popularity of second-wave feminism grew, so did the popularity of their appearances.6 Over the course of their nearly three-year tour, Steinem and Pitman Hughes traveled to college campuses, union halls, anti-war rallies, lesbian activist meetings, and welfare policy meetings.7 Although this speaking tour is referenced in Steinem’s autobiographies and secondary sources about second-wave feminism, there is little known about the speeches themselves. Even Steinem’s personal papers, housed in the archives at Smith College, hold little information about the Steinem-Pitman Hughes speaking tour, despite their impressive collection of Steinem speeches that span decades.

However, we are able to glean important information about the Steinem-Pitman Hughes speaking tour from other primary sources. By looking through their speaking contracts, we know that the duo toured between 1969 and 1972, speaking at a variety of university campuses and communities around the nation.8 Their travels took them into the Deep South, making stops, for example, at Alabama’s Auburn University in May 1971.9 They also visited other colleges on the east coast, including the all-women’s Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia in October 1971. Their speaking appearances attracted larger crowds as years passed.10 What began as consciousness-raising sessions with small groups of women evolved into tours in front of large audiences. When Steinem and Pitman Hughes first started touring, they had conversations with their audiences, but as their popularity grew, the duo shifted to a more practical lecture format.11 Despite this change, Steinem and Pitman Hughes made time for audience questions and conversations after their lecture. During a 1972 appearance at Cleveland State University (CSU), Steinem said, “we hope you’ll feel free during the question period to ask anything, comment on anything, talk to each other, and generally turn this into an organizing meeting. No group of this size should be allowed to get away without becoming an organizing meeting, right?”12

This CSU speech is currently only one of two known recovered manuscripts that include transcripts from Steinem and Pitman Hughes’ joint appearances.  The CSU speech is entitled, “Women’s Liberation,”—a title they used for most of their speaking appearances from 1971 to 1972. This speech shows how Steinem and Pitman Hughes fused discussions of gender and race. They saw the racial homogeneity of the audience as emblematic of the barriers facing the women’s movement. The CSU appearance offers insight into the ways Steinem and Pitman Hughes worked to demand and create a more inclusive feminist conversation.


  1. Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road (New York: Random House, 2016), 46.
  2. Steinem, My Life, 46-47.
  3. Gloria Steinem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 1995), 8.
  4. Jacqueline A. Stefkovich and Terrence Leas, “A Legal History of Desegregation in Higher Education,” Journal of Negro Education 63, no. 3 (1994): 411, 418-419.
  5. Steinem, My Life, 47.
  6. The popularity of the speaking events can be linked, at least in part, to the fact that the speeches helped publicize the Women’s Liberation movement, whose major strategy was the creation of consciousness-raising groups. Consciousness-raising was a feminist strategy that brought women together (in private) to discuss their individual experiences of oppression as a liberating practice of solidarity. See: Lisa Gring-Pemble, “Writing Themselves into Consciousness: Creating a Rhetorical Bridge Between the Public and Private Spheres,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 84, no. 1 (1998): 46-47; and Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, “Femininity and Feminism: To Be or Not to Be a Woman,” Communication Quarterly 31, no 2. (1983): 105.
  7. Steinem, My Life, 47.
  8. Speaking Contracts for Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes, 1967-1997, Box 92, Folders 1-11, Gloria Steinem Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts (hereafter cited as Contracts, Steinem Papers).
  9. Contracts, Steinem Papers.
  10. Steinem, My Life, 46-48.
  11. Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes, “Women’s Liberation,” Cleveland State University Archives, audio file, recorded in 1972.
  12. Steinem and Pitman Hughes, “Women’s Liberation.”