Three television sets were on, each tuned to a different network, together issuing a collage of pictures and cacophony of voices like some new wave video art. Kathy Wilson, chair of the National Women's Political Caucus, and her staffers gathered around, some with legal pads and pencils neatly tracking the 60 female candidates for national offices that the organization had endorsed. Eagerly, they applauded the races they could and waited hopefully for scarce good news, turning down the volume on one television to tune in to the other two.
Suddenly a woman's face appeared on the silent set, the word WINNER triumphantly bannered above her head.
"Winner!" cried Rosalie Whalen, executive director of the National Women's Education Fund. "Winner! Who is that? Is that one of ours?" She quickly turned up the volume. The woman, it was announced, was the winner of the lottery.
The half-dozen women in the room roared with laughter.
Of course, you couldn't call it a night of triumph for women activists watching the first woman vice-presidential candidate (and her running mate) go down to swift defeat. Nor could you call it a night of despair. The mood?
"Fighting," said Judy Goldsmith, president of the National Organization for Women. At NOW's downtown headquarters, several blocks from the NWPC offices, some 50 staffers, volunteers and friends munched chips, watched the televised returns and charted on huge maps the 200 candidates NOW had endorsed.
"Philosophical," said Wilson at 7:15 p.m., when she felt the gender gap existed, at least in terms of votes being cast for president. She had revised her mood by 10. "I'm feeling kind of sad," she said as the figures showed women voting either 58-42 or 57-43 for Reagan. "Obviously they weren't able to buck the tide . . . This whole era of peace and prosperity just sort of transcended those gender gap issues."
Both the NWPC and NOW had parted with tradition to endorse a presidential candidate -- Mondale in both cases.
Wilson, a Republican who voted for Mondale, nevertheless saw some cause for optimism last night. "We've had to measure our progress in inches in the Republican Party . . . but make no mistake, we are making progress," she said. "One had only to witness in Dallas the party showcasing women."
At NOW headquarters, you could go so far as to say the mood was feisty. There was NOW national secretary Kathy Webb, 35, who has been campaigning since she was a fifth-grader. "I worked for John Kennedy," she said. "I passed out leaflets." There was 24-year-old NOW assistant press secretary Eleanor Kennelly, shepherding reporters and wondering how her mother, Rep. Barbara Kennelly (D-Conn.), was doing back home in her reelection race. "This is the first election day I wasn't home in Hartford," she said.
And there were these words from Goldsmith: "One thing we are not is quitters. We are fighters. We are descendants of suffragettes who worked 72 years to get women the vote . . . We are determined, and we are enduring. Nothing stops us."
Though they couldn't savor a presidential victory, the women reveled in the making of history.
"The presence of Geraldine Ferraro is irreversible progress for women," said Goldsmith. "The door is open. It can never be closed again."
Said Wilson, "Ironically, I think she's going to help Republican women more. I think we'll see a woman on the Republican ticket in '88."
One NOW staffer sported a T-shirt reading, "When I Grow Up, I Want to Be Like Gerry Ferraro." "They're still wearable," she said, tugging on her shirt. "For years."