The Women's Legal Defense Fund celebrated its 10th anniversary last week with a reception honoring Eleanor Holmes Norton, former head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Norton, a Washington attorney who is credited widely with bringing efficiency and clout to the commission's work, was feted by a handful of attorneys, politicians and civil rights activists who recalled feistier days for liberals in their remarks to the group of about 300 at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Carol Bellamy, president of the city council of New York, said "I'm here to tell you what she did to us before we sicked her on you," and described Norton's earlier efforts on the New York Commission on Human Rights.
Dorothy Height, national president of the National Council of Negro Women, said: "It is important that there be examples of those people who know what the struggle for human rights cannot be divided up. I learned that from Eleanor in her days at the ACLU when I saw her defending George Wallace."
Of Norton's reputation for effectiveness, Height said: "Norton had the kind of stiletto that if she touched your neck with it, you wouldn't know it had been cut until you shook your head."
Norton accepted a plaque from the fund, which was founded in 1971 by a group fo 35 women and men attorneys to monitor legislation and other women's issues both locally and nationally. The original staff had only two members: Executive Director Judith Lichtman, who joined in 1974, and an assistant. It since has grown to eight persons, including three attorneys and a paralegal who provide legal counseling to women. A separate staff of seven operates My Sister's Place, a local shelter for battered women, under the aegis of the fund.
Upon receiving her award, Norton said: "We must resolve that we will not give a single inch on the ground we have taken 20 years to win. . . . At the end of the Civil War, Harriett Tubman was able to say, 'I never ran a train off the tracks or lost a single passenger.'"
Other speakers included Clarence Mitchell, former head of the D.C. chapter of the NAACP and a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Freedom; Brooksley Landau, a partner at Arnold and Porter and a founder of the Fund, and Commissioner Patricia Bailey of the Federal Trade Commission. Guests included City Councilmember Hilda Mason, and Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of the U.S. Court of Appeals.