Sisters of '77

Film by Cynthia Salzman Mondell and Allen Mondell Airs Nationally on Independent Lens, ITVS's Acclaimed Series on PBS Hosted by Susan Sarandon Tuesday, March 1, 2005, at 10pm (check local listings)

Combining original footage of the conference with remembrances from those who were there, including Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Ann Richards, and others, “SISTERS OF '77” recaptures a turning point in the history of American women

Program companion website: 

(San Francisco, CA)—In November 1977, 20,000 women and men left their jobs and homes in cities and small towns around the country to come together at the first National Women's Conference in Houston, Texas. Their aim was to end discrimination against women and promote their equal rights. Present were two former first ladies—Lady Bird Johnson and Betty Ford—and the current First Lady, Rosalyn Carter. Also present were grandmothers and lesbians, Republicans and Democrats, African Americans, Latinas and Native American women—and the most influential leaders of the burgeoning women's movement—Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Eleanor Smeal, Ann Richards, Coretta Scott King, Barbara Jordan and others. 

An award-winning film by Cynthia Salzman Mondell and Allen Mondell, SISTERS OF '77, a fascinating look at that pivotal weekend and how it changed American life and the lives of the women who attended, will air nationally on the Emmy award-winning PBS series Independent Lens, hosted by Susan Sarandon, on Tuesday, March 1, 2005, at 10pm (check local listings). 

On the table at the convention were countless hot-button issues that ran the gamut of American women's concerns, such as equal pay, day care, healthcare, minority rights, abortion, lesbian rights and workplace discrimination. After four days of feverish arguments, all-night caucuses, and with the attention of both protesters and the world's media upon them, the women hammered out a Plan of Action, ending the conference arm-in-arm, ready to take on the world. 

Told through actual footage of the conference as well as modern-day interviews with the many who attended, SISTERS OF '77 provides a fascinating window into not only our past but our present as movement leaders talk about why the Equal Rights Amendment never passed and the advances made by women in the intervening decades. As Betty Friedan notes in the film, “I have this fantasy that someone at some day of judgment asks me ‘What have you done with your life?' So I say, ‘Three kids, nine great-grandchildren, nine grandchildren, six books and a revolution. And I think that revolution is pretty clear in this country at least and that women really can't be pushed back from where they are now.” 

The program's interactive companion website ( features detailed information about the film, including an interview with the filmmaker, cast and crew bios, as well as links and resources pertaining to the film's subject matter. The site also features a “talkback” section for viewers to share their ideas and opinions, preview clips of the film and more. 

“As a company that embraces diversity and inclusion, Blockbuster is proud to sponsor PBS' national broadcast of SISTERS OF '77,” said Eileen Terry, executive vice president, Franchising and Emerging Brands and Global Diversity officer, Blockbuster Inc. “What better way to kick off the celebration of National Women's History Month than with this amazing documentary about the women's movement.” Blockbuster® is underwriting the national broadcast of SISTERS OF '77. 

SISTERS OF '77 Credits 
Produced and Directed by Cynthia Salzman Mondell, Allen Mondell
Executive Producer: Ed Delaney
Editor: Brian Hockenbury
Camera: Gary James, Ed Reinsel, Keith Behrle
Associate Producer: Fonya Naomi Mondell
Music by Tim Cissell
Funding Provided by The Houston Endowment 

This program was produced by Circle R Media, LLC and Media Projects, Inc., which are solely responsible for its content. 

About the Filmmakers 
Cynthia Salzman Mondell (Producer/Director) is an independent filmmaker committed to making films and videos that she feels have something to say about the world she lives in. Her first documentary on housing and the lack of it, Promise and Practice, aired on public television in l977. She then teamed up with Allen Mondell to form Media Projects, a non-profit production and distribution organization. Cynthia is past president of the board of New Day Films, a nationally known independent film cooperative based in New York City. Cynthia regularly travels to colleges and universities to show and discuss her film, The Ladies Room, a documentary about the raucous and ribald world inside women's restrooms. Recently she was honored with the Topaz Achievement Award by Women In Film of Dallas. 

Allen Mondell (Producer/Director) has worked in films and television as a writer, producer and director for 30 years. He began his career as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore in the mid-sixties and then went to work for Westinghouse Broadcasting in Baltimore (WJZ-TV) as a writer/director of documentary films. Allen spent five years at KERA-TV in Dallas as a writer, producer and director of documentaries and special programs. He taught in the Peace Corps in West Africa after graduating from Williams College with a B.A. in American History and Literature. 

Salzman Mondell and Mondell have been making award-winning docudramas and documentary films and videos together for 25 years. Their work explores a wide range of subjects but always with the goal of personalizing often complex social problems. Many of their films have aired nationwide on public television, cable and at festivals worldwide. They were artists-in-residence at the University of Texas, Dallas, and have lectured around the country. Their work includes Funny Women, a film celebrating women comedians; Make Me A Match, about Jewish singles looking for their soulmates; West of Hester Street, a docudrama about Jewish immigration through Galveston, Texas, in the early 1900s; Films From the Sixth Floor, six films about the life, death and legacy of President John F. Kennedy, for the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas; and Dreams of Equality, produced for the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York. They have also produced many educational videos about drug abuse, handgun violence, sexuality, parenting, literacy and environmental issues. 

About the Participants (in alphabetical order) 
Suzanne Insook Ahn M.D was a skilled neurologist, dedicated advocate for social justice, thoughtful philanthropist, and prolific inventor. She passed away in 2003. Pokey Anderson's activism in Houston stretches back 30 years, including co-founding Houston's Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus, and running a women's bookstore. She co-hosts a live news analysis program each week on KPFT Radio. Elma Barrera came to Houston's Channel 13 in the 1970's as a news intern and, three months later, became Houston's first female Hispanic television reporter. She was chosen by the White House as one of four local volunteers to help organize the first International Women's Conference in Houston. 

Liz Carpenter grew up in rural Texas and is one of the most well known and respected Texas legends. She has spent her life in politics and is best known as Lady Bird Johnson's press secretary and chief of staff during the LBJ administration. She helped found the National Women's Political Caucus, chaired a national organization that fought for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, served as an assistant secretary in the Department of Education, was a consultant to the LBJ Library, and has distinguished lectureship at the University of Texas named after her. 

Betty Friedan is the foremost spokesperson for women's rights in the world. In 1963, the publication of her book, The Feminine Mystique set off shock waves around the country and is now regarded as the catalytic work of the women's movement. She is also the author of The Second Stage and It Changed My Life. A founder of NOW, National Women's Political Caucus, and NARAL, she has been a Visiting Distinguished Professor at the University of Southern California, New York University, and George Mason University. Her new book, The Fountain of Age, is based on ten years of research on changing sex roles and the aging process. 

Sylvia Garcia is the Harris County Commissioner of Precinct Two and was the first woman and the first Hispanic ever elected to serve on Commissioners Court. She was previously Houston City Controller and the City's Chief Financial Officer. She grew up in a small South Texas farming community, the eighth of ten children. 

Gloria Guardiola is an activist, feminist and diagnostician in the Houston Independent School System. 

Jane Hickie is a lawyer with the firm Public Strategies. Previously, Hickie served as the executive director of the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations during passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Hickie was a key advisor in Ann Richard's political career. 

Nikki Van Hightower has been Women's Advocate for the City of Houston, moderator/commentator at radio station KTRH, Executive Director of the Houston Area Women's Center, and Harris County Treasurer. As Houston's Women's Advocate, she served as the city liaison for the 1977 International Women's Year National Conference. 

Peg Kokernot-Kaplan was a torch runner at the 1977 National Women's Conference. She was a television reporter and currently spends her time as an animal rights activist. 

Betty McKool was a delegate at the National Women's Conference and was active in Ann Richards' campaign. She is a civic volunteer. 

During her lifetime of public service, former Texas Governor Ann Richards has won widespread acclaim for her accomplishments as an elected official and as an inspirational national leader and role model. Presently a senior adviser with a Washington, D.C.-based law firm, Richards burst onto the national scene in 1988, when she delivered the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in which she offered a memorable salute to the achievements of women, reminding her worldwide audience, “Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.” 

Janice Rubin has been a Houston-based photographer since 1976. 

Recognized throughout the nation as a women's rights leader, Eleanor Smeal has played a leading role in both national and state campaigns to win women's rights legislation and in a number of landmark state and federal court cases for women's rights. Smeal was the first to identify the “gender gap”—the difference in the way women and men vote—and popularized its usage in election and polling analyses to enhance women's voting clout. President of the Feminist Majority and the Feminist Majority Foundation, Smeal was the only three-term president of NOW. 

Martha E. Smiley is a lawyer and community leader in Texas. 

Gloria Steinem has been one of the most visible feminists, a brilliant writer, speaker, and motivator. Among her many achievements is the founding of Ms. Magazine. By the late 1960s, Steinem had gained national attention as an outspoken leader of the women's liberation movement, which continued to grow and gain strength. In 1971 she joined Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm and Betty Friedan to form the National Women's Political Caucus. She is author of the best-selling books Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Revolution from Within, and Moving Beyond Words. 

Ron Stone brought the world into Houston living rooms for decades as an anchorman at KPRC-TV, Channel 2.

Carmen Delgado Votaw is a national and international leader in the field of civil rights, particularly promoting equal opportunities for Hispanics and women. Today, she continues to serve women, girls, and youth as the Washington Representative for Girls Scouts of the USA. 

Civic activist Virginia Whitehill is a champion of women's rights, having given oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court during the historic Roe v. Wade court case that legalized abortion. She has continued to fight for women's rights as co-founder of the Dallas Women's Coalition, Women's Issues Network, Dallas Women's Foundation, The Family Place (Dallas' first shelter for battered women), and many other organizations. 

The filmmakers on the making of SISTERS OF ‘77 
SISTERS OF ‘77 began its film life as The Spirit of Women, a title inspired by the official report delivered to President Jimmy Carter and the Congress in 1978 documenting the first National Women's Conference. When we began researching, we saw it as an opportunity to capture a historic event that had taken place 25 years earlier, yet didn't seem so long ago—when women came together and thought it was possible to make major changes in their status. In 1977, we were living in Dallas, and Cynthia's sister Ann flew from Baltimore with her one-year-old son Nathan to drive to Houston with Cynthia and our five-year-old daughter Fonya. They stopped just outside Houston so Cynthia could become one of many relay runners carrying the torch that began its journey in Seneca Falls, New York. She turned to her sister with the two screaming kids and asked her to follow in the car. Her sister didn't know how to drive a stick shift. Cynthia told her to keep one foot on the gas and the other on the clutch. Not only weren't they ever the same after the conference, neither was our car. 

Twenty-five years later, that five-year-old daughter worked with her mother on this film. They traveled to Austin and Houston to interview such women as Ann Richards and Liz Carpenter. They scoured archives around the country in search of footage from that weekend. Cynthia got her niece Nolyn Pascal to visit the National Archives in search of photos. This was a family project. Women and our society have come a long way. But most people don't know how we got here. We think this film is a reminder of how exciting and critical it is to get involved in the democratic process. It's a reminder that change takes vision, commitment and hard work. We hope SISTERS OF '77 will appeal to young people and inspire them. And we hope it will re-energize the many women and men who took part in the pursuit of social changes in the '60s and '70s. 

About Independent Lens 
Independent Lens is an Emmy Award-winning weekly series airing Tuesday nights at 10pm on PBS. Hosted by Susan Sarandon, the acclaimed anthology series features documentaries and a limited number of fiction films united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement and unflinching visions of their independent producers. Independent Lens features unforgettable stories about a unique individual, community or moment in history, which prompted Nancy Franklin to write in The New Yorker: “Watching Independent Lens... is like going into an independent bookstore—you don't always find what you were looking for but you often find something you didn't even know you wanted.” Presented by ITVS, the series is supported by interactive companion websites, and national publicity and community outreach campaigns. Further information about the series is available at Independent Lens is jointly curated by ITVS and PBS, and is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private corporation funded by the American people, with additional funding provided by PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

About ITVS 
Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web and the Emmy Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10pm on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. More information about ITVS can be obtained by visiting ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American People. About Blockbuster Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI, BBI.B) is a leading global provider of in-home movie and game entertainment, with nearly 9,000 stores throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia. The company may be accessed worldwide at 

About PBS 
PBS, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, is a private, nonprofit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation's 349 public television stations. Serving nearly 90 million people each week, PBS enriches the lives of all Americans through quality programs and education services on noncommercial television, the Internet and other media. More information about PBS is available at, the leading dot-org web site on the internet. 

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Posted on December 17, 2004