What do Maya Angelou, Betty Freidan, Lady Bird Johnson, Barbara Jordan, Coretta Scott King and Gloria Steinem have in common, other than being legendary and influential American women? They, along with many other notable women all descended on Houston in November of 1977 for the inaugural Women’s Conference.
Entitled “The National Women's Conference: Taking 1977 into the 21st Century,” the historic event of over 30,000 participants and 2,000 delegates was the first and only federally-funded National Women’s Conference in the history of the United States. Earlier this month, the 40th anniversary of this historic event took place in Houston and the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts (KGMCA) took part by hosting “Go Forth From Houston: Women in the Arts Take Action,” highlighting the influence of women in the arts.
Organized by Liia Thrasher, a UH student studying art history and women’s studies, the event took place in the Wilhelmina Grove, and transformed the space into an intersection where gender, art and politics collide. The result was an energetic celebration of Houston’s art scene and the sheroes behind it. From art cars and exhibits in Third Space to poetry busking and voter registration, “the energy was palpable,” Thrasher shares. “Especially because we were joined by the attendees of the National Women's Conference. It was amazing to see these women celebrating alongside UH students and Houstonians.”
Thrasher’s research focuses on the Houston Gorilla Girls, an offshoot of the anonymous art collective who became known throughout New York City in the late 1980s. She says she was inspired to produce this event by the talent of the collective and many other Houston-based artists who happen to be women. “I wanted to not only show off the great women artists we have here [in Houston] but also to show the diversity of their work and advocate for Houston as an arts city.”
The highlight of the evening was a performance by iconic Mydolls, a Houston-based, female-fronted band in the Wilhelmina Grove. As one of Houston’s earliest punk bands, they burst onto the scene 40 years ago, giving birth to a new sound that was equal parts poetry and politics. Cressandra Thibodeax, founder of 14 Pews, filmed the concert and says she now has a deeper commitment to promoting female film directors and female histories. “Because of my profound experience at this wonderful conference our next five screenings will all highlight amazing women.” Four out of the five films are directed by women in the series at 14 Pews, a Heights-based nonprofit that aims to engage and challenge audiences with works that highlights Houston’s diversity.
Just like the city in which they reside, Houston’s community of women artists is diverse as well. “I wanted to show off the great women artists we have here but also to show the diversity of art genres here, to advocate for Houston as an arts city,” says Thrasher.
“Houston and its artists have the ability to stand as a beacon of light — to show that real change is possible through art, and that art has the ability to make the world around us a better place.” Thrasher says that Houston’s arts organizations, like Project Row Houses, is an example of that commitment. She adds that as we progress into the future as a community, we must “uphold these values and stand strong together.”
Based on the feedback and energy of “Go Forth From Houston: Women in the Arts Take Action,” the future looks bright. Thrasher says she appreciates the support she received from her UH professors and many volunteers to make the event a success. “I feel so grateful to live in such an amazing city, surrounded by women who want to see those around them succeed, and to be surrounded by such amazing art.” She’s optimistic about the future of her efforts, and credits Coretta Scott King for providing the inspiration for the name of this year’s event. “I hope to see a similar event for the 50th anniversary of the National Women's Conference!”