The woman Betty Friedan described as “the midwife to the contemporary women’s movement” spent many years working for the federal government, and it was from this position that much of East’s invaluable data and strategic thinking came to the fore to help women progress in society.
A staff member on the Kennedy Commission on the Status of Women, East saw the range and degree of discrimination women faced nationwide, and she became a feminist, working to help end gender discrimination. She encouraged the creation of state-level commissions on women, in order to collect information and generate activism at that level. While continuing to serve various government bodies working on women’s issues, East also saw the need for the creation of a powerful national women’s organization to spearhead the drive to end gender discrimination and helped found the National Organization for Women (NOW).
NOW was central to the signing of the federal anti-discrimination legislation. Catherine East was also the architect of the strategy to bring the Equal Rights Amendment out of committee and to passage in House of Representatives.