Syracuse University Magazine

Karen L. DeCrow L’72

Karen DeCrowKaren L. DeCrow, a nationally recognized attorney, author, and advocate specializing in constitutional law, gender and age discrimination, and civil liberties, died at her home in Jamesville, New York, on June 6, 2014. She was 76. She devoted her life to writing articles, columns, and books on feminist issues and lecturing on reproductive rights, and using litigation as a tool for social change. DeCrow’s lifelong activism and commitment to promoting gender equality had a profound impact on the lives of women and men, both in the United States and abroad.

DeCrow joined the fledgling National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1967, at a time when the organization was pushing for equal pay for equal work—a concept that appealed to her, an overworked, underpaid employee in the publishing industry. In 1969, she decided to pursue a law degree; during her first year as an SU College of Law student, she became the first woman to run for mayor of Syracuse, the first woman to run for mayor in New York State, and one of only a handful of women running for office anywhere in the country.

From 1974 to 1977, DeCrow guided NOW as its national president. Under her leadership, efforts to advance gender equality included persuading NASA to recruit women; urging the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate sex discrimination complaints; pressuring the three national television networks to include women and minorities in front of and behind the camera; and influencing the male Ivy League schools to admit women.

In 1988, she co-founded World Woman Watch with the late Dr. Robert Seidenberg ’40, M.D. ’43, to urge world leaders not to use religion or culture to mask sex discrimination, and she campaigned tirelessly for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. According to the late New York Times columnist William Safire ’51, H’78, DeCrow was the first person on record to use the phrase “politically correct.”

In recognition of her pioneering advocacy for gender equality, DeCrow was honored in 2009 by Syracuse University with the Arents Award and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame—entering the ranks of the most celebrated women in U.S. history.