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Updated: 6/27/2008 - 1:26 PM

Feminist leader dies at 76
Dolores Alexander helped found NOW
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Dolores Alexander in a recent photograph taken in Florida.
Dolores Alexander, 76, a longtime Southold resident and one of the pioneers of the National Organization for Women, who worked side by side with "The Feminine Mystique" author Betty Friedan and other feminist leaders, died May 13 in Palm Harbor, Fla., following a lengthy illness. She was born in Newark, N.J., Aug. 10, 1931.

Just a year ago, Ms. Alexander talked with The Suffolk Times about her role in creating NOW and the struggles she believed still lay ahead for women today.

"It's bigotry, and I don't know if you can eliminate it," she said then about the equality she believed still eludes women. But by last year, Ms. Alexander admitted that with her health failing, she had moved off the stage and was enjoying watching the next generation "lead the charge."

"In the almost 40 years that I knew Dolores, a staunch activist, business partner and bedrock friend, she was always a visionary, a risk-taker," said Greenporter Jill Ward. "Whether it was storming the offices of The New York Times to desegregate help-wanted ads, invading male bastions like the Oak Room for refusing to serve women or staring down the Securities Exchange Commission when personally threatened with SEC prosecution over funding for a feminist restaurant, Dolores never shied from the barricades," she said.

Besides being a "brilliant tactician" and "eloquent spokeswoman" for the feminist movement, Ms. Alexander was a "loving role model and godmother to Elizabeth," the daughter of Ms. Ward and her partner, Julie Dickey.

"She will be missed by all of us who were fortunate to experience her wit, laughter and courage," Ms. Ward said.

Ms. Alexander worked as a reporter for Newsday in 1966 when she interviewed Ms. Friedan and found herself drawn to the messages the feminist leader put forward about the inequality women experienced.

"Until that time I had always felt like a weirdo, the only person who felt out of step with the world around her. I knew we needed a women's movement. This is what I had been waiting for," Ms. Alexander said. She had experienced gender discrimination as a New York Times college intern when an editor refused to hire her as a copy girl because he said it would cause "a revolution in the newsroom." Throughout her career, she had to fight to cover stories of substance, as editors would constantly assign her to "soft" stories they deemed of interest to women.

She campaigned hard to enlist other women in NOW's activities, even offering to pay the $5 dues for those who couldn't afford it. What started as the fledgling effort of a few determined women who would gather in one another's living rooms in Washington, D.C., and New York City has today grown to encompass a membership of more than 500,000.

Ms. Alexander's chosen feminist path "led to conflict" within her own Polish-Italian family, she said last year.

"I was supposed to grow up and get married, and that was just not for me," she said. "I wanted to go out in the world and live and use my brain," she said. "I know my father loved me and I know my brother loved me," she said. But they still felt it was acceptable for her not to be able to compete on an even playing field with men, she said.

With the many advances women have made through the years, Ms. Alexander was still perturbed that wage equality hasn't been achieved, she said. And she was still plagued by the fact that words like "feminist" and "lesbian" were used as "weapons" to try to undercut NOW members.

"A lot of stands we took were highly controversial," Ms. Alexander said, referring to NOW's support of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision guaranteeing women's right to choose.

Ms. Alexander's papers are split between the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College and the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute.

Ms. Alexander was predeceased last year by her brother, Richard DeCarlo. She is survived by two nephews and three nieces.

Following cremation in Florida, interment will take place at Orient Central Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to North Fork Women for Women Fund, P.O. Box 804, Greenport, NY 11944.

Julie Lane

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