By Jennifer S. Clark, author of Producing Feminism: Television Work in the Age of Women’s Liberation

When I started writing a book about the women’s movement and television, I imagined that it would explore how feminism changed what Americans saw on their TV screens. But as the project developed, my focus shifted from television content to women working within the industry and the ways they brought feminist ideas to it—even if those ideas were not directly articulated in television programs. The central theme of Producing Feminism evolved from “making feminist television” to “making television feminist.”

One woman in particular prompted this evolution. Judy Hole, a researcher at CBS, first came to my attention when I read a January 21, 1970 New York Times article. The previous day, in defiance of the company dress code, some women employees wore pants to work at CBS’s corporate headquarters. As a participant in the day’s action, Judy was interviewed for the article and featured in a photograph heading it. Meant to protest sexist policies and differential treatment in the workplace, the action was depoliticized by the article’s emphasis on what the women wore and its placement in the newspaper’s fashion section. Despite how little coverage their protest received and how trivializing that coverage was, Judy and her colleagues hoped that this single event would lead to greater things.

This article sparked my curiosity about the feminist influence women had on CBS at the height of the women’s movement. Interested in learning more, I searched for “CBS archives” and found a number linked to Google maps and a location of a News Reference Library just a few blocks south of my campus office. I called and, to my surprise, someone answered and directed me to the current—and seemingly the last—library manager, Cryder Bankes. Cryder invited me to visit and had numerous uncatalogued boxes filled with CBS policy notes, memos, press releases, and newsletters waiting for me when I arrived. I also learned that Cryder knew Judy Hole personally and had her phone number. I called Judy, and she graciously agreed to an interview.

Judy’s recollections and the information contained in those boxes of documents taught me about the Women’s Advisory Committee (WAC), of which Judy was a founding member. Formed in 1973, WAC sprang from the small-scale actions of women at CBS—like the one-day dress code protest—to become an influential reform group composed of women workers across divisions and departments. WAC fought for women’s workplace rights and articulated feminist priorities to upper-level management. Their efforts resulted in a number of victories, including equitable hiring practices, transparent notification of promotion and job openings, funding for secretaries and clerical workers to attend college, improved health care coverage for women’s reproductive issues, increased and expanded parental leave for women and men, and sensitivity training for male supervisors and executives (something we would now call DEI training).

The story of WAC and the women reformers at CBS is important to histories of labor, feminist politics, and television but is increasingly lost to view. Since the time I gathered information on WAC, Judy Hole has passed away, Cryder Bankes has retired, and the papers housed in the Reference Library are seemingly now inaccessible to the public. Through interviews and archival research, Producing Feminism preserves WAC’s legacy and other key efforts made by women workers to bring feminism to the television industry. There are, of course, countless other, similar stories still left to tell. But it is only by assuming a perspective that prioritizes “making television feminist” that they come to light.

Jennifer S. Clark is Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University.