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OBITUARIES | Judith Meuli, 1938 - 2007

Activist worked for women's rights

December 20, 2007|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Judith Meuli, a feminist organizer who helped found the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation, died Friday at her home in the San Fernando Valley. She was 69. The cause was multiple myeloma, according to Peg Yorkin, a longtime colleague in the feminist movement.

As a leader of NOW in Los Angeles starting in 1967, Meuli (pronounced Miley) held a number of executive positions and was also co-editor of NOW Times, the group's national newspaper, for eight years starting in 1977.

She designed several graphic images identified with the feminist movement for T-shirts, posters and buttons. One of her best known combines the gender symbol for women with the "equals" sign, to signify equal rights for women.

With her partner, Toni Carabillo, Meuli helped launch the Feminist Majority Foundation in Los Angeles in 1987, a women's rights organization that publishes Ms. magazine.

Meuli and Carabillo also co-wrote the book "Feminist Chronicles, 1953-1993," with June Bundy Csida. Published in 1993, it includes details and dates of legislation relevant to the women's movement, mini-profiles of pioneering feminists in the arts, sciences and politics, as well as vintage feminist slogans -- such as "Roosters Crow, Hens Deliver" -- that capture the sometimes acid humor of the movement.

"The book was the most comprehensive work on the feminist movement up to that time," Kathy Spillar, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said Tuesday. "It became a major research tool used in women's studies programs and by feminist activists."

Throughout her years as an activist for women's rights, Meuli built an archive of hundreds of newspaper articles, photographs, events calendars and related items. She donated the collection this year to the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard's Radcliffe Institute in Cambridge, Mass.

"The archive represents the West Coast very well," said former NOW President Eleanor Smeal in a telephone interview Tuesday. "It was important to Judith that it be housed at the Schlesinger Library because the West Coast was a driving force in the feminist movement, and she wanted to be sure it was included."

Meuli also gave digitalized versions of the archive, called the Judith Meuli/Toni Carabillo Collection, to UCLA and several other universities.

She said she hoped future feminists would benefit from it.

"You can read about what worked or didn't work and expand on that," Meuli said in the fall 2007 issue of Ms. "Instead of starting with the wheel, you can start with the motor."

Meuli was born Jan. 15, 1938, in Chippewa Falls, Wis. She earned a bachelor of science degree at the University of Minnesota in 1963. She worked as a research scientist in Minnesota and later moved to Los Angeles to continue her work at UCLA. She also taught medical students research and surgical techniques.

At about age 30 she considered going to medical school but was discouraged by colleagues because so few women completed medical school and entered the profession.

"Judith suffered discrimination as a young woman," Smeal said of Meuli's thwarted efforts to become a doctor. "She wanted to change things."

Meuli gave up a career in medicine and became a real estate broker and developer in Los Angeles.

She is survived by Stephanie Palmer, her partner of eight years; one brother; one sister; and several nieces and nephews. Carabillo died in 1997.

A celebration of Meuli's life is planned for 11 a.m. Jan. 19 at the Feminist Majority Foundation offices, 433 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Contributions in her name can be made to the foundation.

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mary.rourke@latimes.com

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