Veteran Feminists of America 

Life Legacy

Joan Elizabeth Nixon, 75, formerly of Wabash, Indiana, died Monday, October 24, 2016, at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City.  She was born July 1, 1941, in Peru, Indiana, to Joseph and Marian (Hamp) Nixon. 

She was a 1959 graduate of Knox High School, in St. James, NY, a 1964 graduate of Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and received her Masters Degree in history from Indiana University in 1969.  She worked three years as a news photographer at the Frankfort Times, one of eleven companies in Nixon Newspapers.  From 1973-1976 Joan worked for Lavender Women Newspaper in Chicago, and from 1976-2014 she participated in a New York City Harvard study group on manic depression.  Joan was a driver for Bella Abzug, a U.S. Congresswoman, in 1976, and was her driver for 22 years, until Bella’s death.  Joan helped Hunter College, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), and also sponsored, the Woman Band, the first feminist music festival in Sacramento, California.

Joan is survived by her sister, Eugenia Fulkerson, of Warsaw, Indiana, two brothers, Don Nixon, and Joseph Nixon, both of Indianapolis, Indiana.  She is preceded in death by her parents, and one brother, John Arthur Kautz Nixon. 

There will be no services.  Memories and condolences may be shared online at Burial will be in Falls Cemetery, Wabash, at a later date.


On October 21, 2014 - VFA honored Muriel Fox, a founder of NOW and VFA Chair of the Board, at the Harvard Club in New York City. I was unable to attend, but immediately after the event I received enthusiastic phone calls from VFA’s new president, Eleanor Pam, and from two daughters of a late dear friend, Carey and Pat Gross, who sat at a table with Long Island NOW founder Betty Schlein and other early activists. Eleanor, Carey, and Pat raved about the event, particularly about Rosie O’Donnell’s enthusiastic participation. But wait! Hear the story of why was Rosie was even there. 

Barbara Love, organizing the event, knew that her close friend, Joan Nixon, had the same dentist as Rosie did--and that Joan had already met Rosie in the dentist’s office. So she wasted no time in reaching Rosie’s assistant to invite Rosie to be a speaker at our Muriel celebration. (Of course she noted Rosie’s having already met Joan.) Yes, her assistant answered, Rosie would be delighted. Rosie was not only there, and contributed $5,000 upon entering, but announced that night that she would also match the gate— whatever amount VFA received at the door. 

For three days afterward Rosie talked about VFA on The View--so now the world knows about VFA.  And we owe Rosie’s presence at that event to Barbara Love and Joan Nixon.

For many years, in her own way, Joan Nixon has quietly helped feminists, working without compensation or recognition. Without her support NOW, the Lesbian Movement and Veteran Feminists of America would not have advanced as surely and as quickly as they did. 

Knowing Joan, I am reminded of how many diverse feminists make up the Feminist Movement. Some are active on the front lines, but many, like Joan, work behind the scenes, quietly, often without recognition.  And now we are happy to introduce and salute…


Born in Peru, Indiana, on July 1, 1941, Joan was the first child of Miriam and Joseph Henry Nixon. Her father‘s family owned Nixon Newspapers, a chain of 11 Indiana papers. Joan, her sister and two brothers had a privileged but simple childhood, attending local schools and the Knox private school in St James, NY.

In 1963 Joan was a student at Wellesley College and in 1969 received a Masters Degree in History from Indiana University. Her first job was as a news photographer for her father’s Frankfort Times, where she worked for three years.

But by 1973 Joan was seeing a psychiatrist for manic depression, from which she would suffer all her life. Diagnosed as bipolar, her doctor also helped her come to realize she was bisexual. She remembers that on learning this, her father was upset, but her mother was sympathetic.

Aware that she was gay, Joan attended a lesbian conference in Los Angeles in April 1973.  There she discovered “Sappho Was A Right On Woman,” a book by Barbara Love and Sydney Abbott. At that conference she also met Barbara, and they have been close friends since.

Tremendously inspired by the music played at the conference by the Woman Band, Joan began contributing to them, financially and otherwise, and sometimes accompanied them on their tours. That May she took part in the first feminist music festival in Sacramento, CA, where she met Kate Millett, who produced the festival; they became close friends.

Joan joined the Lavender Women’s newspaper and from 1973 to 1976 wrote for the Collective and loaned it $10,000 to record the first Olivia Records album, Chris Williamson’s The Changer and the Changed, which became the most popular feminist album on the charts.

Joan moved to New York City in 1976 and met Bella Abzug, then a candidate for the U.S. Congress. Mesmerized by Bella, she volunteered to chauffeur her around, and did so until Bella’s death in 1998. The car, a 1992 Oldsmobile called BellaMobiles, symbolized Bella during that time. After Bella’s death, Joan wrote the Bella papers for the Bella Abzug Reader, which was edited by the late *Mim Kelber   for the Bella Archives.

Several years ago I noticed that Joan always bought tables for 12 or 14 at our events. "Who is this woman?” I wondered. In November 1999, at our celebration of Betty Friedan at the National Arts Club in New York City, I made it a point to meet Joan and get her to "formally" join VFA.

pictured: Dell Williams, Bettye Lane, Joan Nixon
photoby: Joan Roth

Joan was hospitalized two years ago for cancer, but it is now under control and she is back in her Greenwich Village apartment, still traveling on weekends and holidays to her house on Long Island to visit her good friend, long-time feminist activist Sydney Abbott, and sees Kate Millett, Barbara Love and others in Manhattan.  She continues to help support feminist friends and their enterprises and maintains that the feminist movement not just helped her find her identity, but gave her one.   

Joan isn’t on email. Reach her at 212-675-4584

 * Mim Kelber was a noted journalist and feminist, a co-founder of Women Strike for Peace and of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). But her main fame was as a speechwriter and policy advisor for Bella Abzug (they were high school and college classmates) during Bella’s years in the U.S. House of Representatives. Mim wrote numerous magazine and newspaper articles on feminist and political issues, and was co-author of “Bella Abzug’s Guide to Political Power for Women” (1984). As a WEDO board member and its editorial director (1991-98), she was a chief writer of the book “Women and Government, New Ways to Political Power.” She died in 1998.


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