Born on September 8, 1925 in Mamou, Louisiana, Jacqui Michot Ceballos studied music at the Southwestern Louisiana Institute. After completing her education in 1946, she moved to New York City to pursue a career in opera. In 1951 she married a Colombian man, with whom she had four children. While living with her family in Bogota in 1964, Ceballos formed the first opera company ever established in Colombia. Soon thereafter, she divorced and returned to New York City.
Ceballos formally joined the budding feminist movement in 1967, when she began her eight-year membership in the National Organization for Women (NOW). On August 10, 1970, she and approximately 100 fellow feminists herded themselves into the Statue of Liberty in order to symbolically “liberate” the massive copper-and-iron female figure, and thereby draw public attention to the overriding issue of “women’s liberation.” From the Statue’s top balcony, the demonstrators unfurled a large banner that read, “Women of the World Unite!” The words bore a notable resemblance to the famous slogan from Karl Marx‘s Communist Manifesto: “Workers of the World, Unite!”
Also in 1970, Ceballos helped Betty Friedan organize the so-called “Women’s Strike for Equality.” Held on August 26 of that year, the event’s purpose was to emphasize the need to give all women access to free abortion-on-demand, taxpayer-funded daycare services for their children, and equal-pay and advancement opportunities in the workplace.
In 1971, when Ceballos was the president of NOW’s New York chapter, she appeared as a panel member in a “Dialogue on Women’s Liberation” with author Norman Mailer and others. There, Ceballos made the case that women had not only a right, but a duty, “to have a voice in running the world.” In the course of the proceedings, she mocked the societal tendency to pigeonhole women in the roles of mother and homemaker. For instance, Ceballos derided a woman in a cleaning-product commercial who “gets an orgasm when she gets a shiny floor.” The 1971 Ceballos-Mailer debate was subsequently turned into a documentary by filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, entitled Town Bloody Hall.
In 1971 as well, Ceballos co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus and became NOW’s Eastern Regional Director. The following year, she was NOW’s representative to the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida.
In 1973 Ceballos co-founded a feminist organization known as the Women’s Forum and served as its first executive director.
In the early summer of 1975, Ceballos was NOW’s representative at the International Women’s Year Conference in Mexico City. That same year, she established a public-relations firm that subsequently launched a “New Feminist Talent” speaker’s bureau which focused on scheduling and promoting lectures on women’s issues.
In 1993 Ceballos became the founder and first president of Veteran Feminists of America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring “veterans of the Second Wave of the feminist movement.”
In 2012 Ceballos received the Kate Millet Award, named after the feminist literary and social critic best known for her 1970 book Sexual Politics, a broadside against patriarchy in Western society and literature.
Reminiscing about her years as a feminist activist in the Sixties, Ceballos once said, “It was a feeling of power, that if there’s a sisterhood—that we all want to change society—we can do it.” In 2012 she lamented, “Today we are up against Conservatives who want to take away the gains we’ve won and sadly, often led by women who once fought us, now use the power we’ve earned for them to support the patriarchal system.” “Still,” added Ceballos, “I have faith that today’s young feminists will pick up the banner and keep us on our march for complete equality worldwide.”