I’ve been avidly watching Hulu’s “Mrs. America” that highlights the fight between Phyllis Schlafly and the second wave feminists over passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. Next week’s episode highlights Jill Ruckelshaus, the pro-choice feminist Republican who fought for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. The battle between the moderate Republican Jill Ruckelshaus and the conservative Republican Phyllis Schlafly was a part of the larger fight within the GOP in the 1970s and 1980s that transformed the party.
During the 1970s, both the Republican and Democratic Parties were more ideologically diverse than they are now. The Republican Party still had a sizable number of liberal and moderate Republicans and the Democratic Party still had many conservative Democrats. The Republican Party in the early 1970s was still close to a time when the GOP was progressive on racial issues and women’s issues. The Equal Rights Amendment had the support of both Republicans and Democrats, passing the House of Representatives by a vote of 354–24 and the Senate by a vote of 84–8. It needed the support of 38 state legislatures by March 1979 to be included in the Constitution.
Jill Ruckelshaus was the White House assistant and head of the White House Office of Women’s Programs for the Nixon administration until her husband, Bill Ruckelshaus, resigned as Deputy Attorney General rather than carry out Nixon’s order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was looking into the Watergate Scandal. In 1971 she was one of the founders of the National Women’s Political Caucus, which was dedicated to recruiting, training, and supporting women who sought elected office. Jill Ruckelshaus was appointed by President Gerald Ford as presiding officer of the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year in 1975. From 1980 to 1983 she served as a commissioner for the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
Phyllis Schlafly was a strong conservative Christian voice that led the fight against feminism and abortion, and successfully campaigned against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. She was a strong opponent of LGBTQ rights and same sex marriage. Schlafly was one of the prominent figures that influence the rise of the Christian Right within the Republican Party.
Moderate Republicans like Jill Ruckelshaus and conservative Republicans like Barry Goldwater fought the growing conservative Christian influence within the Republican Party during the 1970s and 1980s. Jill Ruckelhaus saw that Republicans who were pro-choice, supported gay rights and supported black civil rights were increasingly marginalized as the Christian Right slowly took over the Republican Party. Goldwater saw the Christian Right as a threat to the separation of Church and State.