From the 1950s to the 1970s, there used to be an influential group within the Republican Party known as the Rockefeller Republican. Named after liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller, these Republicans were fiscally conservative and advocated for pro-business policies. But on social issues like civil rights for African Americans and other minority communities and on women’s rights issues, these Rockefeller Republicans were very progressive. Among these Rockefeller Republicans were Brooklyn Dodger baseball great Jackie Robinson, Gerald and Betty Ford, Jill Ruckelshaus, and John Anderson.
Jill Ruckelshaus was known for her role as a leading Republican advocate for feminist policies and was referred to as the “Gloria Steinem of the Republican Party” for her outspoken positions on women’s issues.
Ruckelshaus was one of the founding members of the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971, and served as the NWPC spokesperson to the 1972 Republican National Convention. During the 1972 convention, Ruckelshaus was influential in the adoption of a women’s rights plank in the Republican Party’s 1972 platform.
Following the 1972 presidential election, Ruckelshaus served as an assistant to Anne Armstrong and head of the Nixon White House Office of Women’s Programs. She was later appointed by President Gerald Ford as presiding officer of the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year in 1975. She was also one of the four representatives in the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations World Conference of the International Women’s Year in Mexico City, which was from June 19 to July 2, in 1975.
She attended the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston and she was named as one of the members of President Jimmy Carter’s National Advisory Committee for Women, co-chaired by Bella Abzug and Carmen Delgado Votaw.
In 1980, she was appointed as a commissioner for the United States Commission on Civil Rights by President Jimmy Carter. As a Republican appointee by a Democratic president, Ruckelshaus remained as commissioner during Ronald Reagan’s first few years as President. As a liberal Republican in a very conservative Republican administration, Ruckelshaus frequently criticized the Reagan administration’s policies on women and minority groups.
Episode 6 of the Hulu miniseries “Mrs. America” focused on Jill Ruckelshaus’s role as a Republican fighting for feminist issues. It also focused on the battle during the 1970s between liberal and moderate Republicans like Jill Ruckelshaus and the emerging Christian Right as exemplified by Phyllis Schlafly.