by Jo Freeman

Published in Ms., November 1976, pp. 19-20.

Feminists at the Republican Convention claimed a major victory when they narrowly prevented conservatives from removing the Equal Rights Amendment from the Republican platform, where it has been since 1940. "We handed Phyllis Schlafly a major defeat," declared leaders of the Republican Women's Task Force, an arm of the National Women's Political Caucus.

Credit for this victory, according to NWPC Vice-Chair Betsy Griffith, should go to the Task Force leaders' political expertise. "Our major resource is talent. We are successful because we are good politicians, and know how to function in this milieu. We are less demanding, less vocal [than the Democrats] because the Party is dominated by people suspicious of outsiders. We are occasionally accused of being outsiders, but our credentials improve all the time."

Task force leaders' credentials were good enough for them to have the support of influential Republicans in the Ford administration, and they in return were active supporters of Ford's renomination. Both the campaign and the Task Force felt that feminist energies could best be used on the ERA -- which the President has strongly supported -- rather than on abortion or rules changes, the two other issues which could have commanded feminist time and energy.

Therefore Task Force leaders Pat Bailey and Betsy Griffith sat through endless Rules Committee debates, but made no attempt to urge changes they desired which would clarify the Party's obligations to include more women in the delegations. Bailey explained later that "We backed off from some of the things we wanted to do in the Rules Committee to help Ford."

They backed off from action on the abortion issue for the same reason. An antiabortion plank originally proposed by Senator Robert Dole (Kans.) was included in the platform by a 13-to-1 subcommittee vote and was debated in the full committee, but not voted on. A few Task Force members worked hard for sufficient signatures on a minority plank to strike the antiabortion language, which was defeated on the convention floor by a close voice vote. But they carefully avoided mention of the Task Force or the ERA while doing so in order not to confuse the two issues. White House counsel Bobbie Kilberg said the Task Force's dissociation from abortion was "politically wise. They would not have had Ford's support if they had supported abortion. The ERA was the only thing there were re- sources for."

The resources available were of a different nature from those
employed by the Democratic feminists, reflecting both the different access feminist leaders have to their Party decision makers, and the different style of the two parties. Political scientist Pat Hanratty, an NWPC board member and convention volunteer, described this difference: "Democratic politics are loud, consensual, and mass-oriented. Republican politics are quiet, closed, and elitist."

Task Force leaders acquired their political experience working in the Party and on Capitol Hill. They knew that the Party appreciated a professionally run machine, and viewed "special interest group" as a dirty word. Their influence depended on who they knew, not on who they represented; it did not come from masses of volunteers but from knowing where the leverage points were and how to use political information to apply pressure.

To gain much of this information they invited members of the platform committee to have private breakfasts every day with them and with platform committee member Representative Millicent Fenwick (N.J.), a woman of quiet, aristocratic bearing who personifies Republican feminism as Bella Abzug does that of the Democrats. After the ERA was defeated, 8 to 7, in the subcommittee, the approximately 20 women who breakfasted with Task Force leaders helped them identify the 17 undetermined votes in the 106 member platform committee. Background checks were done on the 17, and each was contacted by those influential Republicans likely to sway their votes. In addition, Ford was persuaded to make a strong public statement of support and to order his floor leaders to twist a few arms in the platform committee. The ERA was retained in the platform 51 to 47.

The battle was not yet over, as Frances Wideman of Alabama, leader of the anti-ERA forces, threatened to file a minority report and bring the ERA to the floor of the convention. To do this she needed 27 signatures from platform committee members. She only got 22, because the Reagan campaign did not want to make a stand on this issue, and Reagan's supporters on the platform committee followed his wishes.

Nonetheless, the Task Force was concerned that the presence of feminists with less acceptable credentials than their own might alienate some of their support. When National Organization for Women President Karen DeCrow and board member Arlie Scott came to Kansas City for a NOW sponsored ERA demonstration 24 hours before the minority report filing deadline, they met with Task Force members to offer their support. They were told there was no role for NOW at this convention, the very name was anathema to Party conservatives, and association with it might hurt the ERA. While DeCrow and Scott felt the Task Force view was "naive," they respected their wishes and left.

Despite this concern with image, the Task Force did not depend on moral suasion to gain its votes, and does not feel such tactics hold much hope for future success of the ERA. After the convention was over Pat Bailey concluded: "The kinds of problems we have faced
here are the same as those we face in the unratified states. We did not wage battle on the merits of the issue. The time for education on the ERA is over. We waged a purely political battle here. We did not say vote for the ERA because it is right to do so, but because it was politically necessary. People in the legislatures must now be made to realize that they will have to vote for it because it is politically necessary -- for them -- that they do so."

The author would like to thank the following people for logistical support in covering the Republican Convention: Linda Phelps, Merrilee Barnett, Martha Payne, and Joan Shoemaker of the Kansas City Women's Liberation Union; Marybeth Bazin and Diana Stewart of Kansas City Urban NOW; Louise Crow and Roy McGhee of the Senate Periodical Press Gallery; and Tom Mann of the American Political Science Association.




By Jo Freeman

Published in Majority Report, September 4-17, 1976, pp. 6-7.

Is it possible to be a Republican and a feminist too? New York feminists watching the Republican Women's Task Force operate at Kansas City had their doubts. The RWTF said they were feminists, they were officially connected with the NWPC, and even made a point of differentiating themselves from other women in the party who, unlike them, were supposedly Republicans first and feminists second. But when push came to shove it was the Ford campaign that they worked with and other feminists that they shunned.

It was a very cliquish affair. Republicans don't believe in mass meetings. The only general gathering of the RWTF was held Sunday evening before the convention, drew 100 people, (half of whom were either NOW members or press) and made no decisions. The audience was informed of all the great accomplishments of RWTF.

These accomplishments (sic) were made by a tight-knit group of five women, who know each other through working in the liberal Republican Ripon Society, and honestly believed that the best thing they could do for feminism at the Convention was to get Ford nominated instead of Reagan. They were: Pat Goldman, staff director of the "Wednesday Group," an organization of liberal Republican Congressmen with offices on Capitol Hill; Pat Bailey and Betsy Griffiths whose husbands are business partners in a Republican campaign management firm; Pam Curtis, a protege of Elly Petersen, deputy campaign manager of the Ford campaign; and Alice Tetelman, a close friend of Goldman's and former aide to Senator Charles Goodell. Audrey Colom, Republican, President of the NWPC, was a figurehead, or in her own words, played a "supportive role." She made public statements, but she didn't make decisions. Other staff members, including those brought in by the NWPC, found themselves largely cut out of the decision-making, and frequently not even told what was going on.

What was going on was that the RWTF was operating as the women's rights division of the Ford campaign. There were three issues which potentially commanded feminist attention and the RWTF, worked only on the one -- the ERA -- in which Ford had a stake in the outcome.


The ERA has been in the Republican Platform since 1940 and was being attacked by the "new right" which is using the Reagan campaign, as it did Goldwater's in 1964, in its attempt to take over the Republican Party. The ultraconservatives and Reagan saw
anti-ERA sentiment as something they could op-opt to their cause by pushing for an anti-ERA plank in the platform. The Ford campaign however, was concerned that it remain in as a defeat of the ERA would have been seen as a defeat for Ford. In the days before the nomination was made each side was vying with each other for symbolic and psychological victories which might shake loose a few votes.

Although the RWTF prided itself on its political expertise, it didn't show much of it when the Platform Subcommittee on Human Rights and Responsibilities considered the ERA the week before the convention. They knew one member was missing and the others were split 7 to 7 on the ERA. Nonetheless, their Subcommittee leader, Joan Upsky of Iowa, moved to substitute "pro-ERA" language for the anti- proposal initially moved by Frances Wideman of Alabama. The resulting tie defeated the "pro" proposal allowing the press to headline their stories "ERA defeated" when they could just as easily have said "ERA opponents defeated." When missing member Rep. Silvio Conte (Mass.) showed the next day, the defeated "pro" language could not be reconsidered under parliamentary rules, and only "anti" or "no position" proposals were left to be voted on.

One of the preceding day's "pro" votes was that of Joe Usry, a fundamentalist minister from Oregon, who had stated that he was personally opposed to the ERA but would vote for it because he was committed to Ford. During the night the "antis" convinced him that a "no position" plank would be consistent with both his conscience and his candidate commitment. So the "no position" won 8 to 7

This defeat shook the Ford campaign in Washington, which hadn't known their people were being so lax in Kansas City, and Ford issued a strong public statement supporting the ERA. According to campaign insiders, the attitude of staff in Ford's Crown Center Hotel 17th floor headquarters "changed dramatically," and they told their delegates on the full Platform Committee that Ford couldn't afford an ERA defeat. In the meantime, RWTF members were doing background checks on other uncertain votes in the Committee to find out what would affect their votes. The RWTF and the Ford campaign jointly found enough Committee members more interested in their political futures than in the ERA to win a bare 51-47 victory and keep the ERA in the platform.

The luck of the "antis" wasn't as good. Frances Wideman was quite prepared to bring the issue to the Convention floor with a minority report. This required 27 signatures from the 106 member platform committee, quite a few less than those who had voted with her against the ERA. But Reagan held a "midnight breakfast" early Monday and told his supporters he only wanted floor fights on two issues - a rule requiring Presidential candidates to name their runningmates before nomination and a platform plank on "morality in foreign policy." Consequently, Wideman was able to get only 22 signatures on her petition. Committee members supported Reagan more than they opposed the ERA.

The result of this maneuvering was that it was ultimately the Presidential campaigns, and not the women, pro or anti, who decided the ERA.


Abortion was the tough issue. The RWTF had sent a survey questionnaire to all women delegates; of the one third who replied 61 percent indicated support for the Supreme Court decision. (Only 55 percent favored the ERA.) But Ford was not in favor of abortion or the Supreme Court decision. He supported a Constitutional Amendment to let the states decide who should have abortions and did not approve of federal money being spent to pay for the abortions of poor women. So what did the RWTF do about abortion? It made a symbolic gesture in the testimony of Colom and Goldman before the Human Rights and Responsibilities Subcommittee,
where they advocated no plank at all, and otherwise did nothing. They didn't even protest a 13-to-1 subcommittee vote favoring a Constitutional Amendment. White House liaisons had told them that Ford wouldn't support them if they supported abortion.

These actions were justified on the grounds that fewer delegates supported abortion than the ERA (despite the survey), that resources only existed for one issue, and that they didn't want to contaminate the ERA by associating it with abortion, thus possibly alienating some votes. Despite these rationalizations, RWTF leaders freely admitted that they got their ERA votes on the Platform Committee not through educating members on the ERA's merits, but through pure political pressure -- something not likely to be affected by the RWTF's activities on abortion.

Not all RWTF members felt the issue should be ignored. Several who were not part of the clique but wanted to be part of the action organized a petition for a minority plank to strike the issue from the Platform entirely. They got the necessary signatures with the help of Rep. Millicent Fenwick (N.J.) and for this received 6 minutes of convention time at 1:30. am for Ann Peckharn of Wisconsin to argue that abortion was too personal to appear in the Platform. They lost in a voice vote and were denied a roll call vote.


The third potential issue concerned strengthening the rules on delegate selection -- the same issue which had occupied the Democratic women's caucus. There was no question of requiring equal division between men and women in the state delegations. To a woman, the RWTF clique felt that would be "quotas" which they abhorred. Of course they bragged about the Republican Party's longstanding requirement of equal division (which they called equal representation) on the committees of the Republican National Committee (composed of one, male and one female representative plus the chairperson of each state) and the convention itself. Those weren't quotas. When asked what the difference was between equal
representation on the committees and quotas on the delegations, the RWTF had little to say. Equal representation on the committees, most stammered, was traditional. But requiring it on the delegations might lead to similar demands by other groups, such as Jews and Poles. These groups' quotas, one RWTF leader added, would most likely be filled all by women, using double counting, leaving WASP men with 50 percent and WASP women with considerably less.

The RWTF was quite content with Rule 32c which said "Each state shall endeavor to have equal representation of men and women in its delegation." They saw no reason to push further even though this rule had only resulted in a 2% increase of women delegates since 1972. But they did want a clarification of the vague Rule 32a which said "each state shall take positive action to achieve the broadest possible participation by women, (etc.) . . . ." And they would have liked to prevent the addition of proposed 32d assuring the Party that "The provisions of Rule 32 are not intended to be the basis of any kind of quota system" which they felt might preclude any affirmative action plan.

Apart from a little cautious testimony, they pushed for none of the above. According to Rules Committee member Rep. Margaret Hechler (Mass.), no attempts were made to amend Rule 32 in any way, and no members of the rules committee were asked to speak against 32d, which was unanimously adopted. The right-wing Committee on Equitable Republican Rules had no reason to oppose Rule 32 as they publicly stated that the addition of 32d was "probably sufficient, in light of the National Committee's interpretation (that enforcement shall be left to each state) to solve the quota and so-called 'affirmative action' problems." Nonetheless Pat Bailey told a press conference on August 17 that it was a "miracle" that delegates on the Rules Committee "were able to turn back attempted attacks on Rule 32."

Who was she trying to delude-herself or the Public? Quite possibly both. Bailey said later that "We held off on some of the things we wanted to do on rules to help Ford. Now he owes us." She didn't say what they would collect in return, but one week later Ford announced that her husband's firm would handle the advertising in the Ford campaign.