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Feminist Influence in the Democratic and Republican Parties
by Jo Freeman

Shorter version published in The Women's Movements of the United States and Western Europe: Feminist Consciousness, Political Opportunity and Public Policy ed. by Mary Katzenstein and Carol Mueller, Philadelphia, Pa.: Temple University Press, 1987, pp. 215-44.

In the last few years feminism has become highly identified with the Democratic Party and anti-feminism with the Republican Party. This development is ironic for two reasons. When the contemporary women's movement emerged in the mid-sixties its founders had no desire to become closely identified with any political party; many of them viewed both parties as representatives of a status quo which they disdained, and the rest preferred bipartisan activity. The second irony is that the parties with which feminism and anti-feminism are currently identified are the opposite of their historical affiliations. In the last ten years feminism has not only become partisan in nature but the parties have switched sides.
This polarization occurred because the political culture of the Democratic Party is more receptive to the influence of organized interests than that of the Republican Party and it underwent some significant transformations which redefined the structure of available opportunities for action. The political culture of the latter gives greater weight to personal connections and the personal connections of Republican feminists have not been to the winners of intra-party political struggles.


The Woman Suffrage movement was not a united movement. It had two distinct branches with different strategies and different goals which were not abandoned even after suffrage was attained. The moderate branch was by far the largest and is given most of the credit for the Nineteenth Amendment. Its dominant organization was the National American Women's Suffrage Association which, under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, mobilized the ratification campaign through its state chapters. Even before final ratification Catt successfully urged her followers to disband the feminist organization and form a non-partisan, non-sectarian League of Women Voters (LWV) which would encourage women to work within the parties and would support a broad range of social reforms.
Under the banner of the National Women's Party (NWP), the militant feminists had used civil disobedience, colorful demonstrations and incessant lobbying to get the Nineteenth Amendment out of Congress. Once it was ratified, they decided to focus their attention on the eradication of legal discrimination against women through another Constitutional amendment.1 Concentrated in Washington and funded more by legacies and wealthy benefactors than a large membership this strategy was suitable to the NWP's particular strengths as well as its feminist ideology. The Equal Rights Amendment, written by the NWP's guiding light Alice Paul, was strongly opposed by the LWV, the newly created Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor, the National Women's Trade Union League, the National Consumer's Union and most other women's organizations. Their opposition was based on the one fact about the ERA on which everyone could agree; that it would abolish protective labor legislation for women.2
The NWP did not originally intend the ERA to abolish protective legislation. It was aimed primarily at the plethora of laws which restricted women's property rights, disadvantaged them under state family laws, or barred them from holding office or serving on juries. However, the overwhelming conclusion of legal authorities was that the amendment would nullify or throw open to question all legislation aimed at women. The NWP tried to work with the opposing women's organizations to draft suitable language exempting protective legislation, but agreement could not be reached on the wording. Therefore, the NWP changed direction. It admitted protective laws would be eliminated, but claimed that this would be desirable because such laws only limited women's opportunities.3
The ERA was introduced into Congress in 1923 by Sen. Charles Curtis (R. Kan). Over the next few decades each side devoted itself to undermining the position of the other with the result that each's efforts to improve women's lot canceled the other's. For example, in 1932, at the urging of Republican NWP members, President Hoover issued an executive order denying Federal agency heads the right to use sex as a job qualification. In 1934 the Women's Bureau persuaded President Roosevelt to reverse this decision by arguing that appointments of women to the civil service had declined as a result because male veterans got preference over women even for traditional female jobs.4

Over time, the division of opinion on the ERA more and more became one of class, or more specifically, occupation. Women in or associated with women working in industry, particularly unionized industries, opposed the ERA because they supported protective labor legislation. Business and professional women supported the ERA and saw protective labor legislation as a barrier to their effectively competing against men in their professions. Indeed it was the attempt of protectionists to bring women in business establishments (primarily clerical and retail sales workers) under the protective umbrella which pushed the clubs of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW) from neutrality to support for the ERA. From the businesswomen's perspective, these positions were not industrial ones and their occupants were potential executives and managers who should not be protected from promotions and the responsibilities that went with them.5
To a lesser extent the division was also one of party. The women who supported protective legislation were mostly, though not exclusively, Democrats. Although they overlapped only slightly with Democratic Party activists, and could not keep the ERA out of the Democratic Party platform after 1940, they and the unions with which they worked closely did exercise some influence within the Democratic Party and virtually none in the Republican Party.
With some notable exceptions (e.g. Emma Guffey Miller), NWP members were Republicans. While somewhat disdainful of both parties, Alice Paul and her followers had chosen to follow the British example of blaming the party in power for any legislative failures. Woodrow Wilson was a Democrat, and his repeated failure to support Suffrage until circumstances forced him to do otherwise forever tainted the Democratic Party in Paul's eyes. The Congress which sent the ERA to the States for ratification was a Republican Congress and 29 of the first 36 states to ratify it had Republican legislatures. Furthermore, the NWP's opposition to government protection was much more compatible with Republican opposition to labor regulation.
Equally important, the professional and business women who became the ERA's primary supporters were more likely to be Republicans, the members of Congress who sponsored the ERA were Republicans, and conservative organizations like the National Association of Manufacturers, which opposed any law regulating industry, supported the ERA. In 1928 the NWP even endorsed Hoover for President despite the fact that he had not personally expressed support for the ERA. His running mate, Charles Curtis, was the chief ERA sponsor and his Democratic opponent, Alfred E. Smith, was an ardent supporter of protective labor legislation.6
1940 was a transitional year. Younger women who had not been schooled in the suffrage movement began to assume leadership positions in many women's organizations. They did not bring with them the deep hostility toward the NWP of the older generation because they had not personally experienced the conflicts on which it was based. It was also a transitional year in that the war in Europe altered national priorities from social and economic concerns to the possibility of war. Democratic ideals and slogans about equality took on a different meaning when the audience was international than when it was local.7
Declining opposition to the ERA was publicly apparent with the addition to the 1940 Republican Party Platform of a clause stating "We favor submission by Congress to the States of an amendment to the Constitution providing for equal rights for men and women." Largely the result of efforts by NWP members in the Republican Party, it also reflected a changing balance of power among pro-and anti-ERA forces. Once BPW decided to endorse the ERA in 1937 it made it a legislative priority. The Democrats didn't follow suit until 1944.
In 1940 a Committee appointed by the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee, headed by an ERA opponent, presented an alternative plank to that of the NWP which committed the Party to equality "without impairing the social legislation which protects true equality by safeguarding the health, safety and economic welfare of women workers." When Eleanor Roosevelt told the platform committee that the ERA would be "a grave mistake" it accepted the alternative proposal. However by 1944 the opposition was in disarray. Her attention turned elsewhere, Eleanor Roosevelt failed to speak against the Amendment and many other opposition leaders had retired. Emma Guffey Miller, one of the few Democratic Party activists who was also an NWP officer, "practically single-handedly" convinced the Democratic Party Platform Committee to follow the example of the Republicans and recognize the contribution of women to the war effort by supporting the ERA.8
In 1942 the ERA reached the floor of the Senate for the first time. It was quickly recommitted but reintroduced the following year. Even though the House Judiciary Committee voted not to report the Amendment this victory stimulated the NWP to increase it's lobbying and organizing activities. While remaining a small, exclusive organization itself, it formed a coalition of all groups supporting the ERA, called the Women's Joint Legislative Committee. In response, opponents formed the National Committee to Defeat the Un-Equal Rights Amendment (NCDURA) late in 1944. Although it succeeded in keeping the ERA from passing Congress, it did not prevent the NWP from garnering increased support. By the end of 1946 the NWP claimed that 30 governors and 33 national women's organizations endorsed the ERA.9

In order to reverse this flow of support the NCDURA decided to offer a positive "alternative" which would, supposedly, end undesirable discrimination, while preserving necessary protection. Called the "Status Bill", and sponsored by two Republicans (Taft of Ohio and Wadsworth of New York) it declared it the policy of the United States that "in law and its administration no distinctions on the basis of sex shall be made except such as are reasonably based on differences in physical structure, biological or social function." Instead of enforcement provisions, it proposed the creation of a Commission on the Legal Status of Women to study sex discrimination. It urged the states to take similar actions. Along with this "more positive" approach the NCDURA decided it needed a more positive name and changed it's to the National Committee on the Status of Women, headed by Mary Anderson, former head of the Women's Bureau.10
However, this "practical, working program" was not perceived as such by the numerous organizations which now endorsed the ERA. Even many of those opposed to the ERA objected to such vague terms as "reasonably based" and "social function". Republicans were particularly unhappy.
The Federation of Women's Republican Clubs of New York State expressed its "unalterable objection" to the "futile" Status bill, and called on Republicans Taft and Wadsworth to honor their party's campaign pledge. E.R.A. sponsor John Robison pronounced the Status bill a "red herring" which would violate the Republican platform.11 Thus despite active lobbying by the Women's Bureau, and the belief by some ERA proponents that passage would not preclude later adoption of the ERA, the bill failed. The NCSW said that its failure was due primarily to its identification as an anti-ERA measure and the support by both party platforms for the ERA. It turned it's attention to removing endorsement of the ERA from the 1948 party platforms but was unable to do so. Continued support by the Republicans was never in question, and inertia combined with the fact that the Republican Convention preceded the Democrats that year kept it in the Democrats over some opposition.12

With the return to power of the Republicans in 1953, ERA proponents thought that its time had finally come. The Eisenhower White House supported the ERA, albeit weakly, and the new appointee to head the Women's Bureau, Alice Leopold, withdrew the Bureau's opposition. The new Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee also favored the ERA. But this change did not reflect a strong or cohesive policy. Out of deference to organized labor the new Secretary of Labor continued the Department's policy of official opposition, but this too was very muted. In effect the Administration withdrew from the arena, leaving the battle to Congress where key subcommittees were headed by ERA opponents.13

The gap left by the defection of the Women's Bureau was filled by the AFL-CIO which, in a campaign orchestrated by Esther Peterson, its legislative representative, lobbied heavily against the ERA. By this time public interest in the ERA was very low and many NWP stalwarts had died or retired. It's journal, Equal Rights, ceased publication in 1954. NWP had been an "exclusive" organization for many years, making no attempt to recruit new members.14 It could still get promises of support from members of Congress, but it could not get the Amendment out.
The conflict between pro and anti feminist forces was largely external to the political parties even though many of the participants were highly partisan. The main concern of women party activists was the traditional concern of all party activists: winning elections and getting appointments. At the urging of Molly Dewson, Director of the DNC Women's Division from 1932 until 1936, women were included on all Democratic Convention standing committees. By 1940 women were required to be represented equally on the Platform Committee and in 1944 women chaired Convention committees and were designated as Convention officers. In the Republican Party, eight women served on convention committees in 1928. They were represented equally on the Platform Committee in 1944 and served as officers and chairs in 1948. None of these achievements came easily. They all required intensive lobbying and political maneuvering.
The lack of power -- or interest -- of women party activists or appointees in these administrations to effect bills beneficial to women is best seen in the fate of the Equal Pay Act (EPA). Equal pay for equal work had been proposed as early as 1868 but did not become an issue until after World War I and was not taken seriously until after World War II. When the first bill was introduced in 1945 six states already had equal pay laws and the War Labor Board had required that women taking over men's jobs during both World Wars receive the male rate for the job. After the War the Women's Bureau made a federal equal pay law a primary goal, both as an anti-ERA measure and as a desirable goal in itself.15 However, each organization in its anti-ERA coalition had its own agenda and cooperating on the EPA was not at the top of their lists. Neither under the Democrats nor the Republicans could they agree on the form and scope of the bill, which was opposed both by the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Federation of Labor.
The NWP, caught between its fear that the EPA would deflect interest from the ERA and a concern not to be seen as against all bills on women, was publicly neutral and privately opposed. It was particularly concerned that the proposed bill would be enforced by its arch enemy, the Women's Bureau. Its supporters argued that equal pay would undermine women's job opportunities by removing the economic incentive for employers to prefer them to men. Although both parties endorsed the idea of equal pay in their quadrennial platforms, neither made it a priority. Nor did President Eisenhower, despite his frequent favorable statements. Faced with strong opponents and disunited proponents, Equal Pay languished in Congress.
1960 was both the nadir of feminism and the beginning of its resurgence. The key person in both these developments was Esther Peterson. As a key advisor to Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy she convinced the Democratic Party Platform Committee to adopt the AFL position and drop its support for the ERA in favor of a vague expression against barriers to employment based on sex and "equality of rights under law, including equal pay." After Kennedy was elected she asked, and received, appointment as Director of the Women's Bureau, and was also made an Assistant Secretary of Labor. Few other women received such important appointments, a lack of action for which Kennedy was roundly criticized by Democratic Party women.16
Peterson had two major items on her agenda to improve the status of women: passage of the Equal Pay Act and derailment of the ERA. To accomplish the first she appointed Morag Simchek and with her organized a concerted lobbying campaign which drew upon the expertise and contacts Peterson had developed as a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO. Although the final bill, which passed in 1963 after numerous hearings, was narrower than Peterson and Equal Pay advocates had wanted and only covered 61 percent of the female labor force, it committed the federal government to its first active efforts to improve the economic position of women.
One of Peterson's first recommendations to the new President was the creation of a national commission on women, one of the components of the 1947 Status Bill once proposed by ERA opponents. To avoid the NWP lobbyists, the Commission was created by Executive Order 10980 on December 14, 1961. Members were selected to represent mainstream opinion on women and come up with suggestions that would be acceptable to the Administration. Marguerite Rawalt, a former BFW president, was the sole ERA supporter. Eleanor Roosevelt was asked to Chair the President's Commission, and when she died almost a year later, she was not replaced.

Peterson...and her colleagues used the presidential commission on women to stop the E.R.A. dead in its legislative tracks. Peterson reasoned that Congress would not be likely to act on the E.R.A. while the matter was under consideration by a presidential panel. In addition, she presumed that eventually the Commission would offer substitute recommendations which would continue to stymie the Amendment's progress. But obstructing the E.R.A. was not really her primary motive. Peterson regarded the Commission's most important function to be the creation of an alternative program of "constructive" action to improve women's status, a possibility which before had always been blocked by the E.R.A. dispute.17
Although the President's Commission gave Congress an excuse to abstain from further consideration of the ERA, it also was a key element in its resurgence. Its existence prompted governors in all but one state to create their own state commissions on the status of women, which in turn prepared extensive reports documenting discrimination against women in their states. The members of these commissions were invited to annual conferences in Washington by the Women's Bureau. It was at the third such conference in June 1966 that the National Organization for Women (NOW) was formed. Initially, NOW was primarily concerned with changing the guidelines on sex discrimination promulgated by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, which was created by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It soon expanded its scope.18
Legal action by women under Title VII led the courts to invalidate most protective labor legislation or order it extended to men. This neutralized traditional ERA opponents. Many switched sides. Several unions were impressed by the plethora of legal complaints filed by blue collar women about the restriction of their job opportunities by protective labor legislation. The United Auto Workers endorsed the ERA in 1970 and it was soon followed by the Communications Workers and the Teamsters. The AFL-CIO didn't change it's policy until late 1973. The Women's Bureau switched in 1969 when the Nixon Administration appointed as its Director Elizabeth Duncan Koontz. She was black, a former President of the National Education Association from North Carolina and, like the NEA, supported the ERA. She quietly lobbied union women who in turn lobbied union men.
In May of 1970 hearings were held in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee (now chaired by an ERA supporter) as a result of disruptions by NOW members of February hearings on the 18-year-old-vote. The AFL still testified against the ERA, but no representatives of women's organizations did so. At the same time the White House released the report of the Task Force on Women's Rights and Responsibilities appointed by President Nixon. It recommended endorsement of the ERA. In June the new Secretary of Labor added his endorsement.
Between 1970 and 1972 opposition to the ERA was greatly attenuated and what there was was not partisan in nature. With a few notable exceptions, the ERA became a symbolic issue on which everyone could agree. Yet even as this agreement was reached a new opposition was developing. Ironically, it was from the right, which had mostly supported the ERA during its lengthy stay in Congress. This opposition grew and eventually consumed more moderate forces, even while the ERA gained support from ancient foes to the left. By 1976 party once again emerged as a major dividing line between opponents and supporters. But by now they had switched sides. The Democrats were virtually all in favor of the ERA, and the Republicans were the major source of opposition.19



To understand what made this switch possible, one must first examine what was happening in the Democratic and Republican Parties during the sixties and early seventies. Briefly, the Democratic Party was going through a public and often tumultuous reform of its rules and its composition as a result of a grassroots insurgency, and the Republican Party was engaged in an undercover civil war between a more liberal Eastern elite which had controlled the party's Presidential nomination since 1940 and a conservative Western and Southern counter-elite.

The Republican Party

It has often been noted that the Democratic Party is open, loud and contentious while the Republican Party is closed, quiet and consensual.20 That has not kept the Republican Party from waging internal war but it has kept many of its more bitter battles out of the public eye. Thus it is a little harder to trace the route by which anti-feminists captured the internal policy apparatus of the Republican Party. The Republican Party has had two definite wings for most of its history. When Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft split the Party in 1912 "the 'regulars' of the Taft Wing remained in control of the party machinery, and the citizen wing of progressive and intellectual Republicans was driven into homeless exile."21 However, this wing contains many of the richest families in the country, and for many years they financed the Republican Party. During the 1940s and 1950s, when the regulars were disorganized by defeat, the "Eastern Establishment" was able to impose its choice for Presidential nominee, giving the country Wendell Wilkie, Thomas E. Dewey and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Although Eisenhower was the Establishment's only successful nominee, he was not a party man. Party organization did not flourish. Eisenhower's opponent for the 1952 nomination, Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio, son of William Howard, died in 1953, leaving the more conservative and provincial wing of the party without a leader. By 1958 the Party structure was skeletal and the Party's influence minimal. Only 14 governors and seven legislatures out of 48 were Republican.22 In 1960 Eisenhower's heir apparent, Richard Nixon, who won the nomination without serious opposition, lost the election to John F. Kennedy, who had won his nomination only after a ferocious primary battle that left the Democrats fragmented and scarred.
Into this vacuum stepped a small coterie of ideological conservatives. Their leaders were also Eastern and often intellectual, but not part of the Establishment. Their orientation was conservative and anti-government, but unlike the Taft conservatives they were not isolationists. Inspired by the anti-Communism of the 1950s they favored a strong defense and an interventionist foreign policy. They already controlled the Young Republicans, which is a much more important organization than the Young Democrats. On October 8, 1961, 22 conservatives met in Chicago and decided to organize a movement to draft Goldwater for President in 1964. Although Goldwater, an Eisenhower delegate at the 1952 Convention, ignored their efforts, the convener of that meeting, F. Clifton White, used the YR network to systematically select conservative Goldwater delegates to the 1964 Republican Convention. Since primaries were not at that time the means by which most delegates were selected, by the time Goldwater announced his candidacy, his nomination was virtually secured.23
Although the overwhelming Goldwater loss in November appeared to be a disaster for the Republican Party, the Eastern Establishment was unable to take advantage of it to discredit the conservatives. The Establishment's power was at the top; it had no grass roots. And the top was not even unified. Consequently the 1964 election handed the Republican party over to a coalition of conservatives from the South, the Southwest and the West. It also raised the consciousness of conservative voters, created mailing lists on which future conservative campaigns and fundraising efforts could draw and brought Ronald Reagan to national attention, through a highly touted speech at the Convention.24 Reagan made a half-hearted campaign for the nomination in 1968, but most conservatives had concluded that Nixon was acceptable and electable. By 1972, Nixon's policies had undermined his acceptability and the right was looking for a standard bearer. Ronald Reagan was ready and available -- for 1976.

The Democratic Party

Reform in the Democratic Party is usually traced to the traumatic 1968 Democratic Convention in which the Party confronted the fact that the voters had very little say in who would receive the Party's presidential nomination. At that convention Vice President Hubert Humphrey was nominated with 67 percent of the votes cast on the first ballot even though he had not become a candidate until April 27 and had largely avoided the primaries. Humphrey and President Lyndon Johnson, whose decision not to run for reelection made Humphrey's nomination possible, received seven percent of the overall vote in the fifteen states which had primaries that year.25 Before the Convention ended the delegates voted to establish a Commission on Presidential Nomination and Party Structure. Although few of those voting for it realized it at the time, this Commission's proposals would forever change the way in which Democratic candidates for President were nominated.26
This momentous development is rooted in the conflict between the Southern Democratic Party and civil rights supporters. For the first third of the twentieth century the South had a virtual veto over the Democratic nominee for President because convention rules required that the nominee receive two-thirds of all delegate votes. This rule was rescinded at the 1936 Convention, a harmonious gathering completely controlled by Franklin D. Roosevelt, which also saw the removal of the traditional "states rights" plank from the platform. In 1948, with Roosevelt gone, the South revolted. Several states threatened to walk out of the Convention when a civil rights plank was passed. Instead many disgruntled Southerners met after the Convention to form the Dixiecrat Party, which nominated South Carolina Governor J. Strom Thurmond for President. Although many Southern Democrats shied away from this effort, Thurmond was the official Democratic Party nominee in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and Louisiana. This led the Party to impose a loyalty pledge in 1952 which Southern delegates said they would comply with. In the 1956 and 1960 conventions a truce of sorts was reached with Southern delegations. The 1948 defection was not repeated, a formal pledge of loyalty was not required, and even stronger civil rights planks continued to be passed over Southern objections.27



Tension erupted in 1964 and shifted from the platform to the credentials committee. The burgeoning civil rights movement had formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which sent an integrated delegation to the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City to challenge the all-white regular delegation. After arm-twisting by President Johnson, the convention approved by voice vote a proposal to seat two MFDP members as delegates at large and the remainder as honored guests. Members of the regular delegation were allowed to keep their seats if they signed a pledge to back the national ticket. The compromise further provided that at future conventions state delegations must be selected by a nondiscriminatory process and a Special Equal Rights Committee was established to aid in this. The MFDP denounced this compromise as a sellout, but in 1968 their successors, the Loyal Democrats of Mississippi, were seated in place of the regular delegation and Georgia's votes were split between the white regular and integrated insurgent delegations. Credentials challenges in another 13 states were decided in favor of the regulars.28
Although Humphrey lost the 1968 election by a small margin, as titular Party head he appointed as chair of the "reform commission" his colleague George McGovern, who had declared his own candidacy for the 1968 nomination after Robert Kennedy was assassinated but had campaigned for Humphrey as a loyal Democrat after he was nominated. McGovern in turn hired as the commission staff several youthful supporters of the insurgent candidates. They interpreted their mandate and their authority broadly. Traditionally, the state and local parties wrote their own rules and chose their own delegates to attend the quadrennial convention. The loyalty issue had created a precedent for the national party to exercise some authority over the state parties, but not to the extent soon to be proposed by the Commission. A series of hearings around the country exposed the often secret and arcane means by which delegates to the national nominating convention were chosen and controlled by local party officials.29
Given the apparent rejection of the Democratic Party by the voters in 1968, this exposure undermined the legitimacy of the procedures used by the party's leaders to select their standard bearer. They were receptive to changes that would restore that legitimacy and bring the Party back into the White House -- changes that they would oppose once their real impact became clear. By the time it finished its work, the Commission had laid down guidelines the state parties were required to follow that would "open" the Presidential nomination to ordinary party members and gave the national party authority to veto state decisions not in compliance with the national rules.30
Furthermore, the Party was to be representative. Guidelines A-1 and A-2 required that minorities, youth and women be represented in each state's delegation "in reasonable relationship to their presence in the population of the state." This provision was originally written to pacify blacks, who wanted more than a no discrimination rule. It was extended to youth, who had fueled the 1968 insurgent candidacies in protest against the war in Viet Nam, and presciently included women who were emerging as an insurgent group but had not yet demonstrated the political clout of either blacks or youth.31


The new feminist movement which emerged in the 1960s was the spiritual but not the organizational descendent of the post-Suffrage feminists. Indeed the founders of the new organizations were barely aware of the personalities, the organizations and the issues -- particularly the ERA -- which had defined feminism for the previous forty years. Most of them thought feminism had died with the passage of the 19th Amendment. The contemporary movement had two origins from two different strata of society with different styles of political action. The dividing line between the two was the generation gap, much heralded in the sixties as separating the political values and styles of those born after World War II from those born before. I call one the older branch and the other the younger branch, both because the former began first and because its primary participants were older.
The founders of the older branch created its first formal organization at the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women. The National Organization for Women initially conceived of itself as a national lobbying group of politically astute women whose primary focus was to be the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After the movement received massive publicity in 1970 it was overwhelmed by women from all walks of life seeking to join and, almost despite itself, developed a mass base. For the next few years NOW operated on two levels which were not well coordinated; at the national level it was a relatively weak and unstable organization trying to cope with the dilemmas of rapid expansion and program development while attempting, with only limited success, to be the major lobbying and litigation organization its founders had envisioned. At the local level NOW chapters were springing up everywhere and vigorously looking for ways to educate their members and focus their energies. After 1975 the national organization began to centralize and strengthen itself and the chapters began to decline.
The younger branch of the emerging movement began among those younger women who had been involved in the social movements of the early sixties -- student protests, civil rights and anti-War. They had become alienated by the male domination of these movements which espoused the goals of freedom, justice and equality while expecting women to devote their energies to servicing men. Partially in reaction to their experiences in these movements the participants of the younger branch rejected the possibility of forming a national organization, and were quite hostile to the idea of organization in general. But like the men from whose organizations they came, they had no interest in the major political parties, viewing them as merely handmaidens of an oppressive political system.

The women of the older branch were not alienated from the parties, but they were suspicious of them, viewing them as bastions of male domination that were closed to women. Since they were well aware that they did not have an organized mass base, and that unlike blacks women as a group were not geographically concentrated, they did not see much future in developing an electoral strategy. Nonetheless, some of these women were elected officials, (Bella Abzug and Shirley Chisholm) and others (Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan) felt that the political parties might present opportunities for action not available through organizations which focused on lobbying. On July 10 and 11,1971, they brought 324 women to an informal conference in Washington. One of the final acts of the conference was to appoint a committee to establish a formal organization. Unlike other organizations it was to be concerned both with getting more women into public office and with pursuing feminist public policy goals.32

The National Women's Political Caucus

1971-72 was a Presidential election year. Thus its not surprising that after the NWPC was officially constituted in New York the following September it should emphasize getting women elected as delegates to the national nominating conventions. It's first major project was Women's Education for Delegate Selection (WEDS) which held several state conferences for women on the rules and procedures of delegate selection. In conjunction with these conferences, meetings were held with the National Committees of both parties and with the various Presidential candidates to elicit from them statements of support. Although the NWPC wanted very much to be a bipartisan organization, from the beginning it played a greater role in the Democratic than in the Republican Party. This happened for two reasons. One is that there were significantly more Democrats than Republicans in the NWPC -- so much so that the Republicans were eventually given "special-interest" representation on the national governing committee as a minority group. The second reason is that the Democrats were more permeable. This permeability was a consequence of both the party's political culture and timing. As described in the last section, the Democratic Party was undergoing a major structural transformation. It had an active reform movement which had recently persuaded the Party to adopt national rules on delegate selection and representation but did not have any established interpretations of these rules. Change creates opportunities. The NWPC made the most of those that were presented to it.
In a November 8, 1971 letter asking for a meeting with DNC Chairman Larry O'Brien to interpret Guidelines A-1 and A-2 the NWPC's new Executive Director, Doris Meissner, stated that "Given the fact that women are 52.2% of the total population and are a majority in all but four states, 'reasonable representation' can only mean that women constitute a majority of all but several of the state delegations."33 This goal was neither expected nor achieved. Nonetheless at a meeting with O'Brien and other DNC officials, the NWPC succeeded in getting a commitment to interpret a lack of proportional representation of women in state delegations to the 1972 convention as prima facie evidence that the state was not in compliance with the guidelines. The burden would be on any state whose credentials were challenged to show that it had an adequate affirmative action program, and that underrepresentation of women was not due to discrimination. Cong. Don Fraser, who became chair of the Party Structure Commission after McGovern resigned to seek the Presidency, obtained the Commission's endorsement which DNC Chair O'Brien sent to state Party and elected officials. This put the Democratic Party formally in favor of significantly increasing women's participation in the national nominating conventions, and, along with the other new requirements, opened the door to 82 credentials challenges to more than 40 percent of the delegates from 30 states and one territory at the 1972 Convention as the state parties reluctantly confronted the revolution.34
The Republican Party only tinkers with reform. Its structure and procedures make it very hard to effect the type of revolution the Democrats engaged in and its activists have not seen party reform as a route to power, but its concern for appearances often stimulate it to simulate its rival. After the GOP's 1968 convention it too established a Committee (on Delegates and Organizations) to review its rules. Unlike the Democrats the DO Committee's members were restricted to members of the National Committee and its conclusions were purely advisory. However, its chairperson, Rosemary Ginn of Missouri, was a NWPC supporter. The July 1971 report said each state should "endeavor to have equal representation of men and women in its delegation to the Republican National Convention."35 While lacking the force of the Democratic reforms, it did anticipate them by several months.

The 1972 Conventions

Neither party saw equal numbers of women and men in the delegations to the 1972 Conventions, but both significantly increased women's representation. In the previous two decades women had fluctuated between ten and 17 percent of the delegates. At the 1972 national nominating conventions women were almost 40 percent of the Democratic delegates and 30 percent of the Republican delegates. The presence of so many more women had no profound effect on the overall political orientation of the conventions. Male and female delegates' positions on policy issues were quite similar within each party. However, on issues on which a "feminist" position could be identified (abortion, day care and employment) women were more feminist than men. Here too there were party differences, but not enormous ones. Both women and men in both parties favored the feminist position, though more Democrats did so than Republicans and Democratic men were more likely to be feminists than Republican women. The only issue on which Republican delegates, women as well as men, were distinctively negative was their general reaction to "women's liberation."36

The NWPC was present at both conventions, but except for staff member Doris Meissner, different people represented the organization. Republican Party women lobbied for NWPC goals at the Republican Convention, while many nonparty feminists (who were probably registered Democrats) joined with Democratic Party women at the Democratic Convention. Most of the NWPC proposals made it into the platforms. Both Platforms supported the ERA -- which had been removed from the Democratic Platform in 1960 and the Republican Platform in 1964. Neither Platform Committee was willing to include a plank supporting women's right to reproductive freedom. Supporters of reproductive freedom had enough votes on their respective Platform Committees to file a minority plank and force a floor fight, but the Republican women chose not to do so.
Apart from the Platform the focus of the Republican feminists was on the Rules Committee while that of the Democrats was on credentials challenges. The DO Committee had recommended that the Party endeavor to represent men and women equally in the state delegations and take positive action to achieve the broadest possible participation of everyone in party affairs. Despite some staunch opposition these recommendations were passed on favorably by the Rules Committee and became Rules 32C and 32A. An attempt to add a phrase reassuring the Party that no quotas were intended failed.37

Democratic feminists had two credentials challenges that were of particular concern to them because of the striking lack of women on the state delegations: South Carolina and Chicago. McGovern supported both challenges, but finally told his delegates to vote against seating the insurgent South Carolina delegation to avoid a procedural problem. The women were incensed but were powerless to prevent South Carolina's regular delegation from being seated. They also clashed with McGovern's organization over the reproductive freedom plank, a weight the Democratic nominee didn't wish to carry into the Presidential campaign. After what was one of the most emotional floor debates of the Convention, pro-choice supporters lost the floor vote by three to two. The NWPC had also considered nominating a woman for Vice President, and when they saw that a last minute campaign organized by three Texas students for Francis "Sissy" Farenthold was attracting interest, (she had narrowly lost the Texas Gubernatorial primary) they decided to turn their energies in that direction. She came in second with 13 percent of the vote.38
Although the Republican feminists achieved more of their tangible goals than did the Democrats, more Democratic delegates (25 percent) than Republicans (10 percent) thought the NWPC had a great deal of influence on the outcome of the convention.39 This discrepancy was partially because the Democrats had already made more extensive changes in the rules than the Republicans were even proposing, but even more it was a consequence of the different styles of the two parties. Republicans favor quiet persuasion while the Democrats pursue public confrontations. Although the Republican feminists were Party activists, they sought as public spokespeople for their issues women with even more impeccable party credentials including elected officials and wives of prominent Republican men. While these women led the fights in the Committees, the NWPC activists lobbied quietly behind the scene. They eschewed publicity, and held only one delegate meeting, on the weekend between the Committee meetings and the convention itself. At this meeting prominent Republican women informed the delegates about what had happened. The Republican feminists planned nothing for the convention itself, but did hold a series of box lunches with delegates to discuss how to achieve more influence for women in the Republican Party. Although they had enough support on the Platform Committee to force a floor fight over abortion, they chose not to. Betsy Griffith, one of the NWPC organizers, explained why:

Because the women delegates were loyal Republican partisans before they were feminists, there was little enthusiasm for introducing an abortion plank on the Convention floor..., for nominating Ms. Heckler for Vice President, or even for inciting a "spontaneous" demonstration. These Republican women were, on the whole, a group of savvy politicians, who recognized that they were a 30% minority group, and were not about to risk losing any futile battles in a public rout.40

The Democratic feminists also held a meeting of delegates before the Convention, and virtually every day thereafter. The meetings were not restricted to delegates and many non-delegates came. There was no real distinction between the actual leaders and the public spokespersons, and the leadership group included public officials, local party activists and prominent feminists. It did not include wives; nor did it have many women with the extensive Party credentials of the Republican spokespersons. The purpose of the meetings was to formulate strategy and organize women delegates into a floor operation. Discussion was often extensive, resulting in acceptance of the leadership's recommendations, but the delegates' other commitments limited their willingness to serve as floor whips. Nonetheless, a primitive floor organization was created sufficient to garner a credible number of votes for Farenthold. While McGovern made it a point to include women in many of his key convention advisory bodies, they were his women, not feminist representatives.41 Many of the feminists were also McGovern supporters. Consequently they were cross-pressured -- they found it hard to decide whether their long range goals would be best served by going along with McGovern or pursuing immediate feminist concerns. This conflict was also debated in the delegate meetings. Thus there was much more awareness both in the press and among those attending the convention of what feminists were doing than was true at the Republican Convention.

The 1976 Conventions

By the 1976 Conventions the stage had been set for major battles over women's issues by both Republicans and Democrats, but they were very different battles. In the Democratic Party feminists fought for power independently of other struggles going on within the Party. In the Republican Party feminists fought for the ERA as part of the contest between Reagan and Ford. In the Democratic Party, feminists lost their battle but won the war. Feminists in the Republican Party did the opposite.
Following the 1972 conventions, the NWPC decided to institutionalize its party activities into two Task Forces, based on the lists of potential supporters its convention efforts had generated. The Democrats were organized first, largely because the Party planned a mini-convention in 1974 to adopt a Party Charter. The Charter was one of the boldest innovations to come out of the furor of 1968. With its adoption, Democratic Party affairs would no longer be governed by a hodgepodge of tradition, convention decisions and National Committee rulings. Although many of the provisions in the proposed Charter were rather radical, the hottest issue at the 1974 mini-convention was affirmative action.
After 1972, state party leaders had rebelled at what they felt was the rigid imposition of "quotas" for women, minorities and youth, and the assumption that if they were not met the burden was on state parties to prove that they did not discriminate. A new reform commission was formed which modified the delegate selection rules so that if an approved affirmative action plan was followed, the results by themselves could not be the basis for a credentials challenge.42 This language was incorporated into the proposed Party Charter, but it was a compromise the black and women's caucus leadership at the 1974 conference (including Bella Abzug, Patt Derian of Mississippi and Barbara Mikulski) felt would pre-empt most challenges. They threatened a walk-out if this section was adopted, while the AFL-CIO leadership threatened a walk-out if it wasn't. After a great deal of acrimonious debate, national party leaders succeeded in finding further modifications of the wording that were acceptable to all sides.43
The Republican Women's Task Force was organized in 1975 with a letter to Republican women signed by Rosemary Ginn and Rep. Margaret Heckler (Mass.) after the Republican National Committee decided to let each state party interpret for itself how to "endeavor" to achieve equal representation. Behind that letter were the NWPC activists at the 1972 Convention, such as Patricia Bailey, Betsy Griffiths, Patricia Goldman, staff director of the Wednesday Group, (an organization of liberal Republican members of the House of Representatives), and Bobbie Kilberg, a member of President Ford's staff. Although nominally composed of several hundred Republican women, throughout most of its subsequent history the work of the RWTF was done and the decisions made by less than a dozen liberal Republican women, often independently of the NWPC. Since the NWPC was overwhelmingly Democratic, the RWTF became a cohesive sub-group within it, creating tensions which eventually resulted in its elimination. The Democratic Women's Task Force was less cohesive, had a rotating leadership, and was always subservient to the NWPC leadership.
Between the 1972 and 1976 Conventions the political environment for Republican feminists became more hostile. The Equal Rights Amendment, so uncontroversial in 1972, stimulated an organized opposition by groups which had not previously participated in the 49 years of debate. Phyllis Schlafly, long an active conservative Republican, formed STOP-ERA in October 1972, and within a year other right-wing groups such as the John Birch Society, Pro-America incorporated, the Christian Crusade and Young Americans for Freedom threw their organizational resources into the fight. Organizations of the religious right were also a major source of ERA opponents. The Mormon Church, the Southern Baptists and other fundamentalist Protestant churches, and portions of the Catholic Church actively fought the ERA in State legislatures.44
All of the key RWTF members at the 1976 Convention were tied to the Ford campaign personally or professionally. Thus they experienced the same cross-pressures McGovern feminists felt in 1972. But they were not conflicted. Feeling that Ford's re-election was the single most important contribution they could make to the women's movement, they formulated their strategy accordingly. As in 1972, they did not ask women delegates to meet and ratify their decisions but did hold one meeting just before the convention where they informed the few people attending of their accomplishments. There were three issues of potential concern to the RWTF: rules, abortion and the ERA. The Rules Committee debate on Rule 32 was monitored, but no effort was made to strengthen it or to publicly object to the addition of the anti-quota provision that was rejected in 1972 (Rule 32d). After the furor that had erupted over the Democrats' alleged use of quotas in 1972 it was too touchy an issue, and as women's representation among delegates had increased by two percent, there was no imperative for action. Abortion was a more difficult issue. An RWTF survey of Republican delegates had shown that 61 percent supported the Supreme Court decision compared to only 55 percent who supported the ERA, but only one-third of the delegates had bothered to reply, and Ford was not pro-choice. In order not to "contaminate" the ERA by associating it with abortion the decision was made to officially work only to keep the ERA in the Republican Party Platform, though unofficially an effort would also be made to keep an anti-abortion provision out.
The former effort was successful, but the latter was not. The ERA actually lost in the relevant Platform Subcommittee by one vote. This so shook up the Ford campaign that they ordered their delegates on the full Committee to vote for it. It still only won by 51 to 47. The antis wanted to take a minority report to the convention floor, but Reagan decided that he wanted floor fights on only two issues, and the ERA was not one of them. Therefore it was retained in the 1976 Republican Platform. The same convention saw an anti-abortion plank added for the first time. It won overwhelmingly in the subcommittee and was not contested in the full committee. But, under the tutelage of Rep. Millicent Fenwick (N.J.), enough signatures were gathered on a petition to remove it to bring the issue to the floor. That debate was held after midnight, and a voice vote sustained the anti-abortion plank by a substantial margin.
There was no fight over abortion at the 1976 Democratic Convention. During the Platform Committee meetings in June a compromise was reached to simply state that it was inadvisable to amend the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court decision. The fight within the Democratic Party was over the "50-50" rule which would mandate that from 1980 on all delegations would have to be half women. This change was proposed because midway through the 1976 delegate selection process the number of black, female, hispanic, and under-30 delegates was running 15 to 35 percent less than in 1972. (In the end, women were 34 percent). Since the new rules made credentials challenges more difficult, the NWPC and Caucus of Black Democrats went to the June Rules Committee meetings with proposals for improvement and an agreement to support each other's proposals. They both wanted "goals and timetables" for achieving specific results in affirmative action plans. Women also wanted "equal division" of the delegates. After a showdown with Carter aides, blacks and women won the first point, and narrowly lost the second. A minority report was filed so the issue could be debated on the floor the last day of the convention. The Carter campaign controlled a majority of the votes and did not support the 50-50 rule. However, neither did it want a bloody floor fight in a year in which the Democrats sensed victory. After several days of negotiations Carter compromised by agreeing to promote equal division in future conventions, as well as to strengthen the role of women in the Democratic Party, his campaign and Administration.
Negotiators for the women included Mildred Jeffrey of Detroit, a party activist and labor leader who headed the NWPC's Democratic Task Force, Koryne Horbal, former state chair of the Minnesota Democratic Farmer/Labor Party, who headed the Women's Caucus of the Democratic National Committee, Patt Derian, a Carter delegate from Mississippi, and Cong. Bella Abzug of New York. NOW leaders were completely left out. NOW and the NWPC had completely separate operations at this convention. The NWPC staged a major fundraiser attended by many Party notables which financed six hotel rooms, a pre-convention mailing to women delegates, special phones and a network for lobbying and polling all the delegations. NOW had one hospitality room, which some party leaders ordered their delegates to avoid, and concentrated on soliciting signatures for a petition to make the ERA a priority issue for the party and its Presidential candidate. It had to do this outside the convention itself, as unlike the NWPC, it was unable to get any convention passes. Nonetheless, NOW's working relationship with the Democratic branch of the NWPC was more cordial than with the Republicans. NOW staged an ERA demonstration the Sunday before both conventions, but when it's President, Karen DeCrow, met with RWTF members to offer support, she was asked to leave. DeCrow was told that the very name of NOW was anathema to Party conservatives and association with it might hurt the ERA.
As at the 1972 Democratic convention there were daily meetings of the women's caucus to which anyone could come, with delegates and non-delegates voting separately. The latter vote, taken first, was purely advisory, while the delegate vote, which was binding, never overturned the recommendations of the leadership. The debate over whether to accept the compromise on the 50-50 rules was largely one between those who were committed to working within the Democratic Party and those who were not; those who could benefit directly by more women in the administration and those who could not; those who had been close to the negotiations and those who had not. Ostensibly it was a debate on how best to promote women's rights. In reality it was a debate over which was a better symbol of power; a convention floor fight which would be lost, or a successful negotiation with the Presidential candidate. While spirited, the debate was without acrimony. Even though everyone knew that Carter controlled the convention sufficiently to win any vote, his supporters never accused their opponents of trying to divide the Party or undermine the campaign, and in turn were not accused of selling out women's interests. After the delegates attending the women's caucus ratified the compromise with Carter they then supported a motion by a nondelegate that if "promotion" did not result in equal division at the 1978 midterm convention, the women's caucus would demand a rule requiring it in 1980.45

By 1980 "50-50" was no longer controversial. In the winter of 1978 the rules for the December mid-term convention were changed to require equal division and at a meeting of the Democratic National Committee held right before this convention the 1980 "call" was amended to also require it. When feminists in the Party continued to push for equal division, Carter's campaign operatives decided the issue was not of sufficient importance to continue fighting over. Furthermore, the death of AFL-CIO President George Meaney and the resulting changing of the guard removed the most vociferous opposition to "quotas", Labor's concerns over possible loss of influence in the Party were met through other concessions by subsequent reform commissions. By 1980, the Party regulars had reconciled themselves to reform. When Carter lost that fall, they did not blame electoral defeat on that year's convention rules as they had in 1972. Indeed, the 1980 election saw a "gender gap" of eight percent appear between the voting patterns of men and women. Ironically, the very year women achieved the right to half of the Democratic national convention delegates, they became more than half of the Democratic electorate.

The 1980 Conventions

In 1980 there was a good deal of tension between feminists and both parties. At both conventions feminists had poor relations with the dominant candidate's campaign. While this resulted in their virtual exclusion from the Republican Convention, at the Democratic Convention it pushed women into alternative routes of influence. Most of the Republican feminists who had been active in the 1972 and 1976 conventions did not go to the 1980 convention. Some had received political appointments from the Carter administration and thus were legally prohibited from participating in politics. Others were discouraged by what they expected to be a hostile atmosphere. As in 1976, the RWTF mailed a questionnaire to convention delegates, 36 percent of whom were women, but the results were so discouraging that it was decided not to release them. A cursory review by RWTF chair Nancy Thompson of the 400 questionnaires that were returned showed a four-to-one opposition to the ERA. Several RWTF members maintained a quiet presence through the hearings of the relevant Platform Subcommittee but Phyllis Schlafly's STOP ERA supporters were much more prominent. Despite an 11 to 4 loss in the Subcommittee, Margaret Heckler of Massachusetts and John Leopold of Hawaii made a futile appeal to the full Platform Committee, which convention rules required be half female, to not "make the ERA an election issue." Leopold's substitute motion was crushed 90 to 9. The RWTF's efforts were hampered by the fact that its members' ties to the Republican Party were through the declining liberal wing. Therefore, they recruited former national party chair Mary Louise Smith, whose Republican credentials were too solid to be dismissed, as their spokesperson.
After discussions with Reagan operatives, the anti-ERA language of the subcommittee was modified to oppose not the ERA but "federal interference or pressure... against states that have refused to ratify the ERA," while reaffirming "our Party's historic commitment to equal rights and equality for women." After Margaret Heckler and RWTF representatives met with candidate Ronald Reagan, they publicly affirmed their support because they didn't feel his views and the platform were perfectly congruent.
The RWTF members kept their word and put together a Women's Policy Advisory Board to help sell Ronald Reagan to American women during the campaign. This incurred the wrath of Phyllis Schlafly, who thought it was a feminist plot. She asked the Reagan campaign to abolish the Board and when that wasn't done, pulled her Eagle Forum supporters from their volunteer posts in numerous Reagan campaign offices, leaving some unable to answer their phones. They were returned after a compromise in which one of her lieutenants, Elaine Donnally, was put on the Women's Board and a separate Board on Family Policy was created for Schlafly supporters. Of those Republican feminists who worked for Reagan's election, only Margaret Heckler received an appointment in his administration -- after she was defeated for re-election to the House -- and she was removed from her position as Secretary of Health and Welfare during Reagan's second term as a result of right-wing pressure.
The RWTF did not attempt to lobby the Rules Committee in 1980, nor did it make any effort to keep a statement in support of a Human Life Amendment out of the platform. As in 1976, the RWTF did not think abortion and the ERA ought to be "confused". Since Millicent Fenwick was not present and pro-choice groups chose not to come, there was not even symbolic opposition to the numerous pro-Life lobbyists. Although NOW held an ERA demonstration immediately before the convention itself, not a single button or any other sign of pro-choice sentiment appeared any place at the GOP convention. Despite this lack of external support, Leopold's motion before the full Platform Committee for a more neutral statement on abortion was only defeated by 75 to 18. The chair of the Pro-Life Impact Committee said that their delegate survey disclosed only 60 percent of the delegates supported a Human Life Amendment, and Reagan staffers said that softer language could have been put in the Platform had anyone asked them to.
Women were almost half of the delegates to the Democratic convention, but tension was high and co-operation was low. Feminists and party women called separate meetings for women delegates. The Women's Caucus of the Democratic National Committee met in an official hotel. The feminist Coalition for Women's Rights (CWR) met at a union hall (Local 1199) several blocks away. NOW had voted against supporting Carter in 1979 because it was unimpressed with his efforts to compel states to ratify the ERA. Carter's firing of Bella Abzug from his Women's Advisory Commission -- her only political job after losing her 1976 campaign to be New York's Senator -- generated such an uproar that the Carter campaign just assumed all feminists supported his opponent, Edward Kennedy. This perception was reinforced when Bella Abzug persuaded the Coalition to prioritize a proposal by the Kennedy campaign to free delegates to vote for whomever they chose rather than the primary winner in their state.
Distance and lack of listing on the daily Convention schedule, meant the CWR meetings were poorly attended and those who came did not engage in extensive debates. The functioning Coalition was primarily a leadership group consisting of the heads of the major feminist organizations, elected officials, funding sources and media stars, who could be identified by the fact that they had floor passes and met continually during the convention itself. But this time feminists had an extensive floor operation, based upon the approximately 20 percent of the delegates who were NWPC or NOW members and staffed by the NWPC. Apart from the leaders, nondelegates had very little to do at this convention.
NOW President Eleanor Smeal and NWPC President Iris Mitgang had decided earlier in the Spring to work together at the Convention on a feminist issue, but didn't choose which one until the Platform Committee met in July. The Committee voted down a proposal to add to an already strong ERA plank the promise that "the Democratic Party shall offer no financial support and technical campaign assistance to candidates who do not support the ERA." Although the Democratic Party has little assistance to give to any candidate, and was not known for enforcing a party line on any issue, as Minority Report No. 10 this proposal became the feminist issue of the 1980 convention.
The Carter campaign opposed Ten, which they felt was a single-issue "loyalty test" inappropriate for a pluralistic party. A two-page typewritten sheet circulated to Carter whips who were lobbying delegates against Ten called it "blackmail" and made an analogy between such a demand and the tactics of the "New Right, who demand that public figures toe the line on their particular issue." Since several minority reports were to be debated on the floor, Carter operatives were not reluctant to engage in a public fight as they had been in 1976. Thus no effort was made to negotiate with the Coalition until the day before the scheduled Convention debate, and the campaign representatives who met with Coalition leaders -- Sarah Weddington, who had replaced Abzug as the Carter Administration's advisor on women and HUD Assistant Secretary Donna Shalala -- had no power to make any decisions. The Coalition argued that whatever the merits of the actual proposal, it was a "litmus" test on the ERA and a negative vote would play in the press as a rejection of the ERA. Many Carter delegates, half of whom were women, agreed, and the Carter whips had difficulty keeping their votes in line. The issue was finally settled two hours before the vote when the National Education Association, which had the largest single block of Carter delegates, announced it would support Ten. The Carter whips were called off, and convention chair Cong. Tip O'Neill (Mass.) phoned Bella Abzug to suggest that both sides agree on a voice vote to save time and the potential embarrassment of a roll call. The subsequent voice vote was really too close to call accurately, but O'Neill did not hesitate in announcing it passed.
Almost lost in the confusion was Minority Report No. 11, which added support of government funding for abortions for poor women to the support for the 1973 Supreme Court decision already in the platform. Although the Coalition supported Eleven, written by Coalition member Gloria Steinem, it didn't lobby on it. Instead that effort was left to the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), which had its own floor operation and similarly stayed away from Ten. Although Carter personally opposed abortion this issue was not as polarized as No. 10, partially because it did not commit party resources and partially because it wasn't perceived as a Kennedy proposal. When NARAL complained to the campaign that some Carter whips were lobbying against Eleven, the whips were informed that delegates should be told to vote their consciences. NARAL polls had already disclosed that 75 percent of the delegates supported Eleven , so no one was surprised when it was added to the 1980 Democratic Platform by a two to one margin.
As in 1976 the fights by feminists at the Democratic convention were struggles over the symbols of power. In 1976 President Carter acknowledged the importance of women, under feminist leadership, to the Democratic Party by personally negotiating with them. This made compromise possible and a floor fight unnecessary. In 1980, feminists felt snubbed. Several participants in the leadership group said they would have compromised had Carter approached them, but when the campaign engaged in tactics they felt were heavy handed, sent negotiators who had no power, and otherwise ignored them and their issue, they felt a floor fight was necessary if they were to be taken seriously.
In reality, the Carter campaign didn't take them seriously. Due to the prominence of Bella Abzug and NOW's repudiation of Carter the year before, the Coalition was viewed as a Kennedy front group. Furthermore, the campaign felt that Carter and the Democratic Party didn't need to prove their support for the ERA, and that other issues were simply more important. The person assigned to liaison with the Coalition (Sarah Weddington), personally disliked Bella Abzug, was not a key figure in the campaign and didn't have access to those who were. But the Carter campaign's hold on its delegates, like its hold on the Democratic Party, was quite tenuous. In the end the delegates decided that the issues were more important than the candidate, and legitimated the right of feminist leaders to define what the Party's position on women's issues ought to be. President Carter ratified that decision the following fall when he invited NOW President Eleanor Smeal to the White House to discuss the ERA.46

The 1984 Conventions

The 1984 Conventions solidified the direction in which both parties had been moving for the previous ten years. The Democrats adopted the feminist perspective on all public issues directly affecting women and made it clear that women, under feminist leadership, were an important part of the Democratic coalition. The Republican Party adopted anti-feminist positions on almost every issue. Its public script was written by Phyllis Schlafly. But it didn't repudiate women. Instead it affirmed their importance by showcasing them extensively and devoting more real resources to help women, as individuals, get elected, than the Democratic Party has done.
At the 1984 convention concern for women could be seen in not in the content so much as in the quantity of attention paid to women. Although the Republican Party has never required that half the delegates be women, 48 percent were female, as were 52 percent of the alternates. Betty Rendel, President of the independent National Federation of Republican Women (NFRW), disavowed the Democratic quota system as "artificial, discriminatory and... a little silly," while describing the way in which Republican women were cajoled into running for delegate spots and men discouraged by top party leaders, including the President. She said Party leaders had to exert steady pressure to persuade men originally selected as delegates to step aside for the "envelope stuffers and precinct walkers."
One-third of the major speakers were women and for the first time the Republican Convention had a large booth in the press area solely to provide information on women. The Republican Women's Information Services also set up interviews and sponsored or advertised receptions, luncheons and breakfasts aimed at women. The Women's Division of the Republican Party since its recreation in April of 1983, has sponsored several projects aimed at women. These include the National Women's Coalition "of professional and activist women drawn from business, the arts, academia, the sports world and politics," numerous conferences and briefings to form women's networks, develop candidates and prepare speakers and the release of reams of material on what the Republican Party and Ronald Reagan have done for women. Women and women's issues occupied a larger portion of the Platform than at anytime since women got the vote. However, the slant was dictated by the Moral Majority and Phyllis Schlafly whose Eagle Forum supporters were much in evidence.
The Equal Rights Amendment was not mentioned in either the draft or the final version of the Platform, but this did not prevent Schlafly from speaking against it before the Human Resources Subcommittee. When one member moved to add a plank endorsing the ERA, it failed for lack of a second. Another attempt before the full Committee was defeated 16 to 76. Two other proposals, one to add sex to the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and another which merely recognized that many Party members supported the ERA, were also defeated. All motions to soften the strong pro-life language and the anti-comparable worth plank in the platform met similar fates. During a meeting of the full Committee comparable worth was denounced as "a socialist idea" by Peggy Miller of West Virginia.
Both NOW and the NWPC had decided it would be futile to attend the convention. Kathy Wilson, President of the NWPC and a liberal Republican, flew in to Dallas to give a press conference and release a fifty-page document refuting Party claims that women are better off than they were four years ago. She left before the Convention began. The perception by feminists that the Republican Party was now so conservative that they could not get a hearing was well founded. Everyone testifying before the Platform Subcommittees in opposition to key right wing planks found themselves barraged with questions about the Democratic ticket rather than the subject on which they were testifying. When former GOP co-chair Mary Louise Smith and NWPC representative Mary Stanley, a long term Reagan supporter from California, testified in favor of the ERA, they were cross-examined on Geraldine Ferraro's finances. Stanley had tears in her eyes when she told the Subcommittee that her Republican Party was the one which supported the ERA and she wanted it back. She was later forced to resign from the California Republican State Committee because she made favorable comments about Ferraro. But before she left the Convention Stanley collected the names of 200 pro-ERA Republican women.
In the intervening years the RWTF had for all practical purposes disbanded as a formal group. Because the Reagan Administration's attitude toward feminist organizations was that they were arms of the Democratic Party many Republican women who were sympathetic to feminist issues would have nothing to do with the NWPC. When Mildred Jeffrey was President, the NWPC had permitted Republican women to be members of the RWTF without joining the NWPC. Iris Mitgang objected to this, and after a rather stormy NWPC steering committee meeting made NWPC membership compulsory for RWTF adherents the people who had run the RWTF left. It did not become a separate organization, but instead transformed itself into something of a loose, informal network of feminist Republicans who felt alienated from both their Party and the women's movement. When RWTF member Kathy Wilson became President of the NWPC she did not reinstate the RWTF but did call occasional meetings of sympathetic women in the Republican Party to discuss issues of mutual concern.
Feminists' relationship to the Democratic Party was quite different. The fact that feminists had displayed so much clout at the 1980 convention gave them an inside spot in the 1984 race with the consequence that there was very little for them to do at the Convention itself. All the Democratic presidential candidates trooped to San Antonio, Texas in July 1983 to seek support from those attending the NWPC convention. When NOW announced it would endorse a Democratic Party candidate for President, it was courted by all. Six candidates were invited to address the NOW National Conference in October, 1983. Askew was not invited because of his anti-choice stand and Jackson had not yet declared his candidacy. Although most observers expected former Vice President Walter Mondale to get the NOW endorsement, the officers drew up four criteria and met with five of the candidates -- Mondale, Cranston, Glenn, Hart and Jackson. Each was also given lists of National Board members and State Chairs so he could lobby NOW. The four criteria were: 1) candidate's position on and priority of women's issues, 2) number of women in key staff positions, 3) willingness to select a woman Vice President, and 4) electability. There was some movement within NOW to withdraw the decision to endorse, and some sentiment for Alan Cranston, but the NOW leadership felt strongly that endorsing Mondale was the way to go and persuaded everyone else to go along.47

In the Spring representatives from feminist and women's organizations, the DNC Women's Division and politically active women held several meetings to plan their actions at the convention. Although the platform had not been finalized it appeared that feminist minority planks would not be necessary because the Mondale campaign was prepared to give them everything they wanted. NOW Action Vice President Mary Jean Collins was appointed to the drafting committee by DNC Chair Chuck Manatt at the behest of the Mondale campaign and had "sign off" authority on all language of concern to NOW.
Since the Mondale campaign was prepared to put into the Platform whatever planks feminists wanted the incipient women's caucus decided that their focus should be on persuading Mondale to choose a woman Vice Presidential nominee, though they were uncertain on whether to force a floor fight should these efforts fail. Delegate surveys by the NWPC showed that there was considerable support for such a move and voter polls indicated that a woman would probably help the Democratic ticket more than hurt it. Therefore public and party officials were lobbied to put pressure on Mondale, helpful information was leaked to the press, and 150 delegates willing to be whips were identified and organized. It was also agreed that this time there would be only one women's caucus at the convention, sponsored by the DNC Women's Division, at which everyone would be organized for the Vice Presidential selection.
The coalition had a short list of acceptable women it thought Mondale should choose from but it had not singled one out. That was done by three Congresswomen, Barbara Mikulski, Mary Rose Oakar (Ohio) and Barbara Kennelly (Conn.), when they endorsed Geraldine Ferraro the night before the NOW National Conference in June. NOW passed a resolution to put the name of a woman in nomination for Vice President at the Democratic Convention "if necessary" without spelling out what that meant. Ferraro told the press that she would permit her name to be put into nomination as a "statement" if no other woman was nominated. On July 4, 23 feminists and elected women officials met with Mondale to add their support for a woman runningmate. After Mondale announced his choice of Geraldine Ferraro on July 12, the coalition dismantled their whip system.
Because feminists got pretty much everything they wanted prior to the Democratic Convention there wasn't much to do there except celebrate. The organizations that had been ignored as unimportant by McGovern and Carter found themselves treated like members of the family by Mondale and other prominent Democrats. Although the women's caucus met everyday, as usual, the high point of the convention for feminists was when Mondale and Ferraro addressed them. This symbolized the fact that they were no longer pushy outsiders -- now they were part of the Party.48
The contrasting experiences of feminists at the 1984 Republican and Democratic conventions show how far both had come since 1972 where both had beseeched, in different ways, party leaders to listen to them. At that time the attitude of both parties' leaders had been polite but disdainful. Both parties gave feminists a token by putting the ERA, recently passed by Congress, back in their platforms, but otherwise did not take them seriously. By 1984 the parties were listening, but responding very differently. On women's issues the voters were offered a real choice. The Democratic platform adopted the feminist perspective on all public issues directly affecting women and party leaders took feminist leaders and organizations seriously. Where Democratic feminists shared a sense of euphoria that they had helped make history, Republican feminists experienced rejection and harassment. The 1984 Republican platform pointedly took an anti-feminist perspective on all relevant issues. The 1984 Republican convention showcased women, but dismissed the women's movement. How this polarization could happen, contrary to the historical tendencies of each party and the preference of feminist leaders, is the topic to which we now turn.


Although the major political parties have similar aims and similar forms, there are still some profound differences in the mode by which internal politics are conducted. These differences are rooted in two cultural distinctions, one structural and the other attitudinal. In the Democratic Party power flows upward and in the Republican party power flows downward. Republicans perceive themselves as insiders even when they are out of power and Democrats perceive themselves as outsiders even when they are in power.


Both parties are composed of numerous units, which have a superficial similarity. On the national level each party has three major committees: The National Committee, and the Senate and House Campaign Committees. In their efforts to administer internal party activities and provide campaign and organizational services to candidates, the Republican party has by far been the more successful. It raises and spends four times as much money as the Democratic Party, supports a permanent field staff who recruit and train local candidates, and assists state parties to increase their funding and improve their organizations.
In addition to these formal bodies, the Democratic Party, especially on the national level, is composed of constituencies. These constituencies see themselves as having a salient characteristic creating a common agenda which they feel the party must respond to. Virtually all of these groups exist in organized form independent of the Party and seek to act on the elected officials of both parties. They are recognized by Democratic Party officials as representing the interests of important blocs of voters which the Party must respond to as a Party. Some groups have been recognized parts of the Democratic coalition since the New Deal (e.g. blacks and labor); others are relatively new (e.g. women and gays). Still others which participated in State and local Democratic politics when those were the only significant Party units have not been active as organized groups on the national level (e.g. farmers ethnics).
Some of the Party's current constituencies have staff members of the Democratic National Committee identified as their liaisons. In addition, in the last few years an informal understanding has arisen that one of each of the three Vice-Chairs will be a member of and represent women, blacks and hispanics. Labor -- still the largest and most important constituency -- does not feel the need for a liaison as it has direct contact with the party chair. However, a majority of the 25 at-large seats on the DNC, as well as seats on the Executive Committee and the Rules and Credentials Committees at the conventions are reserved for union representatives. Party constituencies generally meet as separate caucuses at the national conventions. Space for these meetings is usually arranged by the DNC. While caucuses are usually open to anyone, the people who attend are generally those for whom that constituency is a primary reference group; i.e. a group with which they identify and which gives them a sense of purpose. With an occasional exception the power of group leaders derives from their ability to accurately reflect the interests of constituency members to the Party leaders. Therefore, while leaders are rarely chosen by the participants, they nonetheless feel compelled to have their decisions ratified by them through debate and votes in the caucuses. The votes usually go the way the leaders direct, but they are symbolically important.
The Republican Party has separate units composed of distinct demographic groups, such as the National Black Republican Council and the National Federation of Republican Women, but they are auxiliaries, not constituencies. The purpose of these groups is to elect Republicans, not communicate concerns of those groups to the Party. The Republican Party discourages a strong identification of its members with any other group as disloyal and unnecessary. Even in 1976, when Republican feminists were aligned with Party leaders, one RWTF organizer commented at the convention that because the GOP is not "an interest group party....the RWTF is viewed with skepticism. Party regulars have had a hard time adjusting to the presence of an organized interest."49 Republicans do not attend caucuses apart from those of their states. They go to receptions. The receptions are privately sponsored and usually by invitation only. Caucuses are not necessary because decisions are not made, even symbolically, by members. Decisions are made by leaders. Indeed, there are no members, because there are no groups, only supporters.
Essentially, the Democratic Party is pluralistic, with multiple power centers which compete for membership support in order to make demands on, as well as determine, the leaders. The Republicans have a unitary party in which great deference is paid to the leadership, activists are expected to be "good soldiers", and competing loyalties are frowned upon. This structural difference creates different conceptions of legitimacy. In the Democratic Party, legitimacy is determined by who you represent, and in the Republican Party by whom you know and who you are. It is this difference which makes the Democratic Party so much more responsive to demands for reform within it and the Republican Party so much more responsive to changes in leadership.
This difference also affects the fate of activists within each party. In the Democratic Party the success of individuals whose group identification is highly salient (e.g. blacks and women) is tied to that of the group as a whole. They succeed as the group succeeds. When the group obtains more power, individuals within that group get more positions. Thus social movements which promote members of particular groups can have much more of an impact on the Democratic Party than on the Republican Party. The Republican Party officially ignores group characteristics, though group members are publicly displayed when the Party feels the need to cater to the interest of the voting public in a particular group. Generally, individuals succeed insofar as the leaders with whom they are connected succeed. Aspirants to leadership seek sponsorship by already acknowledged Party leaders and/or make direct appeals to individuals (delegates or voters). The converse is equally true. When a candidate fails or a leader falls from power those associated with that person lose their claim to consideration. Backing the wrong candidate in the Democratic Party is not as disastrous. One does not lose all of one's influence within the Party with a change in leaders as long as one can credibly argue that one represents a legitimate group.


It has been argued that society as a whole has a cultural and structural "center" about which most members of the society are more or less "peripheral".50 Republicans see themselves as representing the center while Democrats view society from the periphery. Although Republicans do not want to increase State power, they nonetheless feel that what they are and their conception of the American dream is inherently desirable. They are insiders who represent the core of American society and are the carriers of its fundamental values. What they have achieved in life, and wish to achieve, is what every true American wishes to achieve. The traditions they represent are what has worked for America and the policies they pursue are ones that ultimately will be best for everyone. They argue that the Republican Party, and Republican policies, represent the national interest, unlike the Democrats, who only serve the "special interests" that are powerful within it. Their concept of representation is as a "trustee" who pursues the long range best interests of the represented.
The Democrats have a very different world view and a different concept of the meaning of representation. To them, representation means not the articulation of a single coherent program for the betterment of the nation but the inclusion of all relevant groups and viewpoints. Their concept of representation is "delegatory," in which accurate reflection of the parts is necessary to the welfare of the whole. Ironically, this requires a "free market" vision of the political arena as one in which the most collective good comes from maximizing properly represented individual goods. Because there is no common agenda there is no common conception of a national interest independent of the total interests of the parts. Instead groups seek to maximize what each gets through bargaining and building coalitions on the assumption that everyone should get something.
Democrats do not have an integrated conception of a national interest in part because they do not view themselves as the center of society. The Party's components think of themselves as outsiders pounding on the door seeking programs that will facilitate entry into the mainstream. They want what's fair, and what's fair is what they want. Thus the Party is very responsive to any group, including such social pariahs as gays and lesbians, that claims it is left out. As is typical of outsiders, Democrats are predisposed toward "change" and "experimentation" in the belief that what is is not inherently desirable, and something new might lead to something better. At the extreme, this attitude results in the assumption that anything new is inherently better.
Guided by a more unitary conception of representation as meaning the correct articulation of the national interest, Republicans feel the needs of outsiders can best be met through the promotion of individual success. Insiders generally view their achievements as due to their own merit and efforts rather than to aspects of the social structure or plain luck. Success is its own justification. Thus what's worked for them, or what they acknowledge as having worked for them, should work for everyone. It is the responsibility of each individual to learn how to succeed, and the responsibility of government only to remove the barriers to individual action, not to insure individual success. This different approach to the world guides not only policy debates, but the Party's attitude toward those who would exercise influence within it. Since direction comes from the top, and group demands are inconsistent with pursuit of the national interest, one affects policy by quietly building a consensus among key individuals, and then making a case to the leadership as furthering the basic values of the party. Maneuvering is acceptable. Challenging is not. This approach acknowledges the leadership's right to make final decisions and reassures them that those preferring different policies do not have competing allegiances. On the other hand, open challenges or admissions of fundamental disagreements indicate that one might be too independent to be a reliable soldier who will always put the interests of the Party first.
In the Democratic Party, keeping quiet is the cause of atrophy and speaking out is a means of access. Although the Party continues to be one of multiple power centers with multiple access points, both the type and importance of powerful groups within it has changed over time. State and local parties have weakened in the last few decades and the influence of national constituency groups has grown. The process of change has resulted in a great deal of conflict as former participants resist declining influence while newer ones jockey for position. Successfully picking fights -- symbolic or substantive -- is the primary way by which groups acquire clout within the Party.


Like any other aspirants to power, feminists in the Democratic and Republican Party must operate according to the rules of their respective institutions. The cultural norms determine the structure of available opportunities for action. In 1972 the resources of Republican feminists and their knowledge of how the party operated allowed them to be relatively effective operators in their party. Several had close personal connections to important people and thus could influence the Party at least on those things which were not controversial. They chose as public representatives people who had impeccable Republican credentials, and used maneuvering and personal persuasion to attain their immediate goals. They avoided a floor fight on abortion both because they felt that the inevitable loss would not be to their credit and because it would make them appear disloyal.
This strategy would not have worked in the Democratic party, even though many prominent Democrats were feminists and most feminists were also McGovern supporters. (Some supported Chisholm, which didn't endear them to McGovern, but didn't discredit them either). McGovern's perceived "betrayals" reflected their lack of legitimacy at that time. Feminists within the Democratic Party had to build up a power base of women active in the Party whom they could legitimately claim to represent before they could have much of an impact. They began this process with caucus meetings in 1972, but not until they, in alliance with the black caucus, compelled party leaders to compromise with them at the 1974 miniconvention were they accepted as even junior partners in the Democratic coalition.
In 1976 the personal connections of Republican feminists with the Ford campaign gave them some claim on the campaign's resources to stave off a negative vote on the ERA by the full Platform committee, but not for areas which Ford did not support. To maintain their legitimacy as loyal Republicans they asked NOW, tainted as a leftist "special interest" group, to leave. They also felt it necessary to avoid any connection to the abortion issue because there was no consensus on it among the leaders to whom they had access. Since Rep. Millicent Fenwick, a strong pro-choice supporter with excellent Republican credentials, was present and willing to spend her political capital, a separate effort on this issue could be mounted, but her absence from the 1980 convention left pro-choice with no apparent supporters.
Feminists in the Democratic Party were looking for an issue in 1976 on which to flex their political muscles. They found it in the 50-50 rule. It is not necessary to win fights to gain clout as their function is to serve as arenas for displaying one's political skills. Therefore the debate in the women's caucus was over whether a compromise with the Presidential nominee or a well-orchestrated but losing floor fight would be the better symbol of success. Even though the outcome was foreordained, the debate and the vote by the caucus were necessary to ratify the compromise itself and legitimate the leaders' right to make it. Republican feminists made no effort to have their "compromise" over which issues to stress ratified because their legitimacy did not derive from whom they represented, but from whom they knew.

In 1980, feminists in both parties were looked upon unfavorably by the dominant candidate. In the Republican Party it meant their virtual elimination from any consideration. By persuading a prominent Republican woman to intervene with the Reagan campaign they did achieve some softening of the anti-ERA plank and a symbolic meeting with candidate Reagan, but the circumstances made this appear as a magnanimous gesture by the victor rather than an acknowledgement of their importance. This was confirmed by the subsequent elimination of any access by feminists to the party leadership or administration. Instead long-time Reagan supporter Phyllis Schlafly became the campaign's and the Administration's arbiter (through Ed Meese) on policy affecting women.
Feminists were similarly cut off from access to the Carter campaign, and did not have any intervenors. But since the Democratic Party is pluralistic there were other routes to power. Upon deciding that Carter had "snubbed" them feminists sought to reestablish their position by organizing a floor fight. Since they now knew how to put together a floor operation and half the delegates were women, this was a viable option. All they needed was an issue, which they created with two minority planks. In the Republican Party this strategy would not have worked, because the candidate would have labeled such a threat as a loyalty issue and threatened those who participated in it with ostracism. In the Democratic Party, where competing loyalties are accepted, individual delegates and delegate blocs (e.g. the NEA) simply ignored Carter's attempts to do this.
By 1984 feminists were so well ensconced in the Democratic Party that they could write the Party's platform on women and effectively exclude pro-lifers (of which there were more than a few) from any voice in the Party. Although the Democratic Party publicly disagrees on more issues than the Republican Party does, there are certain issues and attitudes which are "protected". Once a group has been accepted as a legitimate player it acquires a certain amount of sovereignty over a policy territory and can usually designate those issues and positions within it which are to be part of the "party line." Labor has long had this power, and blacks have it over most of their issues. In 1984, feminist hegemony over "women's" issues was acknowledged as a result of their successful bids for power in previous conventions. Feminists nonetheless debated whether or not they should instigate another battle and decided to focus on the selection of a woman as the Vice-Presidential nominee. The coalition that met in the Spring had not yet decided whether to wage a convention fight when Mondale pre-empted them by selecting Geraldine Ferraro.
By 1984 Republican feminists had been read out of effective participation within the Party. They were associated with the liberal branch of the Party which was virtually decimated and had backed the wrong candidate. Even those who had not personally been associated with previous feminist activities disassociated themselves from open identification with the feminist movement. A major reason Republican feminists have had so much more trouble rehabilitating themselves into Reagan's Republican Party than others who did not initially support him is because they are assumed to have a major or even primary loyalty to feminism and feminist organizations. As feminism is not supported by the current leadership, and feminist organizations are viewed as Democratic Party front groups, it is virtually impossible to be both an accepted Republican activist and an outspoken supporter of feminist goals. As the unitary structure of the party makes it impossible to develop an independent power base, feminists can do little until a candidate comes along who is sympathetic to their interests.
Nonetheless there are many women in the Republican Party who are feminists even if they dare not use the word publicly. Some are seeking to work for women's rights in ways other than supporting the ERA and abortion. Indeed they criticize the Democratic Party for what they call a narrow conception of what will benefit women. Others are focusing their efforts on putting women in positions of power. They argue that merely having women in prominent positions will in the long run benefit women more than divisive fights over the ERA and abortion, and severely criticize feminist organizations, such as NOW, who have endorsed men in preference to women (including such feminists as Millicent Fenwick and ERA supporters as Margaret Heckler).
There is some merit to this position, but only some. Sociological studies have shown than women in prominent positions are valuable role models to younger women, but the effects of this are very long range. In the shorter range, the mere presence of women does not by itself achieve specific public policy goals. In between the major women's movements of the twentieth century women in both parties sought to place their adherents in positions of influence, arguing that women voters would look favorably upon the party that did so. However, the struggles over the ERA, the Equal Pay Act, and the exclusion of married women from the Civil Service during the depression indicate that the mere presence of women in governmental positions does not necessarily focus political concern on improving the status of women.
On the other hand, the numerous and rapid public policy successes of the women's movement in the early seventies were due in part to the presence in government of sympathetic women. Once the women's movement publicly emerged, feminists in the "woodwork" of government provided it with easy access to many key points of decision making -- a major goal of any interest group. But until the movement created a constituency for these women which enabled them to say there was a popular demand for new legislation and new approaches, they were unable to persuade the men (who had more votes and power than they did) to pay any attention.51
They might still have been unable to do so had not the new feminist movement emerged at time when women's issues were of so little concern that there was no organized opposition. This is no longer the case. As long as there remains "another" women's movement that is anti-feminist in nature, as that led by Phyllis Schlafly, it is unlikely that influential Republican women will be able to persuade Republican leaders sympathetic to the other women's movement to support feminist positions. Republican feminists will first have to find or elect Republican leaders who support feminist positions, and they are unlikely to do this until the conservatives suffer a major electoral defeat.
The future of Democratic feminists is rosier but still uncertain. They have won major victories in the Democratic Party. But success can be stifling. The Democratic Party's traditional approach to insurgent groups is to co-opt them. The price of becoming an insider is that one must abide by the inevitable requirement to curb one's commitment to one's own agenda. The rules of the game require that one not make too many demands, or make demands that are too radical or that seriously conflict with the goals of other coalition groups. The NWPC already knows these rules, which it implicitly followed when it dismantled its whip system at the 1984 Convention rather than permit it to be used by the dissident Jackson forces. NOW may also decide to follow them, but the consequence of its doing so will be to remove it from the cutting edge of social change. Due to the demise of the younger branch of the women's movement, NOW is the radical flank of the women's movement. A good radical flank is an essential ingredient to steady social change. Someone, or something, who has nothing to gain by playing the insiders' game must regularly raise new issues and expound new analyses in order to pull the mainstream in a progressive direction. Since an organization cannot be both a mainstream participant and the radical flank without losing credibility and legitimacy, NOW will have to choose which path to follow.
Another requirement of participating in the mainstream of the Party is that one not become an electoral liability. NOW demonstrated its awareness of this rule by endorsing Democratic men running against Republican feminist women, arguing that anyone who supports Reagan's economic program, and that doesn't support pro-choice, is not really a feminist. Currently the Republican Party is attempting to make feminism an electoral liability by labeling it as just another special interest. Should feminism be discredited in the eyes of the American voter, feminist organizations' claim to legitimately represent an important bloc of votes will be undermined, and consequently their influence in the Democratic Party. Thus those feminists who do want to remain an important voice in the Democratic Party, as feminists, not just as women, must continue to take their case to the American public and to organize their supporters to take an active part in local politics.


1 J. Stanley Lemons, The Woman Citizen: Social Feminism in the 1920s, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973, p. 49.

2 Protective labor legislation was a generic label for a host of state laws applicable to women only which restricted the number of hours they could work, the amount of weight they could lift, occasionally required special benefits such as rest periods, and sometimes prohibited their working in certain occupations entirely.

3 Lemons, p. 187.

4 Cynthia Ellen Harrison, Prelude to Feminism: Women's Organizations, the Federal Government and the Rise of the Women's Movement, 1942-1968 (unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 1982), pp. 242-5.

5 Lemons, pp. 199-200.

6 Harrison, p. 38.

7 Susan Ware, Beyond Suffrage: Women in the New Deal, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981, pp. 125-126.

8 Ware, p. 121, Harrison, p. 32-33, 70.

9 Harrison pp. 58-60.

10 Harrison, pp. 71-87.

11 Harrison, p. 88.

12 Harrison, p. 94-98.

13 She didn't assume her post until November, after the Senate vote. Harrison, p. 121.

14 Leila J. Rupp, "American Feminism in the Post War Period", in Reshaping America: Society and Institutions, 1945-1960, (Columbus, Ohio State University Press), p. 30.

15 Bessie Margolin, "Equal Pay and Equal Employment Opportunities for Women," 19 New York University Conference of Labor 297 (1967). See also Morag MacLeod Simchak, "Equal Pay in the United States," 103 International Labour Review 6 (June 1971).

16 Harrison, p. 268.

17 Harrison, p. 378.

18 Jo Freeman, The Politics of Women's Liberation, New York: Longman, 1975, Chapters 2 and 3.

19 Eleanor Smeal, President of NOW and a leader of the ERA ratification struggle during its last five years, calculated that 83 percent of Republican legislators in key unratified states voted against the ERA while only 45 percent of the Democrats did so. Why and How Women Will Elect the Next President, New York: Harper & Row, 1984, p. 78.

20 William Crotty, Party Reform, New York: Longman, 1983, p. 206.

21 Theodore H. White, The Making of the President - 1960, New York: Atheneum, 1961, p. 60.

22 White, 1960, pp. 61-62.

23 Theodore J. White, The Making of the President - 1964, New York: Atheneum 1965, pp. 91-95. F. Clifton White, Suite 3505: The Story of the Draft Goldwater Movement, written with William J. Gill, New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1967. The self-publication of Phyllis Schlafly's A Choice Not an Echo in the Spring of 1964, which sold over 3 million copies, is also given some credit for helping Goldwater get the nomination.

24 William A. Rusher, The Rise of the Right, New York: William Morrow, 1984, pp. 161-162.

25 Crotty, p. 27.

26 Theodore White, The Making of the President - 1972, New York: Atheneum, 1973, p. 20. Barry Shafer, The Quiet Revolution: Party Reform and the Shaping of Post Reform Politics, New York: Basic Books, 1984. Chapter 1.

27 National Party Conventions 1831 - 1976, Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc. 1979, pp. 69-82.

28 National Party Conventions 1831-1976, p. 109.

29 White, 1972, pp. 20-26.

30 Mandate for Reform: A Report of the Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection to the Democratic National Committee, Washington D.C.: Democratic National Committee 1970.

31 Mandate, p. 40. For a description of how this language was added see White, 1972, p. 29-32. Austin Ranney, Curing the Mischiefs of Faction: Party Reform in America, Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1975, p. 188-191. Shafer, p. 465.

32 Freeman, p. 161.

33 Shafer, p. 468.

34 National Party Conventions 1831 - 1976 p. 113. See Shafer, Chapter 17 for a detailed description of how the burden of proof was shifted through a re-interpretation of the Guidelines.

35 DO Committee, The Delegate Selection Procedures for the Republican Party II: Progress Report (of the) DO Committee, Washington, D.C.: Republican National Committee, July 23, 1971.

36 Jeane Kirkpatrick, The New Presidential Elite: Men and Women in National Politics, New York: The Russell Sage Foundation and the Twentieth Century Fund, 1976, p. 429-447. Kirkpatrick's conclusions were based on an extensive questionnaire study of delegates to the 1972 Conventions. Unfortunately, her study didn't include a question on the ERA, probably because it wasn't very controversial in 1972.

37 Information in this section is based on interviews with Doris Meissner on November 7, 1984, Pat Bailey on December 12, 1984 and an unpublished paper by Betsy Griffith that was probably written in late 1972. Bailey and Griffith were among those who orchestrated the NWPC efforts.

38 White, 1972, pp. 172-174. Denis G. Sullivan et. al. The Politics of Representation: The Democratic Convention of 1972, New York: St. Martin's Press, pp. 53, 54, 69 n. 11. Susan and Martin Tolchin, CLOUT: Womenpower and Politics, New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1974, pp. 40-53. Kirkpatrick, pp. 448-9. Interview with Farenthold on July 18, 1984.

39 Kirkpatrick, p. 446.

40 Griffith, unpublished paper, p. 14.

41 White, 1972, p. 196. Tolchin, pp. 35-37.

42 Commission on Delegate Selection and Party Structure, Democrats All, Washington, D.C.: Democratic National Committee, 1973, Rule 18. See Crotty, pp. 66-73, for a discussion of this Commission and its Rules.

43 Denis G. Sullivan, et. al., Explorations in Convention Decision Making: The Democratic Party in the 1970s, San Francisco: W.H. Freeman Co., 1976, pp. 33-34, 44, 62-64, 72-73, 78.

44 Freeman, pp. 220-221. Susan E. Marshall, "Keep us on the Pedestal: Women Against Feminism in Twentieth-Century America" in Jo Freeman, ed. Women: A Feminist Perspective, 3rd. ed., Palo Alto, Calif.: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1984, p. 569. Nancy E. McGlen and Karen O'Connor, Women's Rights, New York: Praeger, 1983, p. 373-4. David W. Brady and Kent L. Tedin, "Ladies in Pink: Religion and Political Ideology in the Anti-ERA Movement," Social Science Quarterly 56 (March 1976): 564-575. For an analysis of why the ERA failed to be ratified see Gilbert Y. Steiner, Constitutional Inequality: The Political Fortunes of the Equal Rights Amendment, Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1985.

45 Information in this section is based on observations and interviews I made at the 1976 Republican Convention in Kansas City, and the Democratic Convention in New York. Some of this appeared in Ms. magazine, October 1976, pp. 74-76, 113-115 and November 1976, pp. 19-20.

46 Information in this section is based on interviews and observations I made at the Conventions of the Republican Party in Detroit and the Democratic Party in New York. Much of it was published in In These Times, July 30 - August 12, 1980 and August 27 - September 2, 1980.

47 At NOW's December Board meeting an initial straw poll gave Mondale 25 votes to 12 for Cranston. A motion to endorse Mondale then passed by 32 to 5. Once the decision was made virtually no active NOW members supported any other Presidential candidate. The few who did largely supported Sonia Johnson (once a candidate for President of NOW) in her bid for the Citizens Party nomination.

48 Information in this section was based on observations and interviews at the 1984 Conventions of the Republican Party in Dallas, and the Democratic Party in San Francisco, and on interviews with Party and feminist activists in Washington, D.C. during 1984. Some of this material appeared in off our backs, February, 1985, pp. 11-13, 20.

49 Quoted in Jeffrey Pressman, "Groups and Group Caucuses", Political Science Quarterly, 92:4, Winter 1977-78, p. 680.

50 Edward Shils, "Center and Periphery," Selected Essays, Chicago: Center for Social Organization Studies, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago, 1970.

51 Freeman, p. 234.


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