The Battle Over Women's Rights and Family Values that Polarized American Politics
Marjorie J. Spruill
In November 1977 more than thirty-five thousand people came to Houston, Texas. Twenty thousand visitors – mainly women – were there to celebrate the first and only national women’s conference to be sponsored by the federal government, and to endorse an agenda for women’s issues that would guide law and policy for the next decade. Some were politicians, some were activists, and others were celebrities from TV, film, and sports. These well-known Americans were joined by thousands of women of all races, classes, occupations, and ages who poured into the city to take part in an event that would prove to be historic.
Another fifteen thousand came in protest, to prove that the National Women’s Conference and its announced social and political goals were not universally embraced. Organized by a group of conservative activists including Phyllis Schlafly, whose political prowess was only beginning to be recognized, they gathered at the Houston Astrodome. They cheered as speakers urged them to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment and to overturn landmark legislation that had been enacted with the support of Democratic and Republican feminists during a decade of remarkable social change.
Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women’s Rights and Family Values that Polarized American Politics is historian Marjorie J. Spruill’s narrative of this remarkable moment. It is the story of a clash between women’s rights advocates and social conservatives that would prove to have lasting consequences.
Marjorie Spruill draws the connection between the events that animated supporters and antagonists at the National Women’s Conference and the polarization with which we’ve become all too familiar. By the end of the decade, the Democratic and Republican parties had staked out positions on either side of a divide between “women’s rights” and “family values,” a divide which continues to plague American politics to this day.