Speaker Date: October 7, 2022
Topic: The Battle Over Women’s Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics
Professor Spruill will give highlights from her book, Divided We Stand, which will be the basis of her presentation at Wildacres this spring 2023.
She describes how in the early 1970s, an ascendant women’s rights movement had strong support from both Democrats and Republicans but was soon challenged by a conservative women’s movement formed in opposition. Tensions between them exploded in 1977 during a series of congressionally sponsored International Women’s Year (IWY) meetings in each state, culminating in a National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas.
As Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, and a mostly feminist group of elected delegates from the states endorsed hot-button issues such as the ERA, abortion rights, and gay rights (an issue then new to American politics and to their agenda), Phyllis Schlafly, Lottie Beth Hobbs, and other conservative women rallied to protest federally funded feminism and launch a pro-family movement.
After Houston, Democrats continued to back women’s rights in cooperation with a more diverse feminist movement while the GOP abandoned its previous support for feminist goals and defined itself as the party of family values. From 1980 to the present these alliances have become ever more important, producing the deeply polarized, bitterly partisan political culture we have today.
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Marjorie J. Spruill, Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of South Carolina
Marjorie J. Spruill is Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of South Carolina. She is known for her work on women’s movements in the United States from the woman suffrage movement through the modern feminist and anti-feminist movements and the history of the American South. Her many publications on women and politics include not only Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women’s Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics but One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement (NewSage Press).
In 2021 Spruill brought out a new edition of the book, that she originally edited to accompany the PBS American Experience film “One Woman, One Vote,” expanded to include new material on the diversity of the movement, the role of white supremacy, regional and international issues, and the story of women and the vote from 1920 forward through the 2020 election.
Spruill’s work has won support from the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard; the National Humanities Center, and the Gerald Ford Foundation. Spruill is also co-editor of author of multi-volume anthologies on the Lives and Times of women in Mississippi and South Carolina and a two-volume reader, The South in the History of the Nation. She was a consultant for and appeared in the MSNBC documentary “On Account of Sex: The Equal Rights Amendment,” and in Nashville Public Television’s new production, “By One Vote: Woman Suffrage in the South.” She was also a consultant for “Rightfully Hers,” the National Archives exhibit for the suffrage centennial.
She is currently the chair of the Scholars Advisory Committee for the National Women’s History Museum. A native of Washington, NC, she was educated at UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.), Duke University (MAT), and the University of Virginia (M.A., Ph.D). In addition to the University of South Carolina, she taught at the University of Southern Mississippi and Vanderbilt University where she was Associate Provost. At present she lives in Folly Beach, South Carolina, and is a frequent speaker on woman suffrage nationally and abroad, as well as a media consultant and advisor for films and exhibits on suffrage and the larger subject of women’s history and politics.