This dissertation examines how a conservative definition of "family values" became ascendant in American politics. The project focuses on New York State from 1970, when abortion was legalized there, through the elections of 1980--a span of ten years when feminists and an emerging conservative family values movement competed side-by-side to define the family. Relating local events to national political realignment, the dissertation illustrates how conservative grassroots activists, led by Catholic middle-class white women, organized to defend nuclear families, heterosexual marriage, and traditional gender roles. In doing so, they created the nation's most robust Right to Life Party and defeated a state-level Equal Rights Amendment in 1975. These self-declared average "housewives" were more than conservative shock troops. They were inventing a new conservatism that the GOP's right wing seized upon to gain political advantage. By 1980, conservative, anti-feminist Republicans with suburban appeal had usurped power from more liberal, pro-feminist Republicans based in New York City--the so-called "Rockefeller Republicans" in the late Governor Nelson Rockefeller's mold. Based on oral histories, archival research, and never-before-seen documents from activists, the project builds on and revises several important histories of the postwar New Right in America. These existing works have disproportionately explored how race and Cold War geopolitics shaped liberalism's decline and conservatism's rise after the tumultuous sixties. Few have considered gender--and even fewer have examined ordinary women working at the grassroots level--as this dissertation does. The project also offers an important intervention in related historiography that confines the rise of modern conservatism to America's Sunbelt region. New York's political history from the seventies contains strong evidence of feminist and anti-feminist campaigns; at the time, there was a clear division in the state between the liberal and conservative factions of the Republican Party. These factors make New York, as opposed to a Sunbelt locale, an excellent case study of how family values campaigns constructed feminism as "anti-family" and moved the politics of the Republican Party and the nation to the right.
"Defending 'Family Values': Women's Grassroots Politics and the Republican Right, 1970-1980"
History Theses and Dissertations.
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