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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

History

First Advisor

Liette P. Gidlow

Abstract

ABSTRACT

REPUBLICAN FEMINISTS AND FEMINIST REPUBLICANS: THE SEARCH FOR THE SENSIBLE CENTER IN MICHIGAN-1968 TO 1984

by

ANN MARIE WAMBEKE

December 2016

Advisor: Dr. Liette Patricia Gidlow

Major: History

Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

This dissertation explores feminism in the Michigan Republican Party from the late 1960s until the early 1980s through the activism of seven women. These women, Republicans before they were feminists, believed in the efficacy of party politics to bring about change. Therefore, it was only natural that once they became feminists they turned to the political system to effectuate gender equality. They sought to bring feminism into the Republican Party and Republican Party politics into the feminist movement. The best way to do this, they assumed, was to operate from the sensible center of the women’s movement. From this middle ground, they rejected radical feminism and disparaged the apathy of women who were satisfied with the status quo. As the conservative movement became increasingly anti-feminist and the Republican Party became increasingly conservative, however, Michigan’s Republican feminists were forced to align with moderates to maintain their presence in the party. In doing so, they became an integral part of the struggle between moderates and conservatives for control of the party.

As conservatives gained greater control over the party in the latter part of the 1970s, Michigan’s Republican feminists found that it was becoming difficult for them to reconcile their partisanship and their feminism. Conservatives were squeezing them out of the party and feminist political organizations were reluctant to embrace members of a political party that challenged their raison d’etre. When conservative leaders won the Republican Party’s nominations for the presidency in 1980 and the governorship of Michigan in 1982, Michigan’s Republican feminists had to individually determine how to reconcile and prioritize two of their core identities. Many of them voted for candidates from other parties, left the party or retired from politics. A few of them, however, remained active in the Republican Party, hoping to promote moderation from within. Republican feminists lost when conservatives gained control of the party, but their activism yielded some benefit. Thirty-five years later, some of their goals have been embraced as mainstream by members of the Republican Party.

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