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Women in conservatism in the United States have advocated for social, political, economic, and cultural conservative policies since anti-suffragism.[1] Leading conservative women such as Phyllis Schlafly have expressed that women should embrace their privileged essential nature.[2] This thread of belief can be traced through the anti-suffrage movement, the Red Scare, and the Reagan Era, and is still present in the 21st century, especially in several conservative women's organizations such as Concerned Women for America and the Independent Women's Forum.[3]



Anti-suffrage women leaders Arthur M. Dodge, Alice M. Chittenden, Horace Brock and E. Yarde Breese

Women first began to oppose suffrage in Massachusetts in 1868. They succeeded in blocking the proposal, and this caused the movement to gain momentum.[4] The National Association Opposed to Women Suffrage (NAOWS) was thus formed by Josephine Dodge in 1911 with approximately 350,000 members. This organization mostly consisted of wealthy women who were often wives of politicians.[1] These women helped defeat nearly 40 suffrage proposals, and published the Women's Protest to voice their agenda nationwide.[1] Dodge and the organization argued that women should stay out of politics to be more efficient and diligent in "work for which her nature and her training fit her."[5] These antifeminist beliefs are what shaped the anti-suffrage crusade.[1]

Postwar Era

In the early 1950s, local activist movements against liberal education reforms became an early source of organization for conservative women. As progressive school administrators attempted to desegregate public schools and implement non-traditional teaching methods, grassroots organizations run primarily by women mobilized to oppose these measures. Such organizations notably succeeded in ousting Pasadena superintendent Willard Goslin and Houston deputy superintendent George Ebey, attracting national media attention.[6] Many conservative women were attracted to this cause, as the issue confronted several key principles for the emerging American conservative movement: traditionalism, anti-communism, and skepticism of big government. Women were well-positioned through their role as housewives to portray themselves as protectors of their local community and the principle of home rule against outsiders trying to radically transform children's education.[7] In order to organize these local-level campaigns against education reforms, women activists created conservative political networks and study groups that would facilitate future advocacy of conservative causes.[8]

Throughout the postwar period, women continued to be heavily involved in organizations of conservative activists. After campaigns against progressive education reform galvanized conservative women in the early 1950s, many began to join the John Birch Society and associated organizations after JBS's formation in 1958. While the John Birch Society maintained a rigidly patriarchal structure, with many chapters only allowing women to serve coffee and food at their meetings, the organization helped to direct attention and resources toward other conservative groups dominated by women.[9]

Among the conservative groups of the period, particularly in the hotbed of southern California, conservative bookstores were a particularly effective institution for channeling the activist energies of conservative women. These stores sold polemics, novels, memoirs, and bumper stickers, all with an explicitly conservative (and anti-communist) bent. Sales served to disseminate information and bring in money for conservative organizations. Many of these stores were staffed and run primarily by women, many of whom were affiliated with the John Birch Society.[10]

Goldwater campaign

A significant source of conservative women's activism was in southern California in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in Orange County, California. Female conservative activists organized around their opposition to internationalism, Communism, and the welfare state.[11] These women mainly consisted of "suburban warriors," or middle-class housewives who feared that their Christian nation was under attack. Female conservative activists in southern California harnessed the preexisting culture of volunteerism and civic engagement, which largely revolved around women and their schedules, to mobilize for their causes.[12] Increasing Cold War tensions and fears of Communism allowed these women to mobilize groups such as the John Birch Society and the American Civil Liberties Union to pursue their political agendas.[3] Many women first found political community in Republican women's clubs. The Republican Party of the time emphasized inherent differences between the sexes, and its sex-segregated local organizations provided a political network for conservative suburban women.[12]

Conservative women, particularly those in grassroots organizations, supported Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater and successfully campaigned for him to become the presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 1964. Many women were mobilized in support of Goldwater's primary campaign after reading A Choice Not an Echo, a pro-Goldwater book written by young female conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. Grassroots activists, many of them women, were crucial to the conservative Goldwater's victory in the Republican primary over liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller, particularly in the crucial state of California.[13] However, Goldwater lost the national election to Lyndon Johnson in a landslide.[3] Still, his nomination illustrated the shift from moderation to more hardline stances in many members of the Republican Party. His campaign also showcased the success of conservative grassroots organizations and mobilization.[14]

Equal Rights Amendment

As feminist organizations, such as the National Organization for Women and ERAmerica, campaigned for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, antifeminist organizations run by conservative women mobilized to oppose the amendment. The ERA, stating that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex," passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate with overwhelming majorities in 1971 and 1972, respectively.[15][16][17] Following congressional approval, the amendment needed to be ratified by 38 of the 50 state legislatures to be adopted. In the following year 30 states ratified, with most approving the amendment in the first three months. Given the considerable momentum behind the amendment, the ERA appeared certain to be adopted.[18]

Soon after Congress approved the Equal Rights Amendment, Phyllis Schlafly assembled a meeting of conservative women, mostly members of the National Federation of Republican Women, to form STOP ERA ("Stop Taking Our Privileges"). The organization was narrowly focused on opposing ratification of the amendment, claiming the ERA would subject women to the draft, attack the traditional family structure, and promote abortion.[19] STOP ERA established chapters in 26 states and successfully lobbied against ratification in state legislatures that had yet to approve the amendment. The organization mobilized many conservative women, particularly religious women, who were previously uninvolved in politics.[20]

The movement to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment is credited with reviving the Republican Party after the Watergate scandal.[21] Following Nixon's resignation, only 18 percent of voters identified as Republicans. As conservative women mobilized against the ERA, however, the Republican party was able to tap into popular discontent with feminism, abortion rights, and secularism by tying these issues to the movement to pass the amendment.[21] The GOP and the conservative movement made inroads with evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and Mormons through the anti-ratification movement. The campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment, mobilizing women on the basis of their gender, brought new women into the conservative movement based on the social issues of the 1970s, rather than the anticommunist fervor of the early postwar era.[22]

The anti-ERA movement was successful in defeating the amendment, changing the Republican party platform, and shifting public opinion. STOP ERA and its allies ran strong state-level campaigns in battleground states, while pro-ERA groups focused on a national strategy that proved ineffective at winning over state legislators.[23] Conservative women focused on states with traditionalist public sentiments, such as heavily Mormon and Southern states, to prevent the ERA from passing, ensuring the ERA could not reach 38 ratifying states.[24] By 1976, the Republican party abandoned its support of the Equal Rights Amendment, and by 1980 conservative anti-ERA women had succeeded in other goals, securing an anti-abortion plank in the GOP platform and helping nominate Ronald Reagan for president. At the end of the 1970s, less than half of women supported the ERA, and the effort to ratify the amendment was largely abandoned.[25]

Reagan era

After Goldwater's defeat, grassroots conservatives had to rethink their strategy. Thus, conservative women soon turned to Ronald Reagan. He won over the support of the women of Orange County and successfully unified the party when he was elected Governor of California in the 1966 election. However, there were some women that opposed him due to his more mainstream views. Cyril Stevenson, a prominent leader of the California Republican Assembly, sought to undermine his candidacy. These attempts failed, nevertheless, as Reagan was elected.[3] However, a significantly lower number of women than men voted for Reagan when he was eventually elected President of the United States. Reagan gained the support of more conservative women by attempting to close this "gender gap." He enacted equal rights policies attempting to end discrimination laws.[26] Still, Reagan's election showed that the new Republican majority, although still coined "mainstream," was now built on anti-liberalism and contained more conservative views, and conservative women activists like the women of Orange County played a very important role in that shift.[3]

Mama grizzlies

Main article: Mama grizzly

The term mama grizzlies originated from Sarah Palin's endorsement of female candidates in the 2010 primaries, whom she gave this title to.[27] Mama grizzly was officially coined in Palin's May 2010 speech for the Susan B. Anthony List Pro-Life group, and it was later used in Palin's own advertisements.[28] This description is used to describe conservative women who wish to play an active role in politics, whether it be through running for office or through campaigning for conservative ideas and topics.[27] These women also refer to themselves as Susan B. Anthony feminists,[29] agreeing with the ideas that Anthony argued for such as political activism but not the feminist ideas more modern than those, such as the pro-choice movement.[29] Because this term originated from Palin's endorsement and was used in Palin's advertisements, it has been linked to her and the Tea Party,[29][30] which she has affiliated with. These mama grizzlies are self-proclaimed conservative feminists, with Palin herself publicly identifying as a feminist in 2008.[27] In the spread of this new classification for women, where women's advocacy took on a unique form, Palin called for a rise of a new breed of feminism,[30] and this idea quickly came to popularity among right-wing women.[27]

Conservative women played a key role in the Tea Party movement, often adopting populist rhetoric reminiscent of the "housewife populism" of the 1950s and 1960s. These women, most notably Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, attacked Barack Obama as an outsider and claimed to represent the interests of "Joe Six Pack." This brand of populism rose to prominence in the first two years of Obama's presidency, from 2008 to 2010, culminating in the Tea Party. Women were integral to the movement, as they represented 45 to 55 percent of the members of Tea Party organizations and held a majority of leadership positions.[31]

Critics of the mama grizzly viewpoint do not agree that Palin's ideas are feminist, such as her anti-abortion views.[32] Palin's viewpoint has been opposed by socially liberal feminists, with some, such as Jessica Valenti claiming that this angle was used to take advantage of the presence of feminists like Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential election cycle.[33] Other complaints draw from the group's denial of systemic sexism and oppression due to gender, with critics believing that mama grizzly ideals could not be labeled as feminist if they were to dismiss these matters.[34]

Trump era

Republican President Donald Trump received the support of many conservative women, with groups such as Women for Trump backing his presidency. In the 2016 presidential election, according to exit poll data, 41% of women voted for Trump, as opposed to 54% of women who voted for Hillary Clinton.[35] In the 2020 presidential election, Trump's support among women increased slightly, as he received 42% of women's vote, a 1% increase from the previous election.[36]

In 21st-century politics

#MeToo Movement

When the #MeToo movement surfaced, some conservatives embraced antifeminist ideas to combat it.[37] Some researchers have investigated the connection between political ideology and the perception of sexual harassment, finding that, in a survey of women, the number of instances of gender discrimination and sexual harassment reportedly experienced by conservative women is significantly lower than that for liberal women.[38] Additionally, some research has found that political participation and the likelihood of voting in general elections are higher for women who have experienced gender discrimination, but that this finding is not a factor associated with this desire for participation among conservative women.[39] There is also a significant gap in support for the #MeToo movement along party lines, as Democratic women report higher levels of support than Republican women.[40]

There are mixed feelings towards the #MeToo movement from conservative women. Candace Owens, an outspoken conservative, tweeted back in 2018 that #MeToo painted women as "stupid, weak & inconsequential."[37][41] Other conservative women, such as Mona Charen, have shared different sentiments, calling out the "hypocrites" in the Republican Party "who brag about their extramarital affairs" and "brag about mistreating women."[42]

Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann unsuccessfully ran for the Republican nomination for president in the 2012 election. Although Bachmann attempted to utilize conservative views that appeal to the Tea Party movement, the media's coverage of her was very different from her male candidates. The media instead focused on her migraines, her marriage, and her hair and makeup style choices.[43] However, her campaign started strongly, as she performed well in the first presidential debate and soon led in the primary polls. Bachmann was forced to drop out of the race after her poor performance in the Iowa caucuses.[44] Still, many conservative women continue to support her, and this support along with that of Sarah Palin in 2008 has showed that conservatives now seriously consider women for major political roles.[45][46] Bachmann's run also sparked the debate of women's role in politics and public policy, and whether or not gender roles should be reexamined.[46]

Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina began as a successful businesswoman, becoming the CEO of Hewlett-Packard in 1999. However, Fiorina was fired from her position in 2005 due to a number of factors such as economic conditions, operational failures, gender bias, and questionable ethics.[47] Fiorina turned to politics and won the Republican nomination for senator of California in 2010, but lost to incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer. She quickly gathered acclaim from the Republican base, and was appointed chair of the American Conservative Union Foundation in 2013.[48] In 2015, she announced her candidacy for President of the United States. Although she was the only viable female candidate in the Republican primary, she was reluctant to indulge in gender politics, due to both her conservative and corporate personas.[49] Fiorina dropped out of the race in February 2016 to endorse Ted Cruz, and soon became his running mate.[48]

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin

In 2010, Sarah Palin, whose nomination to run for Vice President with Republican presidential candidate John McCain was a visible ascent of a conservative woman in 2008, declared a new voice for those women and supported many women for Congress whom she labeled mama grizzlies.[50] Many supported Palin because of her stances against abortion and other issues that defy feminists; her "soccer mom" persona also was very appealing.[45] Palin and McCain eventually lost the general election.[51]

Nikki Haley

Nikki Haley Official Portrait

Nikki Haley is an Indian-American conservative politician. She served as South Carolina's first female governor from 2011-2018, and also served as the U.S. ambassador for the United Nations under former president Trump from 2017-2018. She is a candidate in the 2024 presidential election.[52] While Haley has stated being the victim of race-based bullying, she dismisses claims that racism is a problem in the U.S.[53] Moreover, Haley aligns herself against abortion rights, the expansion of medicaid and medicare, and the corporate income tax.[54]

Notable figures

Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter

As a political commentator, Ann Coulter has written numerous books and columns, and often appears as a political commentator on conservative television, she is one of the most recognizable and influential voices for conservative women today, as she has started many conservative political trends such as the continual critique of mainstream liberalism.[55]

Phyllis Schlafly

Phyllis Schlafly

As a conservative, Phyllis Schlafly argued that the female gender is actually privileged, and that women have "the most rights and rewards, and the fewest duties."[2] She advocated for women to stay out of politics and the workplace. She argued against feminists and claimed that they actually take away rights from women.[2] She thus led the opposition against the Equal Rights Amendment, and successfully prevented the amendment from being ratified by the required number of states before the ratification deadline set by the Congress.[56] Schlafly argued that the amendment stripped women of what she saw as their special "privileges." She saw it as anti-Christian and argued that it promoted policies such as abortion, sex education, and LGBTQ rights. She also claimed that it would give power to federal courts and take power away from the states.[57]

The Swearing-in Ceremony of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett

Amy Coney Barrett

Amy Coney Barrett is a Supreme Court justice who was nominated and sworn in under the Trump administration after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing.[58] Her nomination and eventual confirmation secured the conservative majority on the Court.[59] Barrett leans more conservative on issues pertaining to abortion, gun, and other civil rights,[60] such as in the case of Kanter v. Barr, where Barrett explained that the right to bear arms should not be taken away from anyone but those convicted of dangerous felonies.[61] Additionally, in June 2022, Barrett voted to overturn Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization Supreme Court case, which removed national protections for abortion services.[62]

Other figures



Business and law




Concerned Women for America

Concerned Women for America is a religious organization that seeks to promote Christian values. The group was founded in 1979 by Beverly LaHaye, wife of prominent evangelical Christian minister Tim LaHaye, as part of the movement to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment.[65] CWA's ideology is social conservatism, and the group has been labelled as antifeminist.[66] LaHaye founded the group, in part, to contest the claims of feminists to represent all women.[65] Their agenda includes stopping the "decline in moral values of our nation,"[67] restricting access to pornography, defunding the United Nations, defining the family as heterosexually led, opposing abortion, and advocating for prayer in schools.

Concerned Women for America primarily operates as a grassroots organization, with a membership of approximately 500,000.[68] The group organizes prayer groups for women across the country, and encourages members to contact their representatives to advocate for conservative causes. The group also uses the revenue it generates from membership fees to operate an office in Washington, D.C., which serves as a headquarters for the group's lobbying and research operations.[69]

Independent Women's Forum

The Independent Women's Forum is an organization based more in fiscal conservatism. The IWF was formed in 1992 by members of Women for Judge Thomas, a group dedicated to supporting Clarence Thomas' confirmation as a Supreme Court Justice, and the Women's Information Network. The IWF was organized explicitly to prevent left-wing women from speaking on behalf of their sex, particularly in the wake of the Clarence Thomas hearings and the Year of the Woman.[70] Its agenda includes opposition to the Violence Against Women Act, supporting the war in Iraq and women's rights there, challenging feminist professors on college campuses, opposing affirmative action, and other fiscal conservative policies. However, IWF is more based in libertarianism than the Republican Party since they strive for economic freedom.[1] IWF in 2003 had approximately 1,600 members.[68][71]

Composed primarily of female political professionals, the group focuses on media appearances, publishing research reports, and helping female members earn Cabinet positions.[72] However, the IWF does not promote female candidates for elected office, claiming these efforts are a form of identity politics.[73]

Elevate PAC

Elevate PAC is a political action committee created by Elise Stefanik after the 2018 midterm elections to bolster support for female conservative candidates during their primaries.[74] Since then, EPAC has backed 61 conservative women candidates, 27 of whom have won their respective elections.[74]

Other organizations

See also


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  2. ^ a b c Schlafly, Phyllis (2003). Feminist Fantasies. Spence Publishing Company.
  3. ^ a b c d e McGirr, Lisa (2001). Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right. Oxfordshire: Princeton University Press.
  4. ^ Jablonsky, Thomas (2002). "Female Opposition: The Anti-Suffrage Campaign". Votes for Women: 118–129.
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  8. ^ Nickerson 2012, p. 81.
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