There is a vintage 1920 photo of suffragists that is being circulated here. It shows these women marching through the streets of Chicago during the 1920 Republican National Convention, agitating for the 19th Amendment. On the banner held in front of these women are the words of Susan B. Anthony: "No self-respecting woman should wish or work for the success of a party that ignores her sex."
Well, Susan B. Anthony's sex is hardly being ignored at the 1980 Republican convention. Nor are women's rights. So the question raised by that banner is as relevant today as it was 60 years ago: should and will women wish or work for the success of a party that now seems hellbent on slapping them down?
Even before this convention opened, the right wing of the Republican Party began fulfilling Reagan's promise that "this is not a campaign; it's a crusade." This time women were the infidels.
First the party purged its platform of the 40-year commitment to the Equal Rights Amendment. Then, without stopping for a breath, they excommunicated Republican co-chair Mary Crisp, making her the Sonia Johnson of the Republican National Convention.
Although the slogan of the campaign may be "Together, a New Beginning," it is clear that "uppity women" are not welcome as part of the togetherness.
Republican ERA supporters are still fighting for their cause and their party. But when Rep. Margaret Heckler (R-Mass.), an anti-abortion, conservative feminist, turns out to be the Bella Abzug of the convention, you aren't drifting right: you are racing there.
So a lot of the loyal Republican women are privately getting ready to sit out the campaign, or bolt to John Anderson, or learn how to swallow hard.
Mary Crisp, "co-chairing" the convention from her hotel room in Washington ("Can you imagine it?"), is said to be ready to trod on Anerson's welcome mat.
Ann Lang, the head of NOW's Republican task force, says, gritting her teeth, "I'm aware that you can't win every day. But there are a lot of Republican women in transition right now, on an individual basis deciding for themselves."
Other longtime Republicans like Ellie Peterson, former vice chair of the Republican National Committee, and Jill Ruckelshaus, who worked in both the Nixon and Ford campaigns, have been alienated and angered. The most optimistic note that Ruckelshaus can muster is the hope that Reagan's acceptance speech will be "much more moderate."
Even Mary Louise Smith, former party co-chair who is pro-ERA and pro-Reagan, says that she hopes Reagan will be able to prove that he is "not totally insensitive" to women.
The irony in all this is that, for the first time, the Republican Party had a good change to either neutralize or win the women's rights vote.
Ellie Smeal, the head of NOW, is the first to say that "neither party has much to brag about." Women's rights advocates have hardly been impressed by Carter's commitment. Until now, the Democrats and Republicans have been, as one activist put it, "ickle and pickle" in the ballot box.
Furthermore, the Republicans could have made a strong economic plea for the women's vote. The bad economy hits women hardest and first.
But their rejection of the ERA undercuts that argument. In a society where women earn 59 cents for every male dollar in good times and bad times, their problems are rooted in discrimination as much as in inflation or recession.
"You have to ask," says Smeal, "what part of the economy hurts women most. Sex is our most grievous handicap. The Republicans have said that the economic issues of women are not going to be of their concern."
They have, as Smeal said, "gone out of their way to look bad."
The gross mishandling of the Mary Crisp affair (they took the title off the door, the Bigelow off the floor and stripped her of her epaulets) and the hatchet job done on the Equal Rights Amendment will be remembered through the fall.
They are the first strong signals about the definition of Republican "unity."