Lesson Plan

Second Wave Feminism, the Equal Rights Amendment and Phyllis Schlafly


This 13-minute video documents the struggle by feminists to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, and the successful conservative response, led by Phyllis Schlafly, to prevent states from ratifying it after Congress approved it. It is useful for any lesson designed to introduce students to the ERA. The video clarifies for students how modern American politics came to be polarized around cultural controversies, and how the modern conservative movement organized itself into a political coalition that would lead to the election of Ronald Reagan as President in 1980. This short documentary, which includes interviews with Gloria Steinem and Phyllis Schlafly, helps students see the relationship between modern struggles over gender equality and the battle over the ERA in the 70s and 80s.


  • How the Equal Rights Amendment affected the ideological development of both political parties.
  • How activism on both the left and right can affect the ideology and status of political parties.
  • How the ERA related to the rise of modern conservatism and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.
  • How modern politics have been affected by the politics of the 1970s.
  • Social Studies
  • U.S. History
  • Gender Studies
  • AP U.S. History
  • 1970s America
  • 1960s America
  • The Postwar Era (1945-1980)
  • Conservatism
  • Feminism
  • Congress
  • Cultural and Social Change
  • Civil Rights
  • Most Popular
  • Women's History
For Teachers

Introducing the Lesson

In 1966, the National Organization for Women established that a key goal of the feminist movement was the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed Constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women. It had been introduced in Congress in 1923, then passed in 1972 with the condition that 38 states had to ratify it for it to become part of the Constitution. Support was bipartisan and ratification seemed like a sure thing, needing only eight more states.

Then came a housewife and mother of six from St. Louis named Phyllis Schlafly. She believed that the amendment would damage the role of women and the American family and had to be stopped. She took her cause on the road to political rallies, TV talk shows and state assemblies, where she plied legislators with fresh bread and pie.

By 1977, she had built a coalition – rooted in evangelical Christians, Catholics and political conservatives – that eventually stopped the E.R.A. three states short of ratification.

That coalition also provided a base for Ronald Reagan’s presidential victory in 1980, and established Schlafly’s reputation among friends and foes as one of the most effective political organizers in modern American history.

Despite Schlafly’s victory against the ERA, many of the causes she railed against – abortion rights, same-sex marriage, women serving in the military – become realities of American life, protected by law. But Schlafly continued to plead her cause, right up until she died at age 92 in 2016.

The ERA has not passed, despite recent attempts to revive it.

Essential Questions

  • How did the battle over the ERA affect the ideological development of the modern political parties?
  • Why was Schlafly such an effective advocate for her position?
  • How did the defeat of the ERA relate to the rise of conservatism and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980?

Lesson Procedure

  • Is there still a need for an Equal Rights Amendment, or is there enough gender equality today that the amendment is no longer necessary?
  • How have views towards gender equality and gender roles changed since the 1970s?

Additional Resources

Transcript for "She Derailed a Fight for Equal Rights for Women "Retro Report
"Phyllis Schlafly's Lasting Legacy in Defeating the ERA"Retro Report
Audio Interview: "The Fall of the Equal Rights Amendment and The Rise of the Religious Right"WNYC

Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequences of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact or develop over the course of a text.

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Analyze multiple and complex causes and effect of events in the past.

· Skill 5.B: Explain how a historical development or process relates to another historical development or process.

·Theme 8: Social Structures (SOC)

Questions? Tips? Concerns? Reach out to our Director of Education, David Olson: dolson@retroreport.com