The Silent Majority : Conservative Perception, Mobilization, and Rhetoric at the Utah State International Women's Year Conference
Brigham Young University
Held in 1977, the Utah State International Women's Year (IWY) Conference became a battleground. Mobilized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and conservative groups, 14,000 women revolted against the state coordinating committee. Chaired by Jan Tyler, Utah's IWY committee tried to plan the conference to include both liberals and conservatives; however, they found themselves overwhelmed by the audience. The participants rejected all nationally formulated resolutions, voted against or reworded workshop sponsored resolutions, and elected to the National IWY Conference an overwhelmingly LDS, conservative slate of delegates. Mobilization of conservatives at Utah's meeting was complex. The LDS Church enlisted the help of state representative Georgia Peterson to encourage LDS members to attend and to promote a slate of conservative LDS women. Concurrently, Dennis Kerr and the Conservative Caucus mobilized conservatives through political channels to encourage attendance. Conservatives were suspicious of the National IWY Committee and Utah's IWY committee, their motives, and practices. They feared resolutions would be passed that they did not endorse. Conservatives believed this meeting was part of a national conspiracy to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. In addition, they wanted delegates who would represent them and their values at the National IWY Conference in Houston. While some conservatives voted blindly against resolutions, the rhetoric within workshops shows that many women who attended the conference had defendable reasons for rejecting resolutions. These conservatives opposed resolutions that favored increased taxes, federal control, reverse discrimination, the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion, and homosexuality. Conservatives rewrote or altered resolutions to advocate local control, community involvement, reform of government agencies, protection of traditional gender roles, and volunteerism. Understanding conservatives' motivations and rhetoric in this conference explains why they acted the way they did and their objections to many liberal tenets. Conservatives saw Utah's meeting as a battleground, and they came prepared to fight.