7:00am PT by Jean Bentley
'Mrs. America': A Guide to Who's Who in the Star-Studded FX on Hulu Limited Series
FX on Hulu's second marquee release, Mrs. America, hits screens Wednesday: The limited series follows the movement to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s — and the backlash against it, led by conservative politician Phyllis Schlafly. The star-studded cast includes Cate Blanchett as Schlafly; and Rose Byrne, Tracey Ullman, Uzo Aduba and Margo Martindale as feminist icons Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug.
The constitutional amendment would end the legal distinctions between men and women and guarantee legal gender equality in divorce, property, employment and other matters. "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex," read the amendment, which was passed with bipartisan support by both houses of Congress and needed to be ratified by 38 state legislatures to be officially added to the Constitution. It was officially passed by 35 before Schlafly's grassroots conservative movement stopped it in its tracks in the late '70s. (A push to ratify the ERA continues today, with Virginia voting as recently as Jan. 27, 2020, to approve.)
Mrs. America follows the opposing movements surrounding the ERA, led by Schlafly on one side and prominent feminists on the other. Read on to find out more about the real-life women the stars are playing in the series. The series premieres Wednesday, April 15, on FX on Hulu.
Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly
The conservative activist and devout Catholic, who died in 2016 at 92, first came to prominence in the 1950s as an anti-communist, right-wing voice. Her self-published book in support of Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign, A Choice Not an Echo, sold more than 3 million copies, and her work as a think tank researcher led to a failed bid for Congress in Illinois. But it was her grassroots organizing, particularly of Southern conservative women, against the ERA that brought her to prominence with the argument that it would force women into the draft and interfere with alimony, among other issues.
Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem
Known at first for her 1963 exposé on the New York City Playboy Club, Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine and helped form the National Women's Political Caucus in the early 1970s and was a major voice championing the ERA.
Margo Martindale as Bella Abzug
"Battling Bella" Abzug, who died in 1998 at 77 years old, was a civil rights lawyer turned New York City congresswoman at the time of the ERA's passage. During her terms in Congress, she lobbied against the Vietnam War, introduced the first federal gay rights bill and co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus.
Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm
The first black woman elected to Congress and the first woman to run for president, Chisholm died in 2005 at 80 years old. She co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus and, during her time in Congress, introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation.
Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan
Friedan co-founded the National Organization for Women in 1966, after her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique helped spark the second-wave feminism movement. Famously a rival of Steinem, she also helped found the National Women's Political Caucus and was an outspoken opponent of Schlafly (whom she called an "Aunt Tom"). She died in 2006 at 85.
Elizabeth Banks as Jill Ruckelshaus
The pro-choice Republican was appointed by President Ford to help push for the ratification of the ERA and was a co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus. She served on the the United States Commission on Civil Rights from 1980-83.
Ari Graynor as Brenda Feigen-Fasteau
The Harvard-educated lawyer worked with Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the ACLU and helped co-found Ms. magazine with Steinem.
Other Real-Life Figures
While a few characters in the series — including Sarah Paulson's Alice — are composites based on different real-life figures, many more — including John Slattery as Phyllis' husband, Fred; James Marsden as Republican Congressman Phil Crane; and Melanie Lynskey as conservative activist Rosemary Thomson — were also real-life figures involved in both sides of the ERA movement.