Linda Miller

“While we didn’t win the big battle, eventually we’ll get there.”

Interviewed by Marie Scatena, June 2019, Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) Reunion Collection, University of Illinois Chicago Library. © 2020 Board of Trustees, University of Illinois


Linda Miller was the second of three ERA reunion participants who were interviewed in the Special Collections Department of the Richard J. Daley Library during reunion events. Linda was dressed in suffragette white. She opened her narrative with commentary about her maternal grandmother who was an activist and first wave feminist. Most of Linda’s stories were of her work in Springfield with the state legislature.  Her powerful testimony about Richard J. Daley’s involvement in ERA struggles for ratification was forthright and passionate. Due to time constraints we did not have the opportunity to talk about the last days before the state legislature vote in 1982, when women chained themselves to the state capitol and spattered the capitol floor with animal blood. She was the president of Illinois NOW and co-chair with Mary Jean Collins of the Illinois ERA Countdown Campaign through 1982.

Key Themes: Springfield, Eugenia Chapman, Cecil Partee, Richard J. Daley, Phyllis Schlafly, George Ryan

Interview Transcript:

Marie Scatena:  Thank you, Linda Miller, for being here today with us, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Did I say that right? Yes. [laugh] For the ERA reunion. What we’d like to talk about —is your involvement in women’s issues in the legislature and with NOW and with the ERA ratification. It is June 15th, 2019, and I’m stumbling a little—if you could just say your name, and tell us a little bit about your early life? Especially I’d love to hear about your grandmother.

Linda Miller:  OK. My name is Linda Miller. I am currently living in Chicago, but for 19 years, I lived in Springfield, during the heart of the ERA.

I am a product of the first wave of the feminist movement. My grandmother lived in Minnesota—born in 1880—and was very involved in the suffragist movement in Minnesota in the 19-teens. I, however, never knew about that. I grew up, I spent lots of time with my grandmother, and she never talked about it. I found out about it when I got involved with the ERA and my mother told me that. But by that time, my grandmother had passed away, and so I never had a chance to talk to her about her experiences. But I like to think that she would have been really proud of the work that I was doing, and would have been there cheering me on. So it’s sort of a family tradition, I guess, that we’d be involved in women’s rights.

Marie Scatena: Did you grow up in Minnesota as well?

Linda Miller:  No, I grew up around New York, and I actually moved to Illinois in March of 1972, at the same time the ERA arrived in Illinois. So we came together, and I’ve been here ever since.

Marie Scatena:  What brought you to Chicago?

Linda Miller:  I actually came to Illinois, to Springfield. My husband got a job with Illinois state government, and so we moved to Springfield. And I arrived in Springfield as a feminist, and was looking for things to do when we first moved there, and I almost immediately joined Springfield NOW. I had heard about the ERA, and I felt that NOW was going to be a good way to get involved, and that certainly [laughter] turned out to be the case. Yeah. So I was involved with Springfield NOW and then the state organization—Illinois NOW—one and/or the other for the entire ten years that ERA was being debated here in Illinois, from 1972 to 1982. So I saw a lot of the action.

Marie Scatena:  So of your early experiences with NOW, what were some of the first—?

Linda Miller:  Yeah. So, I was young when I moved. I was 26 years old. A young feminist. Had gone to an all-female college. Thought that the world was supposed to be ours. I mean, this was the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, and I thought things had changed. And when I heard about the ERA, and this was going to enshrine women in the Constitution as equal to men, I thought, “Of course! This is obvious. This is what should happen. And this is going to be a slam dunk. It’s going to be passed, and isn’t that wonderful? And I want to be part of it.” So I did join, as I said, Springfield NOW, and was involved with the early things that they were doing.

In 1972, I think it was sort of viewed as, “This is going to happen” and there wasn’t a lot of grassroots organization. People were encouraged to contact their legislature. I wrote a letter to my local senator and my three, at that time, local representatives. But that was sort of the extent of it. So I got involved in another way with Springfield NOW that year. They were doing a study of the textbooks used in the early elementary grades to see how women were depicted. And formerly, I was an early elementary teacher, so I got really involved in that. And we did an analysis of the textbooks used in grades one, two, and three, and the pictures that were used of women. And of course, at that point, the women were pictured—if it was a woman, an adult woman, she had on an apron.

Or it was a princess or a queen, or frequently the female would be a female animal. And that was—I mean, there were no role models of a lawyer or a doctor, even a teacher, in the books. So we wrote this up, and the school board was pretty receptive. I don’t know that they did anything, but they were properly sort of chagrined that this was the way things were depicted. And then I was invited to the Lion’s Club to present this—the local Springfield Lion’s Club—and I presented it to a rather cold audience. And then the gentleman who had invited me to make the presentation was asked to make a contribution to the local Lion’s Club as penalty for inviting me. So that was one of the first really sort of in-your-face activities for me that showed that we had a little longer way to go.

My father was supportive of the ERA. The men I knew were mostly supportive of the ERA. And this was a real sort of cold-water-in-the-face moment to say, “Yeah, this is maybe not going to be as easy as I thought it would be.”

Marie Scatena:  So you were shocked, it sounds like.

Linda Miller:  I was totally shocked, yeah. [laugh] Didn’t really know how to react. I mean, I don’t think I did react, but you know, how rude can you be to an invited guest? So that was—in 1972, we did not pass the ERA in Illinois, and then continued on. But the other thing that happened that I think was critical to future efforts to pass the ERA in Illinois, that happened in 1972, was the Democratic convention—the national Democratic convention. That year, McGovern was the nominee for the Democrats, and he was running on a very progressive slate.

There was a group in Illinois of progressives that out-organized Mayor Richard J. Daley and had him kicked out as head of the Illinois delegation to the convention. And I believe—I don’t remember all the details, but I think he actually was kicked out of the convention as a delegate. They unseated him. And his cronies. That effort—one of the leaders of that effort was Eugenia Chapman[1], who was a representative from the suburbs and chief sponsor of the ERA. And I don’t know this for sure, but it’s my strong feeling that Mayor Daley never forgave Eugenia. I don’t think she ever got anything passed after that. And that Daley wasn’t going to let her have passage of this most important piece of legislation that she was sponsor of.

And he personally pulled people off at critical moments in the years thereafter. So politically, I think that was a real watershed. Early on—I mean, if we had passed it in the Spring of ’72, it would have probably passed, if we could have done that. After that, I think as long as that Mayor Daley was around, I don’t think it was going to happen. I think he was going to ensure that it didn’t happen. So that was 1972, the first year that ERA was—by the time Illinois first took up—our session ended on June 30th—the first vote on ERA in Illinois was in late May in the Senate. And by that time, 18 states had already ratified. By the next year, 30 states had ratified.

And then there were only a few more states that in the subsequent eight years voted for ratification. So our best chance really was there at the beginning, and it didn’t happen. So there you have it.

Marie Scatena:  Did you know that was your best chance at the beginning?

Linda Miller:  No, no. At that point, we didn’t have the extension, either so we thought we had seven years to pass it. We figured if it didn’t happen this year, it would happen the next year. And you learn a little bit this year and then you move on. But each year, it really got harder. And it wasn’t just the Mayor Daley issue, but I really do think that that was—for me, that was a real turning point, and kind of an insurmountable obstacle that we weren’t going to make.

I don’t know that anybody else agrees with me, but that’s my own personal view of it.

Marie Scatena:  But it sounds like you had many obstacles. I mean, this morning, in the panel, you were talking about instances in meetings in Springfield where you [laugh]—could you share some of those stories of meetings with influential men and representatives?

Linda Miller:  Yeah. Well, the ERA is fundamental change. We’re really saying something different with the ERA. We are changing centuries of attitudes and policies and legal rights of women. And so, whenever you’re trying to make that kind of massive change, the status quo gets concerned, and it’s really hard to do. And I think there were a lot of men who were just really resistant to having women as equals—in the chamber, in their life—you know, their wives, their—maybe their daughters, they’d have better hopes for.

So that first year, in 1972—I was actually reading through the transcript in the Senate the other night in preparation for this, and one of our least favorite legislators, Tommy Hanrahan, who later on—not in ’72, but in ’74 or ’76—called the women who were working on the ERA “brainless, braless, broads”—he got up—he was the first one to speak after the sponsor had introduced it, and he said, “I’m really tired of this. This is just—I wish this would go away. I don’t want to have to deal with this issue.” So, you know, there’s first indication that he isn’t—he doesn’t like this idea of change.

In subsequent years, I had a conversation with my own state senator from Springfield, a guy named Doc Davidson, who had started out as a supporter. And in the early years, in 1972, ERA was supported in a very bipartisan way. I mean, Richard Nixon was supportive. We had Republican and Democratic presidents. In the House, we had sponsors that were Republicans and Democrats. It was widely supported on both sides of the aisle. And Doc Davidson has initially said in ’72 he was supportive. By ’74, he said to me, “You know, I’m sorry, I just can’t be supportive of this anymore. It has gotten too complicated.” And I think by that time, by ’74, the STOP ERA messages had started to reach him.

And he rescinded his support, and never again was supportive of it. But that was sort of an indication of sort of the ground—the growing opposition. In ’72, the issues were certainly—there was a lot of talk about the military, and if we passed this, women would have to be drafted and serve in combat, which continued on as a major concern. There was—I don’t know if ’72 we heard about unisex bathrooms yet, but that may have come a little later, because that’s sort of one of those really good PR kinds of things, but doesn’t really have any bearing in reality. And then there was a lot of quoting from the Bible about women’s role in the Bible is said to be subservient to the man, and “I want my wife to do my bidding. I want her to do what I tell her to do. I want her to have me be the head of household.”

And there was in the transcripts and on the floor of the House and the Senate, there was a lot of that kind of discussion, about the ERA. Which, again, doesn’t really have any bearing in reality, or your relationship with your wife is not going to be dictated by an amendment to the Constitution, but nevertheless, that was the feeling.

Marie Scatena:  So there was a resistance to even the language that you were using, the way you were talking about women. Is that what I—?

Linda Miller:  Yeah. This morning, in the panel discussion, someone mentioned that we probably needed to do a better job of explaining what the ERA would do, and what it would mean to people personally. So when you say equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex, it’s a very broad statement, and leaves it up then to the listener to kind of decide, “What does that mean to me?”

This really is about the law, and changing how women will be treated under the law, not how they’ll be treated in your house. So we probably were remiss in not being more specific about that. But maybe that’s one of the lessons learned—that we should have had many more examples like the opposition did with the unisex bathroom. We should have had more on our side—really concrete examples that people could glom onto. So that was the first couple years. The next time I have a really vivid memory of our efforts was in 1976.

In 1976—I have to back up a little bit. We did have, in the Illinois Constitution that was passed in ’70 or so, a requirement that the amendments to the Constitution would require a three-fifths majority. Now, constitutional amendments to the federal Constitution already require three quarters of Congress and three-fifths of the states, so there’s already supermajorities built into the system for ratification. But Illinois, unlike—I think there might have been one or two other states that had it—but really was unusual in having this then additional barrier to mount, and having it pass by three-fifths. And that’s a big hurdle in and of itself, for any piece of legislation. Most legislation isn’t passed with that kind of supermajority. Except now when the Illinois House is controlled by a supermajority, a three-fifths majority of Democrats.

So we had this requirement of getting a three-fifths vote in both the House and the Senate. In 1976, we were really close in the House. We really felt we had a shot at getting a three-fifths majority. We were working, working it, working it, working it. Lots of coalition members, from—some labor unions. Some said they were for it; some worked it harder than others. Teachers, nurses, religious groups. I mean, it was just really a gamut. So there was a lot of effort into getting that. And late spring, we said, “OK, we’re ready. We think we’ve got the votes.” And I believe we needed 110. I can’t remember the exact number. The vote was called on the House floor. And of course, on anything like this, you’ve got a lot—I mean, it takes a while, because there’s going to be a lot of people speaking about it, right?

And the debate went on, and people were speaking up for it and against it, and the vote was beginning to tally. Things were looking really good. We thought that this was going to happen. And a fire alarm is pressed in the capitol, and the entire capitol has to evacuate. Including the House members. Everybody has to leave the capitol. So in the middle of the debate, the House is adjourned and everybody flees the capitol. Of course, there was no fire. Nothing was found. It was one of—I mean, I’m firmly convinced it was somebody who was against ERA who pushed the button to try to stop the debate. Well, people dispersed, and a lot of—I mean, this was of course in the days when there were few women. Most of them were men. People left for their offices, where they had bottles of something in their desk drawer, or for the nearby bars.

So those of us who were lobbying scrambled—we sort of assigned people, and everybody was sent to a different bar, to a different office. We found all those people who needed to get back. As soon as we got the clearance that they could come back into the capitol, we got them back assembled, and we passed the ERA with 113 votes, with several votes to spare over the three-fifths majority. So it was fabulous. It was a really wonderful day. It didn’t pass the Senate that spring, so there was one final chance to pass it in the veto session in December. And again, we needed 36 votes in the Senate, which was a tall order. We actually didn’t think we had 36 votes, but we thought we had more than 30 votes, and if we could get more than 30 votes—with passage in the House and with more than 30 votes in the Senate, we could go to court and challenge the three-fifths majority rule.

That was the strategy. So the president of the Senate was a gentleman named Cecil Partee, and I believe he was a sponsor of the ERA, and he did not want to call it. He did not want to call it. He was refusing to call it. He said, “I don’t have the votes. I don’t want to call it.” Jimmy Carter had just been elected president, and he was very pro-ERA, and he got on the phone, and he talked to Cecil Partee[2], and Partee refused. He called him again, and finally Carter talked Partee into calling the vote. The vote was called. And with our head counts, we knew we had 30 or 31 votes. The vote was called: we got 29 votes. Three Chicago Democrats who had previously been pro-ERA withdrew their support and voted “no.”

Who called them off on that? Richard J. Daley. I went home that night—I was just furious. I said to my husband, “Daley did this. I know he’s the one who pulled them off. I wish he were dead.” The next day, he died. [laugh] Now, obviously, that’s not my doing, but—makes for a good story, at any rate. So that’s another example of why I believe that Daley just had it in for the ERA. And I don’t know how he personally felt about it. I think he was nominally pro-ERA in his speeches. But I don’t think he was at all supportive. So that was ’76. That was probably our best chance of getting the three-fifths or getting ratification. Then we were coming up against the deadline, which was going to be ’79.

In 1977, ’78, the idea was born to try to get an extension through Congress that would have to be passed by Congress to extend the deadline for the ERA. And actually one of the sponsors of that was a Republican congressman from western Illinois, Tom Railsback, whose daughter was very involved later on in the ERA campaign. Spent the last year of the campaign really working very hard on the ERA. He had been a sponsor of the ERA. He also signed on as a sponsor of the extension, but he added on to the extension a provision that states—if we’re extending the deadline, we should give states who have already passed it the opportunity to rescind their support if they so want. And so that was also written into the extension. And unfortunately, I think seven states did subsequently rescind their support.

We don’t know what that means in the current climate. So we did get the—we organized lots of people to support the extension. We traveled to Washington to lobby for the extension. And there was a big rally, and it did pass. We had a huge—I mean, hundreds of people from Illinois who attended that rally. And we had made appointments with all—we asked each local person to make appointments with their representatives, and then we had appointments with both Senator Percy—I think it was Percy—and Senator Stevenson, who were our statewide representatives. We had the appointments. And they were both, again, supposedly supporting this. But Stevenson—we arrived in his office with, I don’t know, probably a hundred people, and he refused to meet with us because there were too many people.

And I, as the sort of chief person of the delegation at that point, was told to pick three people who could meet with him. I said, “No.” I said, “We are all your constituents. If you can’t house this many people here in your office, couldn’t you find a place?” I mean, this is the capitol of the United States. There’s a place for a hundred people to meet. We want to hear what you have to say. And we went back and forth, and back and forth, and they finally accommodated—I mean, we were all over—someplace in his office with everybody packed in, and it was a very tense meeting. But again, I think this is another illustration of this was an issue that men were just not comfortable with, and he didn’t really want to talk to a big group.

He wanted to just be able to talk to a couple people and be done with it. He did support it, but I thought, it’s just another example of how women’s issues are just not important. So, do you want me to keep talking, or do you have questions?

Marie Scatena:  I’d love you to keep talking. You know, I’m thinking about why it is that this was so threatening, because on the one hand, it’s not important. You know, brushing it aside. On the other hand, underneath that, is like this tremendous threat.

Linda Miller:  I think so. I don’t know that I can speak to why that is. I mean, I do think that it’s change, and maybe it’s some of the same thing that we’re seeing in our political world today—that just when things are changing, it’s just threatening.

Marie Scatena:  And how did you personally deal with it? I mean, you had a grandmother that was a suffragette, so you had come from a line that’s strong—

Linda Miller:  Strong women, right? And some men are threatened by strong women, aren’t they?

Marie Scatena:   Yeah.

Linda Miller:  Yeah. By the time we got to ’78—I mean, there would be new people elected to the legislature—and some people would retire. And the best way to influence that was to try to be—elect somebody who was pro-ERA, and defeat somebody who was anti-ERA. But I think by the time we got to ’79, ’80, ’81, the issue had been around long enough, people were really locked into their positions, and we didn’t really get a lot of changed votes. It was interesting to hear the people talking about the 2018 vote on the ERA, and how they did get some people to change. It hadn’t been debated forever, and maybe they did a better job of dialoguing about it and convincing people.

But it was really hard to change votes by the time we got to—after we had been debating it for six years. And it was constant. Every year, it came up. Every year, there were debates. Every year, there were more and more intensity of grassroots activity to try to convince legislators to support the amendment.

Marie Scatena:  I have a number of questions, but I have two questions that are sort of very practical questions. So one of them is, so you have these debates going on, and how—I don’t want to say a typical day; I don’t know if there’s a typical day—but like what did you do to prepare for those debates? Like did you go out— “OK, this week we’re going to canvass. This week, we’re going to do this”? How did it work?

Linda Miller:  I think in the early years—I mean, certainly in ’72, there was no grand strategy. It was just, “Let’s do it.” By ’76, there was certainly an effort to try to target—I mean, we had our head counts, and you knew who was a solid pro, who was sort of a solid anti, and who was in the middle that we might—we needed to shore up on the pro side, or that perhaps was a little not so strong on the anti side, and we could work with them.

And then, I mean, and we had this great coalition. So we would sit down weekly and sort of strategize about who needed to talk to them, and what might be the issues that would convince them. Lots of grassroots efforts. I mean, in those days—this was the ‘70s, so we’re not talking any email. There were phone calls to the capitol, and there were letters. There were some petitions. Petitions weren’t all that well received. I think the legislators discounted them a little bit. But at a certain point, they started measuring the number of letters.

So you had—you didn’t read how many there were. It was like either it’s a six-inch pile or a ten-inch pile or whatever. And then you had grassroots folks meeting with their representatives in the district and coming—and we had lots of different lobbying days in Springfield. So it was a very, I think, old school, traditional political effort. And trying to get the labor people, who were viewed as labor representatives, getting the labor folks to work with them. The folks who were viewed as really strongly supportive—the teachers, getting the teacher’s association, and sort of using the coalition in that way. That was up until the last countdown campaign. I’m trying to think if—certainly I was involved in elections as well, before the ’80 to ’82 campaign, but we really got much more politically active in the last couple years.

Doc Davidson, the senator who was from Springfield—I mean, we tried several times to elect somebody other than him. [laugh] Unsuccessfully. But we really got more politically sophisticated by the last two years of the campaign.

Marie Scatena:  Now, you worked with Mary Jean Collins—

Linda Miller:   Mmhmm.

Marie Scatena:  —and you were on the panel with her this morning. And we interviewed Mary Jean as well. So what was it like to work with her, and how did you two work together?

Linda Miller:  Well, she was Chicago NOW; I was Illinois NOW. So we sort of—I mean, we all—those were really intense—that last year, I mean, we spent many, many, many hours together. And Ellie Smeal from national, who was the national NOW president, was in the state most of that last six months.

So we had strategy sessions daily that went late into the night. But we—in terms of strategy and mobilizing grassroots, I mean, Mary Jean was Chicago, and then I was Illinois NOW. At that point—I mean, we had been building Illinois NOW over the ten years of the ERA. I don’t know how many chapters we had when I got involved. Probably ten or so? By ’81, ’82, we had 24, 25 chapters. So we had really built a lot of interest. I mean, the ERA was galvanizing. A lot of women wanted to get involved. So I spent a lot of time traveling the state, going to all our NOW chapters, to meetings, to rev up people’s support, talk to them about the strategy, tell them what we needed them to do. Doing press. I did a lot of press in all the little towns. So that was sort of my role. And then both Mary Jean and I spent a lot of time in Springfield during—when the legislature was in session, lobbying the legislature and trying to then coordinate with our local grassroots to get people to do what we needed them to do to contact their local representative.

So it was a lot of fun. It was intense. It was—at the end of it, I was exhausted, and clearly very disappointed, but also very proud of what we had been able to do.

Marie Scatena:  Well, it sounds like you built a tremendous organization in those years. And I’m thinking about you traveling from these little towns in Illinois. And of course, we’re here in Chicago, so we think downstate is Springfield, but downstate is—

Linda Miller:  No. Right.

Marie Scatena:  —is a different world.

Linda Miller:  Yeah. So I think our southernmost chapter was in Carbondale, and then we had one chapter in Mount Vernon. And I remember I was on my way there to something, I got a speeding ticket, and completely forgot about it, and one morning at the ERA office, received a call from the local court saying, “Are you about to appear on this speeding ticket?”

I said, “Oh my god.” And luckily the local chapter had several lawyer members, and one of the lawyers there went and represented me and got me off, so I didn’t have to pay the speeding ticket. So Carbondale, Mount Vernon, Springfield, Decatur, Peoria, Bloomington. Then we get into the suburbs, and we had lots of chapters in the suburbs. Quad Cities over on the—Northwestern—Joliet, Rockford, Lake County. They were all over. And all of them were meeting on a probably every-other-month basis, so we were trying to touch base.

Marie Scatena:   Wow. And Illinois is a big state.

Linda Miller:  It’s a long state. Yeah, yeah.

Marie Scatena:  How many hours is it from—? I mean, you got a speeding ticket, so I can imagine—

Linda Miller:  Just from Springfield down to Carbondale is probably, oh, probably three, three and a half hours. And it’s three and a half hours to Chicago. So yeah. And some of this was done in the wintertime, in the snow. Several people last night, we were telling stories, talked about driving—they had been in Springfield, and coming back to Chicago, and veering off the road in the bad weather. But, yeah, many of us had that experience. Luckily, nobody was injured. But I had one night when it was storming and snowing, and we ended up in the ditch, and decided that we would spend the night in a motel in Bloomington rather than try to make it all the way back.

Marie Scatena:  Wow.

Linda Miller:  Yeah, so it was—part of that strategy was to motivate and educate the grassroots NOW chapters about the kinds of activities we were asking them to do.

Part of it was it was a great opportunity to get press. And unlike Chicago press, when you’re in Mount Vernon, Illinois, the local paper is thrilled to be able to interview somebody about what’s going on in Springfield. So we got a lot of press, which you know, creates the aura that things are really happening. It was a really positive thing, I think. For the most part, it was balanced or positive support. Or not support, but discussion of the issues. There were a few times people called upon us to do a debate with Schlafly, and generally, I was not supportive of doing that. I mean, I think that just plays into her hand. And she was a very skilled debater.

And she was a very good PR magnet. I don’t subscribe to the theory that she was the reason we lost the ERA. I think she was a very effective spokesperson for the issues. She was media savvy. But from my perspective, she was a tool of the right wing that was opposing the ERA. If it hadn’t been her, it would have been somebody else. So I didn’t want to give her more public attention than she was already getting, and I thought if we debated her, that just played into her hand. So we’re better off getting our own press. Let her get her own press. So that’s sort of how we handled that.

Marie Scatena:  Was there some person or some environment that you wished you had—like, “Oh, if only we had gotten there to speak with so-and-so, we could have made this happen”?

Linda Miller:  I think—to me, the results or the lessons learned were really this was political. So what did we need to do to change that? In the last two years, the strategy really was to try to change the political landscape. The countdown campaign was much more politically motivated. And I think that was probably our best bet. So we did work in elections to try to elect—and by that time, it was a lot of—there were some anti-ERA Democrats. There were many more anti-ERA Republicans.

So we did try to get Democrats who were pro-ERA to run against anti-ERA Republicans. And we did. But in many of those districts, they were pretty entrenched Republicans. And we worked really hard on that. We probably made a few changes, but I don’t remember them specifically. The big campaign that we did in 1982 that I think could have made—I mean, sort of the strategy was that this could make a big impact, and I think—and we don’t know, because we weren’t successful—but was we strongly supported Susan Catania as candidate for lieutenant governor. Jim Thompson was running again as governor, but in those days, the lieutenant governor was nominated separately.

And we even had an occasion where you could have a Republican governor and a Democratic lieutenant governor. That got changed after that. So we were supporting Susan for lieutenant governor. Thompson probably—I think he had selected but I’m not positive about that, but George Ryan for lieutenant governor. Ryan was the speaker of the house that last year of the ERA, and he was really obstructionist. I mean, he was just—he wouldn’t let us call—he wouldn’t let it be called for a vote. He was just awful. So we thought if we could get Susan elected as—in the primary, in the Republican primary—as lieutenant governor candidate, it would make a real statement that women were ready for their rights and standing against women’s rights was a losing proposition.

And I think had she won, she probably would have gone on to be lieutenant governor. We would have been rid of George Ryan[3], which would have been a wonderful thing, from my perspective. And it might have made a few others who were a little sort of potentially changeable—might have made them reconsider. It was a fairly close election, but she did not win. And NOW—I mean, part of our problem—NOW was really all in. I mean, I went all over the state campaigning for Susan Catania. Had a lot of fun. My best—we did rallies for her, and I would speak, and my best most fun time was at Champaign, and we had hundreds and hundreds of students, and I really got them revved—and it was a lot of fun. But we were not successful.

That might have made a difference. I don’t—I mean, we can’t say, because we don’t know. But George Ryan never forgave us, and he personally hated me, and spoke publicly and vocally about me in a very, very negative way. And my husband was in Thompson’s cabinet, so there were occasions when he called my husband out and said very nasty things about me.

Marie Scatena:  What did you do?

Linda Miller:  I never spoke to the man again, but my husband didn’t have that—he just said, “I disagree with you.” And I don’t want to even say the words that he said about me. They were words I don’t use, but

Marie Scatena:  Yeah, that sounds really discouraging and threatening.

Linda Miller:  Well, it’s sort of like—to me, it’s—it’s not being a very savvy politician. You take your positions and you go on with it, and then the next day, you make new coalitions.

So—that was George Ryan.

Marie Scatena:  Oh, OK. All right.  We’re almost—we’re running out of time. And I really wanted to ask you about some specific issues that have to do with women’s health, that you’ve been involved in. Cancer and teen pregnancies and all those issues. Was that happening at the same time that you were working on those issues, or did that come later on?

Linda Miller:  That came later. I was actually trained as a teacher, and never went back to teaching. But after the ERA, Governor Thompson was starting a teen pregnancy initiative, and one of his staff people, who was wonderfully pro-ERA, asked me if I would be interested in applying to be head of the teen pregnancy program. And I did, and I was hired.

I was hired in the Department of Public Health. I wasn’t a public health professional, but I learned it on the job, and spent 25 years in public health, first running the teen pregnancy program for the state of Illinois, which won national awards. I mean, it was really a wonderful effort. And then I went on and did, in addition to teen pregnancy, infant mortality reduction and other maternal issues. And then I took that and went to Mount Sinai Hospital here in Chicago and ran the maternal and pediatric programs there. And then I started my own consulting firm after I left Sinai, working in maternal and child health. So it was one of those things where my work on the ERA, teaching me to be organized, to do public speaking, to be supportive of women’s issues, really opened a door for me that led to a whole new career that was very rewarding.

Marie Scatena:  Boy, you’ve taken a lot of knocks along the way, though. What kind of advice would you give? In just sort of closing here, what could you say to young women today who are really struggling?

Linda Miller:  We didn’t succeed in passing the ERA. I hope that it becomes law in my lifetime. I would love dearly to see that. I will have a huge party. But change doesn’t happen all of a sudden. And this was—this is—really substantial change. And so we have made incremental changes along the way. I mean, lots has changed. For instance, the year after the ERA, I was the NOW lobbyist—no longer president, but the NOW lobbyist—and a coalition of us including Tina Tchen[4], Julie Hamos[5], Barbara Engel who was at the Y, and Polly Poskin who was the head of the new rape coalition for Illinois, banded together to totally rewrite Illinois’s rape laws, or sexual assault laws.

I mean, it was a major rewrite. Worked long and hard. Julie and Tina did most of the writing. And again, it was sort of getting men at their core. We even incorporated marital rape in the law. And we were making great strides. We were really close. We had passed it in the House. We got to the Senate, and the Senate was balking. Senator Rock, who was the president of the Senate, didn’t really want to call this. He had people on his side of the aisle who were asking him not to call it. I picked up the phone and called national NOW. Molly Yard was then—I think she was president or she was vice president or something.

I said, “Molly, we are on the cusp of doing this really major work for women in Illinois, and Senator Rock is standing in our way.” He was running for a role at the national Democratic party. Molly picked up the phone and called Ann Lewis, who was the major high official in the national Democratic party. Ann Lewis called Phil Rock. And we got our vote, and we passed the legislation. So that wouldn’t have happened without all of our organizing on ERA. So that’s one example of, while we didn’t win the big battle, we’re certainly making strides as we go along, and eventually we’ll get there. So my advice to young women who are working on it now is keep on working on it. There’s big changes you can make, or little changes you can make, and along the way, you’ll meet wonderful people and enrich yourselves and learn new skills.

Marie Scatena:  That’s awesome. Thank you so much.

Linda Miller:  Well, you’re welcome. My pleasure.

Marie Scatena:  This was really a fun interview. 


[1]Eugenia Chapman (1923-1994) Teacher, nationally recognized children’s and youth advocate and historic state politician. Chapman was the president and charter member of the Arlington Heights, IL League of Women’s Voters, Democratic member of the Illinois House of Representatives 1965-1983, the chief Illinois sponsor of the ERA and the first woman to serve as Democratic Whip in Illinois.

[2] Cecil Partee (1921-1994) was a lawyer and politician who was the first African American to hold the positions of Illinois State Senate President and Cook County state’s attorney. He was a lifelong Democratic Party member.

[3] George Ryan is a Republican former politician who served as governor of Illinois from 1999-2003. His term as governor was marked by scandals and in 2003, he was indicted, charged and subsequently convicted of corruption involving racketeering, bribery, extortion, money laundering and tax fraud among others.

[4] Tina Tchen is a lawyer who worked for several Illinois State agencies and as an associate attorney for 25 years in the Chicago offices of Skaden Arps before serving as an advisor to President Barack Obama and Chief of Staff for First Lady Michelle Obama. Tchen has received many leadership awards. 

[5] Julie Hamos is a lawyer who served as the Democratic House Representative for Illinois 18th District from 1999-2010. Hamos served on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee and was an advisor to Richard M. Daley regarding child and youth issues.