Mrs. America: The Real Life People Played By Cate Blanchett, Uzo Aduba and More

Get reacquainted with the likes of Phyllis Schlafly and Betty Friedan.

Cate Blanchett at Louis Vuitton Cruise 2020 Fashion Show
Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Louis Vuitton

Mrs. America, a new limited series from FX, is going to be good. The network has a glorious track record in this area: there’s Ryan Murphy’s incredible American Crime Story miniseries, Feud, and Fosse/Verdon amongst others. And the 1970s-set Mrs. America, like The People v. OJ Simpson, has the dubious honor of unfortunate timeliness–the show depicts the decade-long movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed amendment to the US Constitution to guarantee equal rights for Americans, regardless of gender. It still has not been ratified.

At this point in American history, when women’s rights are getting slashed left and right, a series like Mrs. America will have a Handmaid’s Tale-style relevancy. It’s sure to be scary. There’s also a stacked cast; the show will feature performers including Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Rose Byrne, Orange is the New Black’s Uzo Aduba, legendary comedian Tracey Ullman, and Mad Men’s inimitable John Slattery. It’s not slated to come out until 2020, so there’s plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the real-life figures featured on the show (unlike the rest of the cast, Paulson and Kayli Carter will play fictional characters). Here’s a cheat sheet:

Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly

Chairman Phyllis Schlafly leads protesters opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment. Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images.


Cate Blanchett is set to portray Phyllis Schlafly, likely the most famous anti-feminist in American history. Schlafly, a conservative activist and lawyer, lead the fight against the ratification of the ERA, saying that the passing of the amendment would mean the end of the traditional family. She was a fan of scare tactics, pushing the message that the ERA would mean women would be drafted into the army. She’s also credited with launching the pro-life movement, and moving American culture in general further to the right.

Schalfly was enormously successful and highly quotable (“Don’t call me miss… it means misery”), and served as an inspiration for a generation of high-profile conservative women like Ann Coulter. She died in September 2016 at the age of 92, but kept working until the end: she stumped for now-President Donald Trump.

Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem at a Washington Press Club luncheon in 1978. Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images.


Journalist and activist Gloria Steinem is likely the most famous American feminist of all time, a woman who continues to lead the movement. Steinem’s career was launched with explosive 1960s pieces like “A Bunny’s Tale,” an account of her undercover work as a Playboy bunny, and “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation.” She co-founded Ms. magazine, the Women’s Media Center, and has campaigned for politicians for over sixty years, from George McGovern to Hillary Clinton. She lectures and protests and speaks on pressing feminist issues of the day, and we would also imagine that you, reader, are quite familiar with her work.

Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm announces her entry for Democratic nomination for the presidency in Brooklyn, New York, 1972. Photo by Don Hogan Charles/New York Times Co./Getty Images.

Photo courtesy of Don Hogan Charles/Getty Images.

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress, winning in New York’s 12th district. She served seven terms, during which she worked to expand food stamp programs, funding for inner city schools, and opposed the draft and the Vietnam War. Chisholm ran for President in 1972, becoming the first Black candidate for a major party’s nomination, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s nomination. Her staff was made up entirely of women.

Chisholm died in 2005, but she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. It’s fair to say that she’s still under-appreciated. Chisholm fought hard for every position she held, famously saying that “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan holds a NOW button in 1970. Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images.


Betty Friedan sparked a movement with the publication of her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, a best-selling sociological text that widely influenced second-wave feminism. Friedan interviewed housewives all over the nation about their routines, their hopes and disappointments, the way they handled childcare and household chores. Her conclusions–which could be simply summed up as the fact that housewives were depressed because they were oppressed–were explosive.

Friedan co-founded and served as the president of the National Organization for Women, and organized 1970’s Strike for Equality. She was a huge supporter of the ERA and absolutely detested Schlafly–Friedan once told Schlafly that she’d “like to burn you at the stake.”

John Slattery as Fred Schlafly

Phyllis and Fred Schlafly at home in 1981.

Thomas S. England

Fred, born John Fred Schlafly, was a wealthy Illinois lawyer, conservative activist, and ardent anti-communist. He was married to Phyllis Schalfly for over 43 years, with whom he had six children.

Jeanne Tripplehorn as Eleanor Schlafly

Eleanor was Phyllis’ devoted sister-in-law, and an ideological ally. Alongside Phyllis and Fred, she co-founded the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation in St. Louis, an independent Catholic organization designed to “oppose Communism and to promote traditional religious, family, social, and patriotic values.” She lead the organization until 2012, and died in 2018 at the age of 98.

Margo Martindale as Bella Abzug

Bella Abzug campaigning outside the New York City subway in 1970.


Bella Abzug was a US Congresswoman serving New York’s 20th district, and a leading feminist, and a staunch supporter of the ERA. She was one of the first members of the House of Representatives to publicly support gay rights, had a strong anti-war stance, and led President Carter’s National Advisory Commission for Women. Her 1970 campaign slogan famously read “This woman’s place is in the House—the House of Representatives.”

James Marsden as Phil Crane

Congressman Phil Crane appearing on ABC’s ‘Issues and Answers’ in 1978.

ABC Photo Archives

Phil Crane was a conservative congressman from the Schalfly’s home state of Illinois (he served from 1969 until 2005) and one of their strongest political allies in the fight against the ERA. He was an enormously influential conservative leader; Crane helped to form the Heritage Foundation, a powerful think tank with findings that affect popular conservative policy to this day. He really loved to push for lowering taxes.

Ari Graynor as Brenda Feigen-Fasteau

Brenda Feigen Fasteau with Gloria Steinem, NOW Pres. Wilma Scott Heide, and Betty Freidan at a meeting of Caucus’s National Policy Council in 1972.

Leonard McCombe

Brenda Feigen-Fasteau was a Harvard-educated lawyer who served as the National Legislative Vice President for NOW, and a co-founder of The Women’s Action Alliance and Ms. She worked closely with Steinem to push for the ratification of the ERA, and co-directed the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project alongside Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She founded her own law firm in Los Angeles, and also served as an agent at famed power agency William Morris.

Melanie Lynskey as Rosemary Thomson

Rosemary Thomson speaking in 1977.

Bill Johnson

Rosemary Thomson was a close friend of Phyllis Schlalfly, and served as the head of her Eagle Foundation. She was one of many housewives Schlalfly enlisted to fight the ERA.