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University of Michigan Press

In a front-page article, The New York Times examines Lenore Romney—former First Lady of Michigan, and mother to Mitt—and explores how her experiences, views, and personality traits helped shape the current candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. In doing so, the Times looks to Elly Peterson, one of the highest-ranking women in the Republican Party and a confidante to both Lenore and Governor George Romney, and the subject of the 2012 Michigan Notable Book award-winning biography Elly Peterson: “Mother” of the Moderates by Sara Fitzgerald.

The Times quotes both Fitzgerald and Peterson, who passed away in 2008. A dedicated supporter of Romney when he ran for Governor in 1962, two years later, Peterson ran for a Michigan seat in the U.S. Senate and lost, just as Lenore Romney would six years later. Peterson then went on to become the first woman to serve as chair of the Michigan Republican Party, but during the 1960s she grew disenchanted with the increasing conservatism of her party. She united with other feminists to push for the Equal Rights Amendment and reproductive choice, battled Phyllis Schlafly to prevent her from gaining control of the National Federation of Republican Women, and became an independent.

Commenting to the Times on the right-wing opposition that Lenore Romney faced within her own party when she was gearing up for her Senate run and the similar challenges that her son Mitt is facing as the Michigan Primary rapidly approaches, Fitzgerald, a former editor and new-media developer for the Washington Post, said:

“There’s been a lot of conversation about whether Mitt Romney can excite the Republican base, the Tea Party-type people. One of the things his mother went through was being sniped at by the conservative right wing of the Michigan Republican Party. People commented that she got more opposition from the conservatives than she got from [Democrat] Phil Hart.”

Available in paperback next month, Elly Peterson illustrates how the Republican Party changed during the 1960s and 1970s, shedding light on both the influential woman it chronicles and the path that brought the Republican Party where it is today.



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