Schoettler Returns to Fringe Fest with 'Pushing Boundaries: An ERA Memoir'
Chevy Chase storyteller and artist Ellouise Schoettler returns to the Capital Fringe Festival stage with her one-woman performance about her transition from a 1950s-era housewife into an Equal Rights Amendment activist.
When Ellouise Schoettler started college in 1968, she wasn't a typical college student.
She was already married and living in Chevy Chase with her husband and three children.
The college was a small women's college in Northwest Washington, DC, but its small size didn't stop students from participating in the social movements of the late 1960s.
"These young women were just as active as on any other campus," said Schoettler, a professional artist and storyteller.
Soon, Schoettler was buying bell-bottom pants and joining a women's strike for peace. She got involved in lobbying on Capitol Hill for women's rights and against the Vietnam War. She took classes in women's studies and art.
Then, during her senior year, she attended the first-ever national conference of women in the arts. Her professor had urged her to go.
Before the 1960s, art was very much a man's world—H.W. Janson's History of Art, the art history bible for generations of art students, had included no women artists. But, with the wave of feminism of the '60s and '70s, women were beginning to be taken seriously as artists, but not without a fight. Alice Neel—the "painter of souls" whose work is well-known—literally interrupted the conference to demand that slides of her work be seen, Schoettler recalled.
Schoettler was involved in those very beginning stages of the women's movement and the women artists' movement in the DC area. When the Washington Women's Art Center formed in a basement apartment in Dupont Circle, Schoettler was there.
"Women were definitely in the minority ... in museums and galleries. ... You entered the profession without an equal chance," Schoettler said, referring to a women's art gallery that had been dubbed the "housewives gallery."
Schoettler's story of this exciting time is the subject of her solo performance, Pushing Boundaries: An ERA Memoir, in the Capital Fringe Festival this month. In the performance, Schoettler will tell about how she morphed from a 1950s-era housewife into a boundary-pushing artist and Equal Rights Amendment activist on Capital Hill.
"Pushing Boundaries is about one person’s journey through the women's movement," Schoettler explained. "It's not so much about the issues, but [about] what happened to me, why I got involved," Schoettler told Patch.
"It was an exciting time, a time of change," she added. With the Washington Women's Arts Center, Schoettler marched on Capitol Hill on July 9, 1978, advocating for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (which still has not been ratified by enough states to be added to the U.S. Constitution).
"It was wonderful to be in that crowd. The dynamics of that sisterhood in Washington were important," she added. Schoettler also participated in a weekly consciousness-raising group in Chevy Chase.
"If you’re missing something, start it. That was the attitude back then."
Schoettler is one of the thousands of women who advocated for women's rights in the years leading up to Congress' original deadline of June 30, 1982, for 38 states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. (Only 35 states have ratified it so far.)
But, "we don’t have their stories ... we’re all getting to be like the World War II veterans, and no one is going to write a book about the last living [women's rights activist] and so we have to write our own story." Unlike Cinderella, who waited on her prince, "you have to get up and do it yourself," Schoettler said.
And, so, Schoettler returns to the Capital Fringe Festival stage this month to present her inspiring, personal story of a grassroots movement.
Catch Schoettler's performance at the Goethe Institute's theater (812 7th St. NW, Washington, DC) on the following dates:
- Saturday, July 14, at 4 p.m.
- Thursday, July 19, at 6 p.m.
- Sunday, July 22, at 2 p.m.
- Wednesday, July 25, at 8:15 p.m.
- Saturday, July 28, at 7:15 p.m.
What are your memories of the women's movement? Or, if you were born after that time, what do you wish you could ask Schoettler and other activists about it? Tell us in the comments.