July 05, 1982 12:00 PM

This week, a decade after Congress approved an Equal Rights Amendment and set in motion the process for its ratification, the ERA campaign ends in defeat. But feminists may be justly proud of how many other struggles have been won. On the following pages are a few of the women who have become firsts in their fields since 1972, and whose individual victories have opened the way for a more equitable future.

A commercial pilot finds the skies friendly

Emily Hanrahan Warner got on board a Frontier Airlines plane at age 18 in 1958 to see whether she wanted to be a stewardess “and whether I’d get airsick.” But she watched the pilots, too, and “by the time we had landed, I was hooked.” She began spending a third of her salary as a Denver department store sales clerk on flying lessons and 27 months later became a flight instructor for a Cessna 150. A five-year lobbying and letter-writing campaign followed before Frontier officials finally agreed in 1972 to let Warner show her skills in a flight simulator. Hired the next day as the first woman pilot of a scheduled airline (there are now 115), she brought 7,000 hours of flight experience to her new job, compared to the 2,500 hours logged by most men hired. Now her first uniform hangs in the Smithsonian, and Warner, whose twin sister, Eileen, is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, earns more than $50,000 a year as co-pilot of a Frontier Boeing 737. “The women’s movement helped me get where I am,” says Warner, 42. “But I also think hard work and persistence were key factors.”

A maestra on the upbeat

“The doors open best if they’re not knocked down but if one is gentle about it,” counsels Sarah Caldwell, for whom the doors have swung on well-greased hinges for most of her 58 years. A violin recitalist at age 5, the native Missourian staged her first opera (Vaughan Williams’ Riders to the Sea) 15 years later, founded her still-thriving Opera Company of Boston when she was 33, and in 1976 became the first woman ever to wield a baton at the Met in New York. “In one sense, women are better suited to be conductors than men,” she argues. “All music-making involves collaboration. I think women are good at this.” In music and elsewhere, Caldwell (pictured in Boston’s Opera House) suggests, “Women have made progress because there was so much attention at the beginning of the decade to the cause, rights and plight of women. Maybe now that the novelty is wearing off we’ll make more progress.”

An actress becomes a union boss

Ellen Burstyn, 49, has won an Oscar for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and a Tony for Same Time, Next Year, directed several off-Broadway plays, and raised a son. Now add another credit to her Playbill bio: Last month Theodore Bikel handed her the gavel symbolizing her new role as president of Actors’ Equity, the theater performers’ union. “Equity might have noticed it had been in existence since 1913 and never had a woman president,” she says. “The pressure I feel is not of being a woman but the responsibility of leading 30,000 people.” For Burstyn, the new post attests to personal as well as professional achievement. “I have really made the shift from someone who 10 years ago could only define herself in relation to a man,” she says. “Now, even though I don’t discount the possibility of a male partner in my life, or even remarriage, the fact remains that my life is rewarding to me. I am still changing every day. I don’t feel like a finished product.”

A pro brings women’s tennis up to deuce

When she was 14, Billie Jean King wrote a story about a girl who went to Wimbledon and returned a heroine. It all came true, of course, except “in that essay I ended up being a housewife and giving up tennis—I guess because my expectations for myself were so low,” she recalls. “Now girls have more self-respect. That’s one of the things that has changed.” King helped make that possible—as the first woman to win 20 Wimbledon titles, as a force in founding the women’s pro circuit, and as the first female in any sport to win $100,000 in a single year. That was in 1971; a decade later 17 of King’s colleagues netted that much and more, thanks largely to the fight she led for parity in prize money. (At 38, King has won $68,537 so far this season.) Perhaps her most celebrated victory came with her 1973 Astrodome face-off against self-proclaimed sexist Bobby Riggs; her triumph before a TV audience of 59 million “was the best PR for women’s tennis there’s ever been,” says Chris Evert Lloyd. “Now Billie Jean’s role doesn’t need to be the same. Women’s tennis can stand on its own feet.”

A former model turns to movie-making and becomes a star behind the scenes

She may have Darryl F. Zanuck’s old job, but Sherry Lansing is no cigar-chomping movie mogul. The former Max Factor model and $5-an-hour script reader capped a nine-year rise in the film business in 1980, when Twentieth Century-Fox made her the first woman studio president in Hollywood history. Now 37, Lansing oversees Fox’s $150 million annual budget (current properties: Author! Author! and The Verdict) and last year, thanks to box office hits that included Modern Problems and Taps, even managed to survive a change in studio ownership. For her $300,000 salary, plus bonuses, she puts in 15-hour days that start at 7 a.m. As to would-be stars of the executive suite—some of whom are women she has hired—Lansing advises: “Enjoy the work you’re doing. The best thing in life is to enjoy the process and not worry about five steps from here.”

A mother tills new ground in labor

As the United Farm Workers’ first woman organizer, Dolores Huerta helped engineer the grape and lettuce boycotts that brought her union national attention. In doing so she was arrested 20 times and negotiated the UFW’s first major contract with California growers in 1970. A thrice-married mother of 11 children (her present husband is Richard Chavez, brother of UFW leader Cesar Chavez), she now directs the union’s political department from her office in La Paz, Calif. “Women have had the same problems in our organization as they do in others,” says Huerta, 52. “They don’t always fight for their positions and beliefs. You worry so much about helping your organization to survive, you don’t think about helping women survive. I feel women have to do more standing up and fighting for themselves. We have a long way to go.”

A dreamer who wanted just to play ball

As every child should be, Carolyn King Houghton was unaware that there were limits to what she could do. In 1973, at the age of 12, she became the country’s first female Little Leaguer. “I wanted to try out,” she recalls, “not as a girl, as a person.” Hundreds of spectators showed up for her debut on the Ypsilanti, Mich. diamond. Some shouted support, but “some yelled out, ‘Go home and play with your dolls,’ ” she remembers. Ms. magazine “asked me what I felt about feminism and women’s liberation. I didn’t know what in the heck they were talking about. All I wanted to do was play baseball.” She did (her team was 2-15) but the next year switched to an all-girl league when she passed the Little League age limit. Now a 21-year-old bookkeeper in Saline, Mich. and stepmother to two children, Houghton plays left center field regularly on two women’s softball teams. If stepdaughter Leah, 7, longed for a Little League uniform, “I would say, ‘Go for it.’ I’m not a troublemaker,” she notes, “but I think she has the right to be equal.”

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