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Equal Rights Amendment and Its Ratification



The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is an amendment that was proposed to the United States Constitution. It was designed to guarantee all American citizens equal legal rights regardless of their gender. The mission of the ERA was to end the legal distinctions (divorce, property, employment, and other matters) that were placed between men and women (Cobble, 2005). Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman of the National Women’s Party were the original writers of the ERA. In 1921, the amendment was introduced in Congress for the first time. Since then it has prompted conversations about what legal equality means for men and women. In order for the ERA to be added to the Constitution, the legislatures in (38) out of the 50 states needed to approve it. The ERA has wide bipartisan support from both major political parties, both houses of Congress, and Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter. With such support the ERA seemed destined for ratification. Phyllis Schlafly had a different idea and mobilized conservative women in opposition. He argued that the ERA would bring disadvantage to housewives because with its ratification, this would cause women to be drafted into the military as well (Cobble, 2005).

In 1977, the amendment had been approved by legislatures in 35 states. Congress voted in 1978 to extend the original deadline from March 1979 to June 30, 1982 but no further states voted yes before the deadline, and the ERA fell three states short of ratification. There were 15 states that did not ratify the Equal Rights Amendment by the deadline that was set. These states included Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia (Congressional Record, 2017). Nevada was the 36th state to ratify the ERA on March 22, 2017 and Illinois was the 37th, ratifying the ERA on May 30, 2018. Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Utah, and Virginia have also introduced ERA bills in the legislatures after many years. (Dwyer & Kaufman, 2017). ERA guarantees all women their constitutional right to equality regardless of gender. ERA has undergone a tough journey under these questions, but it has axiomatically reached a concluding stage as it requires ratifications from just one more state now in today’s time.



The struggle for women’s equal rights began when women demanded to have the right to vote. The 14th Amendment defined citizens as "all persons born or naturalized in the United States", and guaranteed equal protection of the laws (Cott, 1984). The 15th Amendment declared that "the right of citizens . . . to vote shall not be denied or abridged . . . because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude" – however, women of all races were still denied the ballot (Cott, 1984). The mainstream and militant suffragists finally won the first and only written guarantee of equal rights for women in the Constitution. This written guarantee was the 19th Amendment. It declared, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex" (Cott, 1984). The lives of women in the new century saw change as they joined the workforce, led the movement for progressive social reform, and won the right to vote through mass power (Cott, 1984).

Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party felt that the right to vote for women wasn’t enough and that women’s rights needed more safeguard. On September 25, 1921, they conveyed to the U.S. Constitution their plans to campaign for an amendment that would guarantee women equal rights with men. The proposed amendment read: “Section 1. No political, civil, or legal disabilities or inequalities on account of sex or on account of marriage, unless applying equally to both sexes, shall exist within the United States or any territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation” (Cott, 1984). Alice Paul revised the proposed


amendment in 1923 to read: “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation” (Cott, 1984). The amendment was revised again in 1943 to reflect the wording of the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments. This revised text became Section 1 of the version that Congress passed in 1972 (Cott, 1984).



Since the 1920s, the Equal Rights Amendment and the meaning of women’s equality had been the discussion among feminists. Alice Paul and her National Woman’s Party asserted that women and mean should be equal in all regards, even if that meant sacrificing benefits such as short working hours, no night shifts, and no heavy lifting (Ware, 1997). The Women’s Joint Congressional Committee opposed the amendment, because they believed that the loss of the benefits that were available to women would not be worth having equality. Mary Anderson and the Women's Bureau led the opposition to the ERA in 1923. They argued that legislation including mandated minimum wages, safety regulations, restricted daily and weekly hours, lunch breaks, and maternity provisions were beneficial to the women forced to work because of economic necessity. Alice Hamilton, in her speech “Protection for Women Workers,” said that the ERA would take away the small protections achieved by working women, leaving them powerless to improvement of their future conditions and force them to attain necessary protections in the present (Ware, 1997).

The Senate passed the ERA with a provision known as “The Hayden rider” in 1950 and 1953. Arizona Senator, Carl Hayden, introduced this provision, but ERA supporters opposed it. ERA supporters were hopeful that their agenda would be advanced during President Dwight Eisenhower’s second term. Eisenhower was the first president to show support of the ERA and had publicly promised to “assure women everywhere in our land


equality of rights” (Freeman, 2000). In 1958, Eisenhower asked a joint session of Congress to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. The National Woman's Party asked for the amendment to be withdrawn due to it being unacceptable (Freeman, 2000).

The Republican Party showed support for the ERA beginning in 1940, renewing the plank in their platform every four years until 1980. The American Federation of Labor and other labor unions greatly opposed the ERA because they feared it would invalidate women’s protective labor legislation. On Capitol Hill, Griffiths’ House Joint Resolution No. 208 was adopted by the House on October 12, 1971. It obtained 354 yeas, 24 nays and 51 not voting. In March 22, 1972, Griffiths' joint resolution was adopted by the Senate obtaining a vote of 84 yeas, 8 nays and 7 not voting. President Richard Nixon immediately endorsed the ERA when the 92nd Congress passed it. The rest of the ERA’s journey was met with failures and still falls under the pipeline in today’s time (Sealander, 1982).


In the Nineteenth century, women were seen as being weaker yet morally superior to men. The women’s main job was to the home, so they were deprived of gaining knowledge outside the home (Olsen & Mendoza, 2015). Women gained equal rights during the 20th century. Women having the right to vote in the U.S. was a huge step towards them being able to achieve the same liberties that men could. In 1972, along with the ERA, the Title IX Education Amendment was passed, which prohibited gender discrimination in education programs that were federally-funded (Olsen & Mendoza, 2015).

Between 1968 and 1979, the work expectations of women increased. This caused women to begin seeking college education so that they could obtain higher quality employment. The average age of women getting married increased by two-and-a-half years,


because women wanted to focus more on their academics (Monthly Labor Review, 2006). Women became more motivated to seek college education, and were encouraged to take advantage of it to increase their chances of getting a satisfactory and higher-paying job once their education was complete (Ware, 1997).

Birth control methods started to improve throughout the first half of the 20th century. In 1916, Margaret Sanger’s opened the first birth control clinic. In 1960 the FDA approved birth control pills. Women were now able to plan or forego pregnancies, which allowed them to focus more on their college education, career, and individual success (Olsen & Mendoza, 2015). In 1970, graduate school population was 39% women, and in 1996, it had grown to 56%. In the mid-19900s 40% of women earned doctorate degrees; this increased to 49% of women in 2006 (Olsen & Mendoza, 2015).



The Equal Rights Amendment still isn’t a part of the American Constitution because only 37 out of 38 states ratified it (Olsen & Mendoza, 2015). American women were liberated from being bound to their home and were able to explore countless new opportunities because of the movements for women’s suffrages. Some of examples of this include: Rebecca Latimer Felton who became the first woman to be US senator in 1922. In 1925, the first woman governor of a US state, Nellie Tayloe Ross, became governor of Wyoming. In 1933, Frances Perkins was the first woman to be appointed to a presidential cabinet as a secretary of labor. In 1981, Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman judge for the United States Supreme Court. In the 20th century more occupations became available to women and an Equal Pay Act compelled employers to pay men and women the same amount if they held the same position and job (Olsen & Mendoza, 2015).






Living in the 21st century, I cannot imagine how I’d feel if I was told I was bound to just get married and stay at home to take care of children. I have ambitions of my own, and I don’t think I could digest the fact that I couldn’t do a certain act just because I was born a girl. It’s very shocking to see that the Equal Rights Amendment was proposed almost 100 years ago, but still hasn’t attained its rightful place.



I did not know something that seems so obvious like ‘Right to Equality regardless of gender’ could be something that does not have constitutional validity. The research on equal rights movement gave me an opportunity to know the long history of struggle faced by American women to attain their basic human rights. I learned how there were conflict of opinion regarding the amendment among feminists. The conflict was so strong that Phyllis Schlafly single headedly caused the failure of the equal rights amendment. It has taught me the struggle for freedom and equality can be long and can last for over a decade, but ultimately it results into triumph of the righteous.


If some historian continues to research about this event and the thesis statement attached to it then he/she shall go with the detailed study about how each state ratified the amendment and the effect, it had in the lives of women of each state.

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