History and Importance of the Equal Rights Amendment

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is a forgotten memory of feminist history that has recently gained traction in the news media due to the Me-Too Movement. This proposed amendment would have guaranteed equality of the sexes under the law and prohibited discrimination specifically based on sex.

Here is the detailed history of the rise and fall of the ERA and what the future might hold for this landmark piece of legislation:

Mid 1800s

This first public demand for women’s suffrage was recorded at the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. Prominent feminists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were vocal about their desires for equal rights.

Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images

 

Early 1900s

National Museum of American History

In 1916, the National Women’s Party (NWP) formed with the intent to achieve women’s right to vote. The 19th Amendment, which gave women the Constitutionally protected right to vote, was ratified on August 18th, 1920. With the accomplishment of this goal, the focus of the National Woman’s Party shifted to address general equality between women and men. The result of this shift in focus was the creation of the Equal Rights Amendment. The original text of the ERA written by Alice Paul and Lucretia Mott in 1923 stated:

“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.”

This suggested amendment caused disagreement within the NWP as some argued it divided women among class lines. Furthermore, some of the working women during this period had concerns that the passage of the ERA would eliminate positions they occupied in factories that may be deemed unsafe for women or even reduce their hours. At this point, the ERA was not a popular piece of legislation and was essentially was pushed aside until the rise of the second wave of feminism.

 

 

 

 

Mid 1900s

In 1943, Alice Paul produced a revised version of the amendment. It stated:

Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”

Late 1900s

The second wave of feminism gained momentum in the late 1960s. This corresponded with the fight for equal rights of black Americans in the Civil Rights Movement. This is the first time, as well, that this legislation was brought to Congress.

Lead by Representative Bella Abzug of New York, along with prominent feminist leaders Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, the second draft of the ERA was brought to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Gloria Steinem via Scott Applewhite/AP Images

In 1971, it received the required two-thirds vote from the House of Representatives and was sent to the Senate. Subsequently, in March 1972 it was approved in the Senate. The next step would be ratification in the states. This is what eventually stopped the growing momentum of the ERA.

For an amendment to be added to the Constitution, it must be ratified by three-fourths of states, which is a total of 38 states. The ERA would have been the 27th amendment if it had passed the ratification stage. Hawaii was the first state to ratify and in the following year 30 states had officially ratified the ERA.

However, a conservative backlash in the 1970s halted the movement of the ERA. A seven-year deadline was placed after 1972 to allow for the necessary amount of states to ratify the amendment. At the end of the deadline, 35 out of 38 had officially ratified. President Jimmy Carter signed an extension of the deadline to 1982, however in this extended time no additional states ratified the amendment.

Every Congressional session following 1983 has had the ERA introduced but it simply has not gained the traction that it possessed previously.

2000s

In the 2013-2014 Congressional term, a revised text of the ERA was presented. It states:

“Section 1: Women shall have equal rights in the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Section 2: Congress and the several States shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”

The importance of this revision is that it officially mentions “women” for the first time. It also expresses that the fight against discrimination is a function of federal and state governments.

The current status of the ERA is questionable because it has now met the requirements of at least 38 states ratifying it. However, this happened after the deadline Congress had imposed. Therefore, while it meets all the requirements to be an amendment of the Constitution, the legal and political challenges that are on-going must be resolved before it is officially added to the Constitution.

In terms of current public support, a poll conducted by the national ERA coalition determined that 94% of Americans are in support of the addition of an amendment guaranteeing equal treatment between the sexes.

Under the current administration, the ERA has made another grand appearance in history due to many Americans being discontent with the President’s past and current comments on women. The 2017 Women’s March broke the record for the largest protest on a single day in American History. One of the focal points of this march was the official addition of the ERA to the Constitution. With the popularity of the ERA growing again, we are living in a period in which history is unfolding right in front of our eyes.

2017 Women’s march via Mario Tama – Getty Images

Citations:

https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/equal-rights-amendment-passed-by-congress

https://www.equalrightsamendment.org/faq

https://time.com/5657997/equal-rights-amendment-history/

https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/womens-march

Alyssa Wessner

Hello! My name is Alyssa Wessner from Connecticut and I am currently a senior at Eastern Connecticut State University. I will be graduating early in the Fall with a major in Political Science and two minors in Sustainable Energy Studies and Philosophy. I hope to attend law school after graduation and with the career goal of becoming a judge. I am very passionate about changing the way news is delivered to the American people and I believe that the team of Political Awareness is determined to provide quality non-bias news. My political passions include bringing awareness to environmental issues and reforming the criminal justice system. While at school, I am involved in writing articles for the Political Science Department Blog and a tutor in the Writing Center. I am looking forward to producing non-biased, high quality news for Political Awareness!

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