From the Archives: The Equal Rights Amendment

August 24, 2012

The Equal Rights Amendment — short, sweet, and unratified — was written by Alice Paul in 1921, a year after women won the right to vote, and was first proposed to Congress in 1923. It has been presented to every Congress over the past 89 years and has been through a tumultuous battle for passage and ratification. Opposition to the amendment came from many, and often unexpected, directions. Would it surprise you to learn that before 1971, AAUW did not support the ERA?

Former AAUW President Mary Purcell speaks at an Equal Rights Amendment rally.

In 1924, the AAUW national office urged branches to study the amendment but chose not to form an official opinion. This effort allowed AAUW to fully research and understand the amendment and its potential implications as well as the immense diversity of opinion among members. Members were, and for decades continued to be, severely divided over the issue. Many felt that the amendment was the quickest, most effective method of establishing equality between the sexes, while others thought that the ERA threatened the social progress and legislative protections already obtained for women. Not until 1938 did AAUW present an official position: opposition to the ERA “as a means of securing the equality of women.”

AAUW disagreed with the tactics of the ERA but not with equality or the amendment itself. As study and debate of the topic persisted throughout the mid-20th century, AAUW, dedicated to fighting for women’s equality, pursued alternative strategies out of concern for the potentially detrimental social implications of the amendment. From the very beginning, members “agreed on certain rights that we wish to secure for ourselves and other American women.” These rights were progressive and numerous and included “no economic or political discrimination between women and men on account of sex.”

This Sunday is Women’s Equality Day, which commemorates the 19th Amendment and women’s right to vote. It was established by Bella Abzug in 1971, the same year that AAUW finally announced official support for the rewritten Equal Rights Amendment. After investing 50 years of study in the topic, the ERA became a top AAUW priority. AAUW established the ERA Fund, became a member of the ERA Ratification Council in Washington, D.C., and staged a temporary boycott in 1977 to hold regional and national AAUW conventions only in states that had ratified the ERA.

Yet now, in 2012, the Equal Rights Amendment still has not been ratified. So this Women’s Equality Day, be proud of the women who have won so much for us to celebrate, but do not assume that history is only in our archives. We live history every day — so what will you give your daughters to celebrate?

This post was written by AAUW Archives Intern Kelsey Conway.

By:   |   August 24, 2012

Join the Conversation

You must be logged in to post a comment.