Tag Archives: Equal Rights Amendment

A moment on the Equal Rights Amendment

On March 22, 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by the US Senate and sent to the states for ratification. The central idea behind the amendment is simple: all American citizens, regardless of gender, have equal rights before the law. Almost fifty years later, the amendment has still not passed, as only 35 of the 38 states necessary ratified the amendment. In 1923, the initial version of the Equal Rights Amendment was brought before the United States Congress by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman. On January 21,  1943, Senator Claude Pepper spoke before the 78th Congress on behalf of the E.R.A:

            “…I feel, therefore, that the trend toward women enjoying equal rights has progressed until today they are entitled to enjoy all rights equally with all human beings, and that sex is not a sufficient line of demarcation for different rights. There may be instances where there would be a difference in duties, but that will depend upon the ability of the person or persons affected to perform the obligation required, not to their rights equally to share and to enjoy the benefits which are derived from citizenship and equality due to all.

            When the Declaration of Independence was written, and those moving words that “all men are created equal” were incorporated therein, to lift the hopes and the hearts of the oppressed everywhere in the world. I do not believe that Thomas Jefferson was thinking only of mankind which happened to be masculine in sex. I think he spoke about human beings, and therefore that it is in accordance with the principles of the Declaration of Independence to say that women are born equal with men in the rights of citizenship and civil prerogatives.

            I hope, therefore, that this may be the last hurdle which it will be necessary to surmount; that the race to bring equality, complete freedom, independence, and liberty for women shall at long last be won.” – Claude Pepper Papers MSS 1979-01 S. 303A B. 2 F. 8

The hurdles unfortunately continue. Since the introduction of the E.R.A, Senator Pepper’s speech, and the passage of the amendment in the Senate in March of 1972, individuals, and civic action groups such as the National Organization for Women, and the League of Women Voters, and many others have continued to champion the E.R.A.

Pamphlets about the E.R.A. collected by the Tallahassee National Organization for Women, ca. 1970’s-80’s. MSS 2008-033 S. 1 B. 15 F. 1
Illustrated informational handout about the E.R.A., ca. 1970’s. MSS 2008-033 S. 1 B. 16 F. 6

Letter writing campaigns, marches and public awareness raising activities for the E.R.A. are well documented in the Tallahassee N.O.W. and Tallahassee League of Women Voters chapter records. The digitized newsletters of each organization provide week to week updates on the key developments with the E.R.A during the 1970s and 1980s.  On January 15, 2020, Virginia’s General Assembly ratified the amendment, moving the conversation forward once more. While the future remains deeply uncertain, researchers can look to the past for inspiration.

The Florida NOW Times: Looking Back at 20 years of Women’s History

1976_NOW
Page from a 1976 NOW in Florida newsletter.

In 1966, a group of women, frustrated at the failure of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to recognize sex discrimination in the workplace and the failure of the conference they were attending to demand the EEOC do so, started what became the National Organization for Women (NOW). In 1971, Tallahassee gained its own NOW chapter, chartered through the national organization. Two years later in 1973, the Florida NOW state chapter was chartered to help coordinate the local chapters’ activities as well as to organize new chapters into formation. The state chapter’s records reside at the University of Florida.

As March is Women’s History Month, this week the Pepper Library is highlighting the National Organization for Women, Tallahassee Chapter records. The Tallahassee NOW papers contain official NOW correspondence, meeting minutes and agendas, reports, budgets, newsletters, and other records which chronicle the development and activities of Tallahassee NOW from its founding in 1971 until 1997. An excellent resource for studying the history of the Equal Rights Amendment in the state of Florida, the NOW material offers a firsthand glimpse into the organization’s efforts to empower and inform. This is particularly on point right now as last Wednesday, the Nevada State Legislature ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, which guarantees that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” NPR stated in an article on the ratification that the ERA “was first passed by Congress in 1972 and last approved by a state (Indiana) in 1977.” Florida has yet to ratify the ERA. The NOW records provide a look at the fight to do so in the 1970s.

1991_NOW
Page from a 1991 NOW Florida Times newsletter.

Last fall,the staff of the FSU Digital Library digitized and made available online for researchers the Florida NOW Times (1974-1997). Within this statewide NOW publication, the history of the ERA and the activities of NOW chapters throughout the state can be followed over a twenty year period. Providing digital access to the newsletters was a challenge. Each newsletter needed to be reviewed to provide useful description for users to be able to browse and search these objects successfully. The DLC enlisted help from our Cataloging & Description colleagues to catalog the 211 newsletters that range from 1974 to 1997. These items cover the state chapter’s ERA fight, its yearly conferences, legislative and lobbying actions, and the many events sponsored to fight for the rights of women in Florida. You can see all the newsletters in the FSU Digital Library.