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.
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.