Today in Herstory: Jacqueline Cochran Breaks Boundaries in Aviation

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


May 18, 1953: Jacqueline Cochran has just become the first woman to fly faster than the speed of sound – and that wasn’t the end of her record-breaking day.

Cochran talking to test pilot Major Chuck Yeager earlier today.
Cochran talking to test pilot Major Chuck Yeager earlier today.

She broke the sound barrier using two steep dives, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that she’d accomplished her goal, because ground observers clearly heard a “sonic boom” on the second attempt.

But adding supersonic flight to her already impressive list of feats wasn’t her only accomplishment today at Edwards Air Force Base in California. She also flew faster over a 100-kilometer circular course than any pilot – male or female – has ever done, at 652 miles an hour.

Though the old record she shattered belonged to a man, it was not a “battle of the sexes” in the usual sense. Colonel Fred Ascani, who flew an equivalent course near Detroit at 635 miles an hour in August, 1951, is actually a good friend of hers. When she told him she would like to surpass his speed, he suggested the legendary aviator use her considerable influence to borrow the Canadian version of the Sabre Jet, which has a more powerful engine than the one he used. She took his advice – and his record.

Today in Herstory: Suffragists Stage Open-Air Rally in Manhattan

Founding Feminists is the FMF’s daily herstory column.


May 13, 1909: Clearly not reluctant to venture into hostile territory in search of converts, Edith Bailey, Harriot Stanton Blatch and several other suffragists held a rally today near the church of militant anti-suffragist Rev. Dr. Charles Henry Parkhurst on Manhattan’s Madison Square.

At 12:30, a big red automobile carrying the speakers drove up, was turned into a rostrum immediately after being parked, then after a large yellow “Votes for Women” banner was unfurled, the rally began. The speakers, all prominent members of the Equal Franchise League, were there strictly as individuals. But though this was not an officially sanctioned rally, the arguments in favor of woman suffrage were as effective as those at any well-planned, fully-authorized meeting.

Blatch first explained why the open-air forum was chosen: “You men are so shy that you will not come to a hall to hear us speak and we must come to you.” She then expounded on one of every suffrage speaker’s pet peeves – the question of why they aren’t at home taking care of their children:

You never think to ask the actress who amuses you why she doesn’t stay at home and mind the kids, or the factory girl who makes your hats, why she doesn’t. You do not ask either if the woman speaker may not be a grandmother, as I am, whose kids have all left her, or if she may be an unmarried woman.

Edith Bailey
Edith Bailey

At the end of her remarks, Blatch introduced Edith Bailey, noting that she “has kids to mind, but who is a better mother for having something outside her four walls to think of.” Bailey, author of a suffrage tract entitled “Some Ideals of Suffrage,” which was being enthusiastically distributed to the crowd by poet Rosalie Jones, said that women who are suffragists were simply housekeepers who “do not want to confine our housekeeping to our own homes. We feel that there is housekeeping for us in the streets, in the prisons, and on our School Boards. There are old and young bachelors on the School Boards and there ought to be a mother or two.”

Bailey noted that “it used to be considered unwomanly for women to get equal pay with men,” indicating that some progress had been made in that area. However, she thinks there are still too many men like Secretary of State Elihu Root who believe “women should be protected by their husbands and brothers,” but who fail to provide them with either. “Women must have the right to take care of themselves, and then there will always be some one out to see that they are protected.”

Josephine Casey, a factory worker, challenged the double standard which presumes that women, but not men, need to justify leaving the home and/or voting:

I protest against giving reasons for wanting to vote. If you were going out of your house you would not have any one stop you and say, ‘Are you going shopping, or are you going to a matinee? Why are you going out?’ I leave the house because I wish to, and that is the reason for my asking for the vote.

There were definite indications that the arguments presented today were effective. Near the end of the rally, Harriot Stanton Blatch said: “A good way for you to show that you believe in ‘Votes for Women’ is to give something to the cause.” Immediately two men volunteered their hats to be passed around, and funds were successfully collected from the crowd. Blatch then asked: “Is there any reason why women should not vote?” and the men surrounding the four-wheeled speakers’ platform enthusiastically shouted, “No! No!”

The day’s final encouragement was given by a working man, just coming down the street as the meeting ended. After asking what the gathering was about, he was told that it was put on by women who wanted to vote. He then replied: “Well, I don’t know why they shouldn’t.” The speakers departed as quickly as they came, and are now on their way to lunch at the Colony Club, where they will celebrate today’s success, and plan similar actions for the future.

Today in Herstory: Congress Approves the Creation of a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


May 12, 1942: Legislation to establish a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) got final Congressional approval today with a Senate vote of 38 to 27.

It passed the House on March 17th by a vote of 249 to 86. The bill, sponsored by Representative Edith Nourse Rogers, Republican of Massachusetts, now goes to President Roosevelt for his signature. Under the provisions of the bill, the WAAC will enlist up to 150,000 members who may serve anywhere in the world they’re needed, will receive Army pay, be subject to military regulations, and live on Army posts.

Representative Edith Norse Rogers, Republican of Massachusetts. She has been representing the Fifth District of Massachusetts since June 30, 1925, when she got 72% of the vote in a special election to fill her late husband's seat. She has won subsequent elections by even larger margins.
Representative Edith Norse Rogers, Republican of Massachusetts. She has been representing the Fifth District of Massachusetts since June 30, 1925, when she got 72% of the vote in a special election to fill her late husband’s seat. She has won subsequent elections by even larger margins.

The two-hour debate prior to the vote was intense at times, as Senators Francis Maloney, Democrat of Connecticut and John Danaher, Republican of Connecticut, led those arguing against the bill. In addition to failing to defeat the bill, Maloney was also thwarted in his attempt to pass an amendment to confine the WAAC to service within the boundaries of the United States. His proposal was defeated by a vote of 37 to 26, with Senator Hattie Caraway, Democrat of Arkansas, the only woman in the Senate, voting in favor of the Rogers Bill, and against the Maloney Amendment. Senator Maloney seems to be opposed to women in any military capacity, and claimed that this measure “casts a shadow on the sanctity of the home.”

Another controversy involved the issue of racial discrimination. Three amendments were proposed which would have specifically banned racial bias in the WAAC. But if amended in any way, the bill would have had to go back to the House for re-approval, and this would have delayed, for an unknown amount of time, the establishment of the WAAC.

Though under normal circumstances the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Senator Warren Austin, Republican of Vermont, would have endorsed an anti-racial-bias amendment, he said that the need for immediate passage of the bill, and the assurance of the War Department that it would not discriminate on the basis of race in the WAAC caused him to oppose the amendments. Two amendments were withdrawn, and the third, by Senator James Hughes, Democrat of Delaware, was rejected by a voice vote. According to Senator Austin, there is “nothing in the bill which would lead to discrimination.”

As soon as President Roosevelt signs the bill, the War Department will give specific details on plans to implement it, and Secretary of War Stimson will name a director of the corps. The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps will be open to women between the ages of 21 and 45. Once functioning, the WAAC will free many men for combat, and provide a major boost to our defense effort in a number of critical areas at a time when the talents and abilities of all our citizens are needed the most.

Today in Herstory: Mass Meeting Held to Edit the US Constitution to Give Women the Vote

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


May 7, 1894: A lively and well-attended mass meeting was held at Cooper Union in Manhattan earlier this evening, and there certainly seemed to be plenty of people willing to do whatever it takes to remove a single word from the New York State Constitution, which presently grants the right to vote to “every male citizen of the age of 21 years.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was given a rousing ovation even before she began speaking, and deservedly so, considering her nearly 46 years of work for suffrage. She noted just how basic a right voting should be, and the injustice of arbitrarily withholding it from entire groups:

“The State has no right to abolish the suffrage for any class of people. I remember when the enfranchisement of the Negro was the vital question of the hour. In one of the debates on the floor of the Senate, Charles Sumner said: ‘Do you tell me suffrage is a privilege? Allow that sentiment to crystallize in the hearts of the people and we have rung the death knell of American Liberty.’ “

She then addressed a common opposition argument that only those who may be called to serve on the battlefield should have a vote: “They talk of fighting. It seems to me those who have been able to meet persecution, ridicule and tears have done the best kind of fighting.”

Her daughter, Harriot Stanton Blatch, spoke next, elaborating on the point that military service has never been a requirement for male suffrage, and that during the Civil War, many voting men avoided military service by hiring substitutes:

“It was twenty years ago, and a gentleman was talking of this same question of suffrage to my mother. ‘But Mrs. Stanton,’ he said, ‘if you have the franchise you could not protect it. You cannot fight.’ ‘Yes I can,’ she replied. ‘I should fight just as you did. I should hire someone to go in my place.’ “

The meeting had a wonderfully wide spectrum of speakers. John Milton Cornell, of the Cornell Iron Works presided, and at one point in the program he introduced American Federation of Labor president Samuel Gompers. Cornell remarked: “What men have failed to do woman has accomplished with a wave of her hand. She has brought capital and labor together on the same platform.”

Woman suffrage petitions to the State Constitutional Convention in Albany were available for signing at numerous tables, and a suffrage resolution to the Convention was presented, then unanimously adopted by all present. It was then announced that the suffrage headquarters at 10 West 14th Street will be open all summer. The gathering concluded with the names of those willing to have parlor meetings in their homes being taken.

The widespread support shown for suffrage tonight gave everyone here hope that there will soon be a woman suffrage amendment on the Statewide ballot along with the rest of the constitutional propositions. If a suffrage amendment is submitted and then approved by the State’s male voters, the addition of New York as an equal suffrage State would be a huge victory for many reasons.

Presently, women can vote in only two States (Wyoming since 1869 when it was still a Territory, and Colorado since last November) so the addition of ANY third State would be significant in and of itself. But because New York has the biggest population of any State, it also has the biggest delegation in Congress. Having that many members of Congress who would need to win the “women’s vote” every time they ran for election would be quite helpful in getting the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment passed by Congress and sent to the States for ratification.

An East Coast win would also prove that woman suffrage is not just a phenomenon unique to a couple of Western States (and Utah Territory from 1870-1887), but an idea that has been endorsed by the electorate in very different States thousands of miles apart. So a major effort will be made to make November 6, 1894 a red-letter day in the history of suffrage, and many people here tonight are eager to work hard to assure that victory.

Today in Herstory: The Suffrage Parade is Bigger Than Ever

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


May 6, 1911: Anyone who still doubts that the woman suffrage movement is rapidly gaining support must have been a long way from New York’s Fifth Avenue earlier today.

The turnout for this year’s annual suffrage parade was unprecedented, with at last 3,000 marching from 57th Street to Union Square. That’s nearly eight marchers for every one last year. At the end of the parade, speakers addressed a friendly crowd of about 10,000, an equally stunning turnout.

Reverend Antoinette Brown Blackwell, the first woman in America to be ordained a minister, turned out to be only the second oldest participant at 85. She is five years younger than the great-grandmother who came all the way from Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts to show her support for suffrage. The youngest suffragist was Sarjo Martina, one year old, a member of the “Future Voters” delegation, who was pushed along in a stroller.

The procession was headed by Inez Milholland and two women carrying a banner inscribed: “FORWARD OUT OF ERROR, LEAVE BEHIND THE NIGHT; FORWARD THROUGH THE DARKNESS, FORWARD INTO LIGHT,” from the hymn “Forward ! Be Our Watchword.” The three women were followed by Scotch bagpipers, the first of the parade’s many musicians, then several floats (a new innovation this year), and women representing many different occupations and other groups.

The National College Equal Suffrage League delegation was led by Reverend Anna Howard Shaw, who has been President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association since 1904. These marchers were among the most colorful, with all members in caps and gowns.

The marchers received a good deal of applause along the route, and large “Votes for Women” banners could be seen as the parade passed the headquarters of Alva Belmont’s Political Equality Association at 505 Fifth Avenue. Belmont herself was seen smiling as she observed the parade.

The Women’s Trade Union carried a banner reading: “WOMEN NEED VOTES TO END SWEAT SHOPS,” and the Shirtwaist Makers behind them trimmed their banner in black in memory of the victims of the recent Triangle fire.

The Woman Suffrage Party was well represented, and as a sign that spectacles such as this are no longer considered radical or militant, Maud Nathan, one of the party’s most influential members, gave the event her blessing. She had strenuously objected to the two previous and much smaller parades. In 1908 twenty-three members of the Progressive Woman Suffrage Union marched despite being refused a parade permit, and last year four hundred marched. But as a sign of the growing prestige and influence of suffrage groups, the permits for the 1910 and this year’s parade were obtained without difficulty. Nathan was among the participants today, and happily accepted a bouquet of flowers tossed to her by a male spectator.

Harriot Stanton Blatch and her Women’s Political Union organized the parade, and a large contingent of that group’s members was present. Their colors of purple, green and white could be seen throughout the parade in many delegations. The march ended at Union Square, with the biggest ovation reserved for the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage, whose members required the most courage to march. Many of the women’s delegations ran out to greet them waving banners and clapping loudly as the men arrived.

Union Square was packed with those waiting to hear what the suffragists had to say. After the “Woman Suffrage March” was sung, speeches began from locations all around the Square. The orators got on top of anything they could improvise to address their audiences. It was proudly noted that Washington State voters had approved a woman suffrage referendum on November 8th by an almost two-to-one margin, and though it had been 14 years since any previous victory, the stalemate was now over.

The New York State Legislature will be under siege to put a referendum on the ballot here, and an all-out effort will be made in California to pass a suffrage amendment to that State’s constitution at a special election on October 10th. Despite feeling exhausted after all of today’s activities, everyone feels that it was well worth all the time and effort necessary, and that next year’s parade will be even more spectacular – and have another victory to celebrate!

Today in Herstory: Rose Pastor Stokes Causes Sensation By Distributing Birth Control Information

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


May 5, 1916: Rose Pastor Stokes has caused a sensation in Carnegie Hall by distributing small slips of paper containing birth control information, a clear violation of Section 1142 of the New York State Penal Code. She took this step at a mass meeting called to celebrate Emma Goldman’s release from prison, where she had just served two weeks in the workhouse for the same offense.

Though the main event of the evening was supposed to be Goldman’s speech, it was eclipsed by the pandemonium set off when those in the audience stormed the stage to obtain knowledge criminalized by the State of New York, and classed by the Federal Government as “obscenity” under the Comstock Act of 1873.

During part of her speech, Stokes spoke directly to those whose job it is to enforce these Victorian Era laws:

Rose Pastor Stokes
Rose Pastor Stokes

“You, gentlemen, who earn your living by hunting down the victims of a maladjusted society, and you, gentlemen of the club, if you are here to interfere with, or arrest, or provide the authorities with evidence against anyone ignoring this unjust section of the law, I address myself to you. I should be truly sorry to place you under so mean an obligation, for I know your hearts well enough to know that you do not always relish the job your economic insecurity forces you to hold on to. But I cannot do other than again take the opportunity afforded me here of passing out information to wives and mothers in need.”

At the conclusion of the evening’s speeches, many audience members rushed forward and scrambled for the slips that Stokes had promised to distribute. She found herself quickly surrounded and besieged as private security officers tried unsuccessfully to maintain order. A false report then began to spread that Stokes was being arrested. But Max Eastman, in charge of the meeting, stood on one of the few unoverturned chairs and reassured the audience that the clamor on stage was not the result of an arrest, but only because so many people were trying to obtain the slips at once, and resentment by a few men and boys that only women were being given the information.

After a substantial number of slips had been distributed, some of the other speakers (Ben Reitman, Arturo Giovanitti, Leonard Abbott and Max Eastman) pushed their way through the crowd and escorted Stokes off stage, enabling her to escape the chaos. After resting for a few minutes, she left the hall, saying: “I expect to be arrested,” though no attempt was made to do so tonight.

This isn’t the first time Stokes has openly defied the law. On April 19th, at a dinner put on by birth control advocates at the Hotel Brevoort, she went among the guests quietly whispering some banned knowledge to a number of them, and giving out small slips of paper with similar information for some of the diners to take home.

The battle to legalize contraceptive information and birth control devices will undoubtedly be a lengthy one, but this long-overdue fight has clearly begun in earnest and will only increase in intensity. Victory will require many different approaches, from speaking at various forums to lobbying legislators and challenging unjust laws in court. It will certainly require a good deal of courage on the part of advocates who must sometimes openly break these laws in order to fight them.

Tonight was a welcome reassurance that there are those willing to step forward and do whatever is necessary to point out the absurdity and harm of anti-birth-control laws. But though the forces determined to use repressive measures to defend the “values” of reproductive ignorance and sexual shame may eventually be overcome, they are unlikely to go away, so this could be just the first stage of a permanent battle. Hopefully, those who grow up in a future society where effective methods of birth control and accurate, explicit information about human sexuality are legally available will not take these hard-won rights for granted and will be as zealous in defending them as today’s advocates are in establishing them.

Today in Herstory: Large Suffrage Parade Takes New York City

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


May 4, 1912: What a great day this has been for “Votes for Women” advocates!

There has never been a suffrage parade to compare to the one this afternoon and in the opinion of some observers, New York City has never seen a spectacle equal to this one on any occasion. Not even the crowds that greeted Teddy Roosevelt upon his homecoming two years ago approached the number of those on hand today.

But it wasn’t just the size of the crowd or the number of official marchers that was enough to impress some of even the most cynical of suffrage skeptics. Those who represented woman suffrage today clearly did not just casually show up in response to one of the many leaflets and posters that have been distributed around the city. All participants were carefully and colorfully outfitted and came to march as part of a specific contingent with which they shared some characteristic. They walked behind elaborate banners emblematic of their group to show just how far pro-suffrage sentiment has penetrated into all segments of society.

There were teachers, students, doctors, lawyers, homemakers, nurses, musicians, industrial workers, clerks, stenographers and every other imaginable occupation represented. They were led by 52 women riders on horseback and accompanied by numerous marching bands.

The age spectrum was so wide that not all participants could march. Infants were carried, or pushed along in strollers, while carriages transported Reverend Antoinette Brown Blackwell and a few others among the eldest of the suffragists. Those pioneers can remember being criticized by some who thought it excessively bold for a woman to speak on a political issue to even a small indoor audience. But today these veteran suffragists were a conspicuous part of the 15,000 who took over Fifth Avenue for several hours to promote the cause.

There was also a delegation of several hundred men. Some of them had gray hair, some wore silk hats, but many more were college students marching behind banners denoting prestigious schools such as Yale, Harvard, Columbia and Princeton. Despite some provocations from certain hooligans on the sidewalk, no one in this group lost his dignity or temper.10996053_10204622467105171_6702945715518279237_n

From the parade’s beginning at the Washington Arch at 5:00 p.m., until the parade ended in torchlight at Carnegie Hall, suffrage supporters owned the street. Even the weather cooperated. It was one of those warm May Saturdays with plenty of late afternoon sunshine and a cool breeze when needed.

Just four years ago it was considered highly controversial when 23 members of the Progressive Woman Suffrage Union boldly – and illegally – marched down Broadway. Two years ago 400 women, led by Harriot Stanton Blatch of the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women, marched along Fifth Avenue, despite being warned by a number of fellow suffragists that such a spectacle “would set suffrage back 50 years.” But the parade was such a success that it became an annual event, with the new route used ever since. Last year 3,000 marched, with floats and bands included for the first time.

Impressive as it was, last year’s parade pales in comparison to this year’s and it seems clear that some new level of respect and recognition has finally been reached by the suffrage movement. Certainly the victory in California on October 10th, in which the Golden State became the sixth to enact equal suffrage and nearly doubled the number of women voters in the country overnight, has played a part in generating renewed momentum nationwide.

But it is Harriot Stanton Blatch and her renamed Women’s Political Union that deserve most of the credit for putting together this landmark event and enabling such a powerful message to be sent. Marchers gave notice to the State Legislature – whose failure to put a suffrage referendum on the ballot was a primary focus of this year’s march – that “Votes for Women” is an issue that needs to be addressed by the electorate in a Statewide referendum. They also told the journalistic community that woman suffrage advocates are no longer to be ridiculed or ignored, but should be covered in a style befitting a large and growing movement.

One banner, carried by supporters of Wisconsin Republican Senator Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette, spoke to the “antis” and seemed to sum up the confidence felt by all today: “WOMAN SUFFRAGE HAS PASSED THE STAGE OF ARGUMENT. YOU COULD NOT STOP IT IF YOU WOULD, AND IN A FEW YEARS YOU WILL BE ASHAMED THAT YOU EVER OPPOSED IT.”

But the main message sent today was to those who instinctively feel that woman suffrage is right, but who have not yet acted to bring it about. They were reminded that the denial of the vote to half the population is not simply unjust, but is a waste of ability and wisdom the country can ill afford as it confronts the new challenges of the 20th Century. So now is the time to join the battle and help bring us one step closer to full equality, economic and social justice and true democracy for all.

Today in Herstory: Suffragists Take Aim at Senator O’Gorman

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


April 30, 1915: There was a quite frustrating and somewhat heated exchange of views this afternoon as Inez Milholland Boissevain, Doris Stevens and several other members of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage met with U.S. Senator James O’Gorman, Democrat of New York.

Despite their best arguments on behalf of the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment, the Senator still remains opposed, saying: “I will not vote for this or any other woman suffrage amendment.”

Suffragists surrounded by a crowd of onlookers as they prepared to march to Senator O'Gorman's office to quiz him about his views on suffrage.
Suffragists surrounded by a crowd of onlookers as they prepared to march to Senator O’Gorman’s office to quiz him about his views on suffrage.

At one point in the debate, he actually asked: “Aren’t you women going too hastily?” Noting that the Anthony Amendment had first been introduced into Congress in 1878, one woman retorted: “Too quickly? After forty years?” She was immediately seconded by Boissevain, who asked: “Can freedom come too quickly?” The Senator then politely insisted that women already have a great deal of influence and don’t need an amendment. As the laughter died down, someone said: “It is too late to say anything like that to us now.”

O’Gorman was reminded that there are already a number of States in which women can vote, and it was only a question of time until they would be powerful enough to force the issue nationwide. He replied that there are only 8 million people in all eleven full-suffrage States, not much more than the population of New York City, and that in one suffrage State there were more square miles than people. “What is good for Utah and Colorado may not be good for New York,” he cautioned.

Mary Prendergast noted how unfair and illogical it was that the President must listen to women in States where they can vote, while freely ignoring those in the rest of the nation. Then the difficulty and indignity of the burden women face in winning the vote was brought up by her as well:

Our country ought to be too big and magnanimous to stand by and see the flower of its womanhood spending itself in this hard struggle to which it has consecrated itself and which it is determined never to relinquish until it is won, when with one single act of justice it can place its women, who have never failed it in time of need, in a position of dignity which they surely merit and which they will always cherish.

Doris Stevens added:

The slow, tedious process of converting the male electorate of half the country is a task that we feel is too wasteful. It is too humiliating and unjust and that is the reason we women have come to Congress in such numbers the last two years to ask for a Federal Amendment.

But O’Gorman took a “States rights” stance and said:

States that want woman suffrage can bestow it now as freely and effectively as the Federal Government could if the Federal Constitution were amended for that purpose. The sole purpose of the proposed amendment seems to be to force woman suffrage on the States that are opposed to it.

But his early and enthusiastic support for recently passed Constitutional amendments such as the 16th, which provides for a national income tax, and the 17th, which mandates direct election of Senators by the voters, would seem to call into question his reluctance to amend the Constitution.

Eventually the meeting ended with both sides unmoved and equally committed to their respective stands. Doris Stevens made the best of it: “Well, he has declared himself clearly. That was what we wanted and it was worth coming for.”

Today in Herstory: Women Teachers Mount Fight for Equal Pay

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


April 29, 1905: “Equal pay for equal work” is the demand of an insurgent group of women teachers led by Anna Louise Goessling of P.S. 44 in Brooklyn, New York.

11196308_10204598785753152_5748657600026407220_nShe and some of her fellow members of the New York Class Teachers’ Association have just printed up and sent out a circular to all the women teachers of New York City saying:

The time is ripe to establish the principle of equal pay for equal work. Why should a woman’s minimum salary be $300 less than a man’s and why should her maximum salary be $960 less than a man’s? The women teachers do the same work, are exempt from no rules or duties and most of them have fathers, mothers, sisters or brothers dependent upon them. Why, then, should women not receive the same salaries? Let us make a strong, united effort to bring about a consummation of what is so manifestly just.

At present, elementary school teaching salaries for women start at $600 a year and can rise to a maximum of $1,440 after 11 years if they pass extra examinations. Male teachers begin with a salary of $900 a year and can reach $2,400 after 11 years if they pass the same examinations. Women who teach boys’ classes get an extra $60 a year bonus.

Of course, the first task of the C.T.A. women is to replace the male president of their group, who does not support their goal, with someone who does. Fortunately, an election is scheduled for May 9th and since women outnumber men in the group by 30 to 1, as the only woman running, Goessling’s chances of winning are quite good.

The present C.T.A. President, George Cottrell, was understandably less than enthusiastic about today’s development. Upon being presented with a copy of the circular, which came as a surprise to him, he said: “I consider this an insult. It implies that I have not done my work properly.” The rebel delegation that called upon him was not surprised by his reaction. When the “equal pay” proposition had been suggested last fall, he “frowned upon it” and said that it would only result in the lowering of the men’s salaries.

So, after due deliberation, the insurgents have now taken matters into their own hands. With this kind of determination behind their cause and both logic and justice on their side, it will surely not be long until women win equal pay as well as equal suffrage.


INFLATIONARY NOTE: $1,440 in 1905 = $34,482.80 in 2015; $900 = $21,551.75; $600 = $14,367.83; $300 = $7,183.92; $60 = $1,436.78

Today in Herstory: Fifth Annual League of Women Voters Convention Held in Critical Election Year

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory columnn.


April 28, 1924: Though this is the fifth annual national convention of the League of Women Voters, it’s the first one to be held in a presidential election year since the battle for the suffrage amendment ended in victory on August 26, 1920, so it’s an especially exciting meeting.

Since women in all States can now make their influence felt at the ballot box on the same basis as men, the League takes stands on all the important issues of the day and enforcement of the Prohibition law continues to be one of them. Of course, the fight here was only over how strong and explicit to make the League’s statement of its unwavering support for the nation’s four-year-old “Noble Experiment,” something the group’s founder, Carrie Chapman Catt, actively supports.

An early draft of this year’s Prohibition resolution simply called for “bringing about respect for the law by cooperation and active work for law enforcement” with no specific reference to the Prohibition Amendment. But after a stirring speech by Cornelia Bryce Pinchot and intense lobbying by the Pennsylvania delegation, the final resolution said: “Laxity in the enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution is not only a scandal and dishonor to our nation, but tends to weaken the regard for law in general.”

Mary Garrett Hay, who led the New York City branch of the Woman Suffrage Party in 1917, when women won the vote in a Statewide referendum, chose to look to the future and not the past. With both major parties holding national conventions this summer, her speech contained some advice that will be just as valid in decades to come as it is today:

“Don’t take what the men hand out to you. Take for yourselves the kind of things you want in the platforms and tell the men so. Keep your backbone at the conventions. When they want your vote for a candidate of whom you don’t approve, don’t give it, even for a unit vote. Let the men see that women are going to help to lead them to the right kind of platforms and the right kind of candidates.”

Mary Garrett Hay, head of the New York City branch of the League of Women Voters until last year.
Mary Garrett Hay, head of the New York City branch of the League of Women Voters until last year.

Though the decades-long national battles over both Prohibition and woman suffrage have now finally been settled once and for all by the 18th and 19th Amendments, there are still some issues that provoke fierce debate around the country and the controversy over birth control certainly brought out strong feelings here. After intense arguments were made on both sides of the issue, it was decided that the L.W.V. would not yet take a stand, but that each State chapter is free to do so. The League rejected a proposal to endorse a Constitutional amendment giving Congress the power to regulate marriage and divorce laws, but did go on record as favoring America’s entry into the Permanent Court of International Justice.

Four years of nationwide woman suffrage have not yet resulted in a utopian society, but they have certainly proven that the predictions of anti-suffragists that disastrous social consequences would inevitably follow if women won the vote were, in fact, just as ridiculous as they sounded at the time they were made.

Though it took several generations of work to win the vote, 44 months after that victory, women are already a substantial and well-informed portion of the electorate, with voter registration and voter education programs by the League of Women Voters certainly deserving a share of the credit for that advance.

Women cannot as yet claim credit for electing a President, because Harding won a majority of both men’s and women’s votes in the 1920 election. But it’s still far too soon to know whether similar voting patterns will be the exception or the rule. Should women begin to vote differently from men, politics could still become as radically changed as suffragists hoped and anti-suffragists feared. So, a society in which men and women have equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities may yet be established.

Today in Herstory: New York Will No Longer Enforce Prohibition on Married Teachers

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory columnn.


April 27, 1904: A victory today for female teachers who wish to marry, and for women’s rights in general.

The New York Board of Education has just voted to reinstate Jennie Patterson Vandewater after she was dismissed from her teaching position at P.S. 58 in Queens, on December 23rd, as a result of her marriage. The Board concluded it is now useless to try to enforce its prohibition on married women teachers due to a recent Court of Appeals decision (Murphy v. Maxwell, 177 N.Y. 494) and growing public opposition to the rule.

The regulation read: “No woman Principal, head of department, or member of the teaching or supervising staff shall marry while in the employ of the Board of Education, which may direct that charges be preferred against such teacher by reason of such marriage.” Though the portion of the rule authorizing charges to be brought has been stricken, the part prohibiting marriage by women teachers remains on the books.


But M. Dwight Collier, a member of the Committee on Elementary Schools said: “We will take no action against such women teachers as marry. We are tired of fighting over this matter in the courts and the public is in favor of retaining married teachers.” However, he warned: “I think our action will lead to scandal. I think that the public will regret that married teachers are permitted to teach.”

Interestingly, the Court of Appeals decision was not a rejection of the old-fashioned attitudes behind the ban itself. The problem as they saw it was that Section 1117 of the Greater New York Charter provides that teachers may only be dismissed for specific reasons: gross misconduct, insubordination, neglect of duty, or general inefficiency. Since marriage is not included, the judges ruled that this cannot be the sole reason for dismissal.

A lower court believed that a ban on married women teachers was both valid and justified. One judge opined that the duties of wife and mother were so extensive that they could not help but interfere with those of a teacher. Another judge said of a woman: “While single, her services belong to herself. When married, they belong to her husband,” so therefore a married woman could not complain about being unable to make a contract for her services with the School Board because she had chosen to make herself ineligible to make such a contract.

The practice of firing or refusing to hire married female teachers is of great concern to many women’s groups, prominent among them the New York Legislative League. At a meeting on December 3rd, presided over by Lillie Devereux Blake, the League passed the following resolution in support of Vandewater:

Resolved: That we would respectfully remind the Board of Education that it nowhere appears in any section of the Criminal Code that it is a crime to be a woman, nor do any of the statutes enact that is reprehensible or in violation of any law for a woman to marry, and:

Resolved, That in view of these facts we protest against the attempt on the part of the Board of Education to force out of the service of the schools an admirable teacher, as a violation of all the rules of common sense, as well as an encroachment on the right of a citizen to earn an honest living and do a valuable work; and

Resolved, That we urge the Board of Education to continue the aforesaid teacher in her position and to pay her arrears of salary which have been unjustly withheld from her.

Though a good deal of prejudice against women in the workforce still remains – especially against married women in the teaching profession – today marks a meaningful advance toward equal opportunity and bodes well for unprecedented progress in this new century.

Today in Herstory: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Endorses Family Planning Information Being Widely Available

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


April 23, 1963: A major advance today in the fight for birth control, as the prestigious American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists officially endorsed giving contraceptive information to those who want it.

The national battle over birth control has been raging for half a century now and it was said today that the long delay in the 12 year old group’s endorsement was caused by the fact that so many ACOG members who are Catholic (presently about a quarter) opposed making birth control information available and the other members didn’t feel strongly enough about the issue to push the resolution through until now.


Today, however, an endorsement not only passed, but apparently did so without dissent in a closed-door meeting. The group’s president, Dr. George E. Judd, of Los Angeles, said the “emotionalism” surrounding the issue in the past seemed to have died down. So, times have clearly changed. Some ACOG members said after the vote that this resolution had been “ridiculously” delayed.

Planned Parenthood Medical Director Dr. Mary Calderone expressed her delight at the resolution, saying: “We have reached a turning point.” She referred not only to the ACOG resolution, but the National Academy of Sciences report on population published this week and the fact that the Federal Government has just reversed its previous stand and will now give birth control information on request to those participating in foreign aid programs.

For many decades, both Federal law (the 1873 Comstock Act) and the State laws which were passed soon afterward classified all birth control devices, as well as information about contraception, as “obscenity” with harsh criminal penalties for those who defied the prohibition. But hard work in the form of taking the case for birth control to the public in various forums, plus legislative lobbying and legal challenges to birth control bans have brought substantial progress.

In 1918, Judge Frederick Crane ruled that in New York State, an exception must be made to Section 1142 of the State Penal Code so that physicians could prescribe birth control to their married patients, though only when necessary for the “cure or prevention of disease.” In 1936, a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals exempted physicians from the Comstock Act’s ban on contraceptive devices and information. In 1937, the American Medical Association endorsed birth control.

Today, restrictions vary among the states, but only two – Massachusetts and Connecticut – still have absolute bans on birth control. Connecticut’s law is under challenge. Estelle Griswold and Dr. C. Lee Buxton opened a birth control clinic in New Haven in November, 1961 and were soon arrested and convicted of violating that state’s 1879 law. Their case is now on appeal and a favorable ruling by the Supreme Court could end the battle over birth control by fully legalizing it nationwide.

The A.C.O.G. resolution reads:

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists believes scientific research should be greatly expanded on (a) all aspects of human fertility and (b) the interplay of biologic, psychologic and socioeconomic factors influencing population changes; and that full freedom should be extended to all population groups for the selection and such use of methods for the regulation of family size as are consistent with the creed and mores of the individuals concerned.

Today in Herstory: It’s Official! Suffrage Will Be on the PA Ballot in the 1921 Election

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column


April 22, 1919: Pennsylvania suffragists have never lacked determination and today their persistence paid off, as the House passed a bill – by an almost two-to-one margin – to put a suffrage referendum on the State ballot in 1921.

“Votes for Women” advocates in the Keystone State never gave up after the 1915 suffrage referendum went down to defeat along with referenda in three other big Eastern States that fall. They have been hard at work ever since and have greatly increased the public’s support for equal suffrage in Pennsylvania, so once the Senate has passed the bill and the Governor has signed it, the referendum is expected to easily pass.

But the proposed Pennsylvania Suffrage Referendum of 1921 is just one small part of the reason why optimism abounds among suffragists. Just yesterday, Iowa became the eighth State in three months whose legislatures have passed bills enabling women to vote for President. Though only partial victories, in that women do not yet have full voting rights in these newly-won States, the fact that women can now vote for President in 27 of the 48 states, which have a combined total of 302 Electoral Votes out of the 531 which will be cast, means that regardless of whether the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment is passed and ratified before the 1920 election, women’s votes will be critical to Presidential candidates in the next – and all future – elections.


Leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association are confident that the addition of Iowa, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Vermont (if the Governor’s veto is not sustained by the courts) as Presidential suffrage States will be enough to pressure Congress into passing the Anthony Amendment. The members of the new Congress will represent 15 States in which women vote on the same basis as men, 12 in which they have Presidential suffrage and 29 States in which women have some form of local suffrage (some of which are the same States in which they have Presidential suffrage) and two States in which women can vote in party primaries.

There are now about 15,000,000 women eligible to vote for the next President – a number just 2,000,000 less than the total number of votes actually cast for the two major party candidates in the 1916 Presidential election. The West has only one State – New Mexico – where women cannot vote for President and even the “Solid South” has cracked a bit, as Tennessee women will be able to help elect the nation’s next Chief Executive.

The 66th Congress will be back in session on May 19th and it is expected that the House will once again pass the Anthony Amendment, doing so by a comfortable margin and almost immediately. Polls from various suffrage groups show uncertainty over whether there are precisely enough votes in the Senate, or whether one vote is still lacking for the required 2/3 majority. But the sudden rush of support for Presidential suffrage by the legislatures of so many States can only add to the pressure on Senators to vote for the Anthony Amendment. Then it’s on to the States, where 36 of 48 are required to ratify. Though there is no deadline for ratification (a restriction unique to the 18th Amendment so far), every effort will be made to achieve victory in time for women to register for the 1920 election.

Today in Herstory: Suffragists Push On Across the Nation – and the World

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


April 21, 1913: This certainly has been a newsworthy day for woman suffrage!

The main event was in Washington, D.C., where many Senators and Representatives from States in which women already vote argued in favor of the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment at hearings before the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage.

Senator George Chamberlain, Democrat of Oregon, where women won the vote in a Statewide referendum of the male voters on November 5th, said:

I expect to see conditions in my State bettered, if they can be bettered, now that women have a vote. I expect Oregon to teach a lesson to the ‘effete East’ in legislation for the good of her citizens. The women are instinctively on the side of moral right.

George Chamberlain, Democratic Governor of Oregon from 1903 to 1909 and a United States Senator from that State since 1909.
George Chamberlain, Democratic Governor of Oregon from 1903 to 1909 and a United States Senator from that State since 1909.

Harry Lane, Oregon’s other Democratic Senator, declared: “Woman is the full partner of man through life. I am a physician and I give my testimony to this fact. If I had it my way I would give the women of this country the ballot on a silver salver [tray] with apologies for giving it so late.” He noted that in his battle against the liquor interests, women had always given him great support. Republican Representative Burton French said that in his State of Idaho, where women have had the vote since 1896, women vote in the same numbers as men, thus showing that women do want the vote.

Meanwhile, Alva Belmont is preparing to go to the upcoming International Woman Suffrage Conference in Budapest, which opens June 15th. She said today that on her journey she will stop in Britain to see the Pankhursts and learn something of their militant methods. Though she hopes New York State will pass a suffrage referendum in 1915, Tammany Hall Democrats are unfriendly and liquor interests are very strong, so if the effort is unsuccessful, she believes it will then be time to use English-style tactics:

It is not pleasant to go out and smash windows. You wouldn’t like it and I would not like to, but it is the only thing to be done.

On a more peaceful note, Belmont said that she is collecting the statements of anti-suffragists, will put them in a book some day, “and they will not be proud of them” when equal suffrage is taken for granted as simple, basic justice.

Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore may have given Belmont an entry for her book today. Though he emphasized that the Catholic Church itself is strictly neutral on the issue of woman suffrage, Gibbons said that in his own personal view, a woman is:

 … the queen of the domestic kingdom, and her proper sphere is the home. If she were to embark on the ocean of political life, it is very much to be feared that her dignity would be impaired if not jeopardized … As soon as women seek to enter the arena of politics they may expect to be soiled by its dust. And the grace and charm inherent in woman would be very seriously impaired by her rude contact with men in political life.

The wife who absents herself from her home invariably neglects her children and causes her husband to suffer by her absence … Although women may not now exercise suffrage, the finest among them are voting by proxy. Their power is incalculable. We cannot exaggerate the influence of a good woman on the men of her circle. What would be the value to our national life of votes obtained by the raging tactics that disgrace the name of womanhood?

Unfortunately, the male voters of Michigan seem to feel the same way as the Maryland Cardinal. The results of the April 7th suffrage referendum have now been fully tallied and it has gone down to defeat. It had been hoped that the rural counties which had adopted alcohol prohibition would also be supportive enough of woman suffrage to offset the votes in big cities where saloons still operate freely and the liquor industry has great power. But unlike California in 1911, where farm, ranch and small-town voters saved the day, this time there was no difference between the country and city vote, so the measure went down by a vote of 264,882 against (61%) and 168,738 in favor (39%).

So, “equal suffrage” still remains a phenomenon exclusive to the West. But with November’s victory in Oregon, all West Coast women now have the vote and the newly-enfranchised women of Kansas have brought full suffrage to within 240 miles of the Mississippi River. Once that barrier is breached, many new States in the East can be won, because the way suffrage has spread throughout nine Western States is by winning campaigns in States next to those where women already vote and residents can see that it benefits, not harms, their neighbors.

Today in Herstory: NYC Suffrage Offices Prep For (Another) Big Parade

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


April 20, 1912: There is great excitement and activity today at two New York City suffrage offices, as the day of the big parade approaches.

May 4th is just two weeks away, so there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 marchers take to the streets for the largest and most elaborate woman suffrage pageant ever presented.

10365914_10204538285240677_4828286790065367628_nSuffrage parades began four years ago, when about two dozen brave members of the Progressive Woman Suffrage Union defied custom – and police – by marching a few blocks up Broadway on February 16, 1908. In 1910 the idea was tried again, with the number of marchers increased to four hundred. Last year the rapid growth continued and three thousand stepped off.

Thanks to the annual repetition, favorable publicity and official city permission making the idea seem less radical, more and more people and organizations are now taking part. The victory in California on October 10th, when it became the sixth and by far the largest equal suffrage State has also helped to re-energize the suffrage movement, so there’s really no telling how large this year’s parade may actually turn out to be.

Today the Women’s Political Union was not only open – unusual for a Saturday afternoon – but packed with women in white suits, tri-color sashes and the new 39-cent “Votes for Women” parade hats they will all be wearing. Well, almost all. Harriot Stanton Blatch, president of Vassar’s Class of 1878, W.P.U. President and daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, will be wearing a mortar board and college gown when she leads the parade. A few other officers will be dressed in the same manner.

Meanwhile, at the Woman Suffrage Party’s new headquarters, up to 50 women have been hard at work making large “five dollar banners” for thirty-seven and a half cents. Sixty-three banners are in production, one for each Assembly District in the city. Large black letters are being cut out, then sewn on to “suffrage yellow” banners.

Today’s work commenced very early this morning and only now, at 6 p.m., does it seem to be finishing up. The W.S.P.’s new and much bigger headquarters certainly comes in handy for occasions like this and each of the seven rooms and ten closets is being fully utilized.

As the date of the parade gets closer, volunteers are especially needed by the Women’s Political Union, 46 East 29th Street (Telephone: Madison Square 9880), and the Woman Suffrage Party, 30 East 34th Street, so drop in if you can. There is a wonderfully friendly, optimistic atmosphere in both locations and if the parade gets the kind of unprecedented turnout that’s hoped for, volunteers can not only say that they marched, but that they had the opportunity to meet many well-known suffrage leaders and did some of the hard work that helped make this landmark event such a success.


INFLATIONARY NOTE: $5 in 1912 = $121.40 in 2015; 39 cents then = $9.47 now; 37.5 cents then = $9.10 now.

Today in Herstory: FDR Calls on Women for More Support in Wartime

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


April 17, 1943: While asking for even greater involvement and sacrifice by women in our war effort, President Roosevelt noted today that women have more reason than most Americans to want to defeat the Axis powers:11160565_10204514702411121_9180980048371331357_n

In a profound sense, it is a women’s war. It is a women’s war, first, because we have never before faced an enemy whose pronounced policy has been the degradation of womanhood, whose ultimate design is to build a world where women everywhere will be slaves.

In shops and offices, in factories and farms, women are doing men’s jobs, that men may be free to do the supreme job of beating the Axis. Women have played heroic roles in every crisis of our history, but no other crisis has so deeply threatened their freedom, or so urgently demanded their strength.

His remarks, a well-deserved tribute to the women of America who are now doing vast amounts of defense work as well as serving in uniform, received an enthusiastic response from the audience, composed of Daughters of the American Revolution members, now meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Today in Herstory: Police Raid Birth Control Clinic in NYC

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


April 15, 1929: The Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau’s clinic was raided this morning by New York City police, who arrested two doctors and three nurses, then seized massive amounts of “evidence,” including confidential patient records.

Dr. Hannah Mayer Stone, the Bureau’s medical director, Dr. Elizabeth Pissoort, assistant director, and nurses Antoinette Field, Sigrid H. Brestwell and Marcella Sideri were charged with violation of Section 1142 of the New York State Penal Code, which bans birth control devices and contraceptive information as “obscene” items.

The raid was as surprising as it was outrageous, because it has been 11 years since State Appeals Court Judge Frederick Crane ruled that though New York State’s ban on birth control and the dispensing of birth control information was valid, an exception must be made for doctors prescribing contraception to their married, adult patients if they do so “for the cure or prevention of disease.”

The clinic has operated since January 2, 1923 and was the first in the U.S. to legally provide birth control services. The nation’s first birth control clinic was opened on October 16, 1916, raided 10 days later, then shut down permanently when it tried to re-open. The clinic raided today has been operated in such a way as to carefully conform to the law, as interpreted in 1918 by Judge Crane, in that only licensed physicians dispensed birth control and only to married women whose health would be endangered by a pregnancy.

The Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau's clinic on a much calmer day.
The Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau’s clinic on a much calmer day.

In an ironic note, just moments before the raid occurred, a visiting out-of-State physician was talking to one of the members of the staff and asked if they had any trouble with the authorities. He as told: “No, those days have passed.”

But almost immediately after that conversation, eight police officers came in, pushed the clinic’s many women patients and their children out into the street, took the women’s names, then began arresting the doctors and nurses. The officers confiscated practically everything in sight, from forceps used to handle instruments being sterilized to confidential patient files that are the personal property of the doctors.

All those arrested were taken to the police station, where they were booked, then released on bail pending trial. A full report on the trial will be given when it occurs.

Today in Herstory: Robin Morgan Leads Sit-In Against Grove Press for Sexually Exploiting Women

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


April 13, 1970: Grove Press became the third media target of feminists in the past month as activists led by Robin Morgan staged a sit-in today to protest Grove’s sexual exploitation of women in its publications, as well as its union-busting policies.

Robin Morgan being arrested earlier today at Grove Press.

On March 16th, 46 women employees announced they were suing Newsweek for bias and on March 18th, at least 100 women occupied the offices of The Ladies Home Journal demanding a more relevant and liberated publication.

Emily Goodman, lawyer for the Women’s Liberation Front, which called today’s action, said the final trigger for the takeover was the dismissal of eight employees, six of them women, soon after they attended a union rally and took out union cards on April 5th: “Grove Press won’t let women be anything but secretaries, scrub women and sex symbols,” she said.

The demonstration began at 8 a.m. and after the firm’s executive offices were seized, a banner reading “GROVE LIBERATED BY WOMEN FOR WOMEN” was hung from the window. Coincidentally, a union group was holding a street protest over the firings as well, so the two groups exchanged shouts of support.

Among the demands made by the demonstrators were that Grove establish child-care centers for its employees and that Grove’s profits from “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” be turned over to the Black community. And because Grove “earned millions off the basic theme of humiliating, degrading and dehumanizing women through sadomasochistic literature and pornographic films,” the protesters demanded that profits from Grove’s erotica go to help women who are victimized by the images it shows, suggesting donations go to programs to help women who have been raped, or a defense fund for prostitutes, as two examples.

Today in Herstory: Landmark Ruling Empowers Women to Take Action Against Abusive Husbands

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


April 10, 1882: An abused wife has a right to sue her husband, according to an opinion issued today by Justice John R. Brady of the New York State Supreme Court, writing for the majority.

This bold departure from common law tradition is based on his interpretation of New York State’s “Married Women’s Property Act,” passed in 1860 and revised in 1862. Though on the books for two decades, it has never before been cited as giving married women such independent – even equal – standing in a court of law.

The case was initiated by Theresa Schultz against her husband, Theodore. She obtained an order of arrest against him for assault and battery and also wished to sue him for her injuries. He tried to have the arrest order vacated on the grounds that a wife cannot initiate legal actions against her husband. But his attempt failed in a lower court and today the General Term of the State Supreme Court sustained the arrest order, and in the process made it clear that the rest of the suit can proceed.


According to Justice Brady, the New York State Legislature did intend to change the common law rule prohibiting wives from suing their husbands when in 1860 and 1862 it revised the laws that pertain to married women. Though there have been previous decisions by other judges rejecting this view and who have claimed that to give wives a right to sue husbands would disturb the domestic tranquility of marriage, Brady notes:

To allow the right [to sue] in an action of this character, in accordance with the language of the statute, would be to promote greater harmony, by enlarging the rights of the married woman and increasing the obligations of husbands, by affording greater protection to the former and by enforcing greater restraint upon the latter in the indulgence of their evil passions.

The declaration of such a rule is not against the policy of the law. It is in harmony with it and calculated to preserve peace, and in a great measure, prevent barbarous acts, acts of cruelty, regarded by mankind as inexcusable, contemptible, detestable.

It is neither too early nor too late to promulgate the doctrine that if a husband commits an assault and battery upon his wife he may be held responsible civilly and criminally for the act, which is not only committed in violation of the laws of God and man, but in direct antagonism to the contract of marriage, its obligations, duties, responsibilities, and the very basis on which it rests.

The rules of common law on this subject have been dispelled, routed and justly so by the acts of 1860 and 1862. They are things of the past which have succumbed to more liberal and just views, like many other doctrines of common law which could not stand the scrutiny and analysis of modern civilization.

Justice Daniels concurred in the opinion, but Justice Noah Davis dissented, writing:

I heartily concur in the unbounded detestation of wife-beaters which my brother Brady has so forcibly expressed; and I think the Legislature might well provide a carefully prepared statute giving direct personal remedies by suit in such cases; but the courts have decided that that has not yet been done, and the doctrine ‘stare decisis’ requires us to leave to the Court of Appeals or to the Legislature the gallant duty of setting the law free to redress by civil actions all the domestic disputes of husband and wife, whether committed by unbridled tongues or angry blows.

Despite its name, the New York “Supreme Court” is not truly supreme, and the Court of Appeals, which has the final say in New York State, may rule differently. But simply the fact that such a prestigious jurist has written this strong and eloquent ruling means that the day when a married woman is considered a legally invisible appendage of her husband is either at an end, or at least drawing to a close.

Today in Herstory: Americans Want the ERA!

Founding Feminists is the FMF’s daily herstory column.


April 9, 1975: Public support for the Equal Rights Amendment remains overwhelming, according to a Gallup Poll released today.

Fifty-eight per cent of the 1,542 respondents polled between March 7th and 10th said they favored the Constitutional amendment which would permanently and explicitly ban all forms of sex discrimination, while just 24% were opposed, and 18% had no opinion.

First Lady Betty Ford wearing a large "Ratify E.R.A. in 1975" button on February 26th as an honored guest of the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic Celebrities Golf Tournament in Hollywood, Florida.
First Lady Betty Ford wearing a large “Ratify E.R.A. in 1975” button on February 26th as an honored guest of the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic Celebrities Golf Tournament in Hollywood, Florida.

Support for the E.R.A. was strongest among those under 30 and those in the East (both 67%). Men were actually more supportive (63%) than women (54%) though clear majorities of both groups favored it. Opposition was greatest among women over 50, only 46% of whom supported it and in the South, though even there, 52% were in favor.

The E.R.A, written by Alice Paul, was first endorsed by the National Woman’s Party on July 21, 1923, introduced into the U.S. Senate on December 10, 1923 by Senator Charles Curtis, and into the House on December 13, 1923, by Representative Daniel Anthony (a nephew of Susan B.). Both men were Kansas Republicans. It has had the support of the Republican Party since 1940, Democrats since 1944 and every President since Harry Truman took office in 1945. First Lady Betty Ford is an especially active supporter.

The E.R.A. was passed by the House on October 12, 1971, by a vote of 354-23, then by the Senate on March 22, 1972, by 84-8. A separate resolution, not in the text of the amendment itself, has given it until March 22, 1979 to gain the approval of 3/4 (38) of the 50 state legislatures. None of the first 17 amendments had a deadline, nor did the 19th.

Twenty-two states approved the E.R.A. in 1972. Eight more joined them in 1973 and three more in 1974. North Dakota approved it on February 3rd of this year, bringing the total to thirty-four. Three are expected to consider it this year: Florida, North Carolina and Missouri.

The Equal Rights Amendment is needed because with the exception of the 19th Amendment, which applies only to the right to vote, no amendment in the Constitution was passed for the purpose of banning ANY form of sex discrimination. Therefore the Supreme Court has never felt compelled to rule that laws which discriminate on the basis of sex should be subject to the same “strict scrutiny” test that is used to judge laws which discriminate on the basis of race, religion or national origin.

Almost 187 years after the Constitution took effect on June 21, 1788, it’s long past time for gender bias to be explicitly and permanently prohibited. Laws that discriminate against women – or men – should not be judged according to some uncertain standard that changes with every new Supreme Court appointment.

The E.R.A. has three sections:

Section One: 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 Two: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

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

Gallup pollsters also asked women: “All things considered, who has a better life in this nation, men or women?” Three years ago 34% of women thought they had life better. This year only 26% thought so. If this growing dissatisfaction can be translated into action on the E.R.A., those four more states can be won, hopefully in time for the nation’s Bicentennial next year!