Founding Feminists: December 11, 1921

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.

The campaign for a 20th Amendment, to assure equal rights for women, is quickly taking shape!

Though ratification of the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment 16 months ago marked a major advance for women’s rights, winning the vote can only be a stepping stone on the path to total equality. Today the National Woman’s Party announced a preliminary draft of a measure to transform the ideal of equal rights for men and women into a Constitutional amendment permanently mandating it nationwide.

At the N.W.P.’s national convention in February – the first since ratification of the 19th Amendment was officially certified by the Secretary of State on August 26, 1920 – the delegates demanded “absolute equality” as the party’s new goal. A committee of legal experts was appointed to draw up a preliminary proposal for the wording of a Constitutional amendment to be approved by the organization, then submitted to Congress for passage and then to the States for ratification. The tentative text, announced today, says: “No political, civil or legal disabilities or inequalities on account of sex, or on account of marriage unless applying alike to both sexes, shall exist in the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Gail Laughlin
Gail Laughlin

Among the many prestigious members of the committee who came up with the suggested wording are Gail Laughlin, who was a full-time activist with the National American Woman Suffrage Association for many years, and the first president of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women; Shippen Lewis, Secretary of the Legal Education Committee of the American Bar Association; Matthew Hale, former National Chairman of the Progressive (“Bull Moose”) Party, and George Gordon Battle, former Assistant District Attorney for New York.

According to Laughlin: “The amendment to the United States Constitution proposed by the National Woman’s Party asks nothing more for women than equal political, civil and legal rights with men, and certainly women should be satisfied with nothing less.”

George Gordon Battle thinks the time is right for this next, and final, step on the road to equality: “Undoubtedly such an amendment is required by the preponderant force of moral sentiment and by the progressive tendency of the times.”

Though the National Women’s Trade Union League expressed concern that a “blanket equal rights amendment” might endanger so-called “protective” legislation for women, Frank Walsh, former Joint Chairman of the War Labor Board and legal counsel for many labor organizations believes:

The political, civil and legal disabilities and inequalities leveled against woman, on the sole ground of sex, are so great in number, and so deeply engrafted in our legal structure by national and State statutes, as well as by court decisions, that I can see no way of approximating justice as affecting the sexes, except by passage of such as amendment as your organization has proposed. Indeed, without such an amendment, in my opinion, the late amendment guaranteeing women the right of suffrage would become a mere abstraction.

J.D. Wilkinson summed up the reason why this new amendment is the logical companion to the 19th: “The Fifteenth Amendment followed the Fourteenth Amendment, and it was generally conceded that one was the complement of the other. An amendment to the Constitution should follow the Nineteenth Amendment, giving to woman her civil rights as the Nineteenth Amendment gives to her political rights. Indeed, the latter appears the more important of the two.”

The struggle for nationwide woman suffrage, culminating with passage of the 19th Amendment, took 72 years, so the campaign for the 20th Amendment is expected to be a long one as well. The founder of the National Woman’s Party, Alice Paul, may also wish to rewrite the amendment’s somewhat cumbersome language before having it formally introduced in Congress. But the last phase of the battle for equality between men and women has finally begun, and if supporters of this “equal rights” amendment have the same dedication and persistence as those who fought for the 19th, the result should be equally successful.

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