Founding Feminists: January 16, 1957

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.

The Equal Rights Amendment got a major boost today when President Eisenhower became the first Chief Executive to include a call for its passage in a Presidential message to Congress.

He wrote: “The platforms of both major parties have advocated an amendment to the Constitution to insure equal rights for women. I believe that the Congress should make certain that women are not denied equal rights with men.”

via Boston Public Library
via Boston Public Library

The E.R.A. was first introduced into the Senate by Senator Charles Curtis (R-Kansas) on December 10, 1923. It was then introduced into the House three days later by Rep. Daniel Anthony (R-Kansas), a nephew of Susan B. Anthony. It has been the subject of hearings since February, 1924. The Republican Party became the first to endorse it in 1940, with Democrats following suit in 1944. In 1945, President Truman became the first President to personally endorse it. In 1946 the Senate voted 38-35 in favor, and though well short of the 2/3 needed, it was still an encouraging show of progress and support.

In 1950 the E.R.A. passed the Senate 63-19, and in 1953 by 73-11. However, this was with an extra section attached by Senator Carl Hayden (D-Arizona) declaring that: “The provisions of this article shall not be construed to impair any rights, benefits or exemptions, now or hereafter conferred by law upon persons of the female sex.”

The “Hayden Rider” is totally unacceptable to the amendment’s author and chief advocate, Alice Paul of the National Woman’s Party. Her amendment guarantees absolute legal equality for both men and women: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Seven years ago, when the “Hayden Rider” was first tacked on, Paul said: “It is impossible to imagine the Constitution containing two such paragraphs,” and she has not changed her opinion.

Alice Paul said today that only four more votes are needed in both House and Senate to get the 2/3 necessary to send the amendment to the 48 states, where it needs the approval of 36. Hopefully the President’s endorsement can help sway enough votes to get the E.R.A. passed in its original form, and enable it to swiftly become the 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In April, a third of a century (33 years and 4 months) will have passed since the E.R.A. was first introduced into Congress. That’s far too long to have postponed making this simple declaration of equality between men and women a part of our Constitution, so it should be passed by Congress and ratified by the states without delay.

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