Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.
The need for an Equal Rights Amendment has increased dramatically in the past few years, due to an assault on women’s rights and opportunities that some misguided individuals see as one of the solutions to our country’s current economic crisis.
That was the view expressed by Maud Younger of the National Woman’s Party at a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the E.R.A. today.
Specifically mentioned as examples of this trend are the firings of marred women workers to make jobs available to men, and new laws restricting only women’s hours and regulating only their pay. The hearings were chaired by Senator John G. Townsend, Republican of Delaware, an E.R.A. supporter. He said:
It has been my observation that women have not sought recognition in our political life as a matter of special privilege, rather they have asked simply for their rights. On this ground they won their suffrage. It is my belief that on the same principle of justice they will win equality in legal status. It may be contended that the results hoped for in the measure might be accomplished by working through State legislatures. I submit that such procedure would mean long delay.
Of the three main witnesses, only one spoke against the legislation. Mary Winslow, of the Women’s Trade Union League, appeared as a representative of her group as well as several others. As a supporter of special “protective” legislation for women she called the E.R.A., “vague, unnecessary, ineffective, destructive, reckless of consequences and tyrranous.”
But Florence Bayard Hilles sees so-called “protective” laws as simply “restrictive,” and a woman’s status under the law as what’s vague and too easily changed:
Today the civil rights of women can be extended or restricted at the caprice of any State legislative authority, so that a woman’s right to earn her living in the trades or professions, or the uses of the powers of her mind, or body, can be defined, permitted, or denied by State legislative authority. The history of the common law is the story of master and slave. Women were at one time in the slave class, and some of the attributes of that status still cling to her. Today there is absolutely no reason to regard a woman as a weakling or an inferior. She has demonstrated her ability in spite of the handicaps imposed on her by law and custom, and earned her complete emancipation. This emancipation should be written into the Federal Constitution in order that it may be made secure.
The Equal Rights Amendment was written by Alice Paul, and the campaign for its adoption was launched by the National Woman’s Party on July 21, 1923. It was introduced into Congress in December of that year by Senator Charles Curtis and Representative Daniel Anthony, both Republicans of Kansas. Rep. Anthony is the nephew of Susan B. Anthony. Two months later, the first hearings were held by a Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, with the National Woman’s Party testifying in support. On February 4, 1925, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first E.R.A. hearings. Last year saw two positive developments, as the E.R.A. got a hearing before the full House Judiciary Committee, and on September 22nd, Amelia Earhart and other members of the National Woman’s Party called on then-President Hoover to discuss the measure with him.
Eighty-five years after the Seneca Falls Convention, and thirteen years after national suffrage was won, the battle for total equality continues. Though that may still be a distant goal, the continued activism of those who were active in winning the vote, such as Alice Paul, Maud Younger, and Florence Bayard Hilles, should insure the same successful outcome for this amendment as for the 19th.
The Equal Rights Amendment states : “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.”