A Brief History

Section 1: 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 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3: This Amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

The ERA, authored by prominent suffragist and National Woman’s Party leader Alice Paul, was first introduced in Congress in 1923 and then again in every Congressional session until it first passed in the Senate and then the House on March 22, 1972.

Every proposed Constitutional amendment must pass by a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate, after which it is sent to the states for ratification. In the case of the ERA, however, Congress imposed a seven-year timeline in the preamble of the resolution on the ratification process. The timeline was not in the ERA itself and the states did not vote on it.

Three-fourths –38– of the states must ratify an amendment before it can become part of the U.S. Constitution. Hawaii was the first state to ratify the ERA, less than an hour after it passed out of Congress. Other states quickly followed. By January 1977, 35 states had ratified the amendment.

With the seven-year deadline approaching, women’s rights activists took to the streets to demand removal of the timeline, a movement led by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and its then president, Eleanor Smeal, co-founder and current president of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF).  More than 100,000 people marched down Pennsylvania Avenue calling to remove the timeline. Furthermore, around 400,000 people sent telegrams to Congress demanding the timeline be removed, with the slogan “No time limit on Equality.” The amount of telegrams delivered caused the system to crash at Western Union, the largest provider of telegrams in the country at the time. In the fall of 1978, Congress granted an extension of the deadline until June 30, 1982.

The campaign for the final three states to ratify the ERA was intense. The Equal Rights Amendment had massive support even in unratified states. In Illinois, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, and Virginia state public opinion polls showed strong support for the ERA, with substantial majorities. Support for the ERA was even higher in national polls. Hundreds of women’s, civil and labor rights groups supported passage including:

  • National Organization for Women
  • National Women’s Political Caucus
  • League of Women Voters
  • American Association of University Women
  • National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs
  • YWCA
  • National Bar Association
  • National Congress of Black Women
  • National Coalition of Labor Union Women
  • National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers
  • Generation Ratify

The ERA had support from major Democratic and Republican leaders alike, including former President Jimmy Carter, as well as celebrity supporters. Former First Lady Betty Ford and television celebrity Alan Alda were the co-chairs of the ERA Countdown Campaign and Maureen Reagan, daughter of former President Reagan, toured with the ERA campaign. In total, over 450 organizations with memberships of more than 50 million people participated in the national and state ERA campaigns.

Opposition to the ERA came from the South, led by Chambers of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and insurance companies working carefully behind the scenes. President Reagan was the first Republican president to oppose the ERA. He claimed to be in favor of the “Equal” and “Rights” parts but not the “Amendment” part of the ERA. Big corporations feared losing the cheap labor pool of women workers.

Insurance companies regularly discriminate on the basis of sex in premiums and benefits. For example, before the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance plans charged women between 100 and 150 percent more than men for the same plans, citing “maternity claims” as the reason. Despite the fact that 80 percent of individual policies did not cover maternity. Insurance rates based on a binary gender system do not account for trans and non-binary people, cutting off access to health insurance entirely. The ACA bans sex discrimination in pricing and benefits and requires coverage for birth control, domestic violence claims, and maternity. The ACA, however, is vulnerable to being repealed with a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress, while the ERA would not be repealed once ratified. Misogyny and discrimination in health insurance impact gender minorities including women, trans people, and non-binary folks. This discrimination costs billions of dollars yearly. 



Support eh ERA banner