A Brief History of the ERA from 1923 to Present

Research compiled by Nichola Weiss, Jazmin Martinez, Heidi Jones & Mary Grace Baldo


• July 20, 1923, three years after women won the right to vote, the head of the National Women’s Party, Alice Paul, took the next step in the women’s movement by authoring the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) — presented as the “Lucretia Mott Amendment” — at the 75th Anniversary celebration of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. Paul’s proposed amendment would constitutionally recognize women, affirming that men and women have equal rights under the law.

• On December 10, 1923, Senator Charles Curtis and Representative Daniel R. Anthony Jr. (Susan B. Anthony’s nephew), both Republicans, introduced the ERA to Congress for the first time.

• Alice Paul relentlessly advocated the ERA, as it was introduced into every Congressional session between 1923 and 1970.

• The amendment never reached the floor of the Senate or the House during this time, except in 1946 when the ERA was narrowly defeated in the Senate by a vote of 38 to 35.

• The Republican Party adds support for the ERA beginning in 1940 (continuing until 1980).

• The American Federation of Labor and other labor unions strongly opposed the ERA, arguing that protective labor legislation for women would be invalidated.


• During the late 1940’s through the 1960’s Eleanor Roosevelt (as well as many New Dealers) strongly opposed the ERA. Roosevelt believed the amendment would, prevent Congress and the states from passing special protective legislation that she thought women workers needed. As a strong female figure during this time period, her opposition may have contributed to the ERA’s inability to pass. (http://conservapedia.com/Eleanor_Roosevelt)

• In the 1960’s, lead by NOW, “The civil rights movements…fostered the second strong wave of political activism on the part of women in this century; this time women made equality, not suffrage, the central symbol of their struggle.” (http://womenshealthency.com/e/equal-rights-amendment/) Equality in the work place, such as wages and fair treatment, began to become very important.

• “The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave women wage-earners an incentive for supporting the Equal Rights Amendment. This was primarily due to the fact that this period marked the first time it was economically possible for a full-time employed woman to support herself and two children. Women began to understand how important the ERA was to their individual lives and how it could significantly help them financially. (http://womenshealthency.com/e/equal-rights-amendment/)


• Alice Paul, the original author of the ERA, urged the National Organization for Women (NOW) to endorse the amendment, and they finally did so in 1967; this also helped to increase NOW’s membership. NOW continued to become a major lobbying force.

• Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, gave a notably famous speech on the floor in 1969, during which she proclaimed that equal rights for women, “Sooner or later must become part of the basic law of the land.”

• In February of 1970, twenty NOW leaders disrupted hearings of the United States Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments, demanding that the ERA be heard by all of Congress. Later that year, the Senate Subcommittee began hearings on the ERA. Furthermore, the ERA left the House Judiciary Committee due to a discharge petition filed by Representative Martha Griffiths (notably the person most responsible for including the prohibition of sex discrimination under Title VII).

• The ERA passed in both houses of Congress in 1972; it then went to the country’s fifty state legislatures for ratification. The imposed seven-year deadline demanded 38 states ratify the ERA by 1979.

• 1973 saw 30 ratifications. Between the years of 1974 and 1977, only 5 states ratified the ERA, for a total of 35 of the 38 states required.

• The deadline fast approaching, Representative Elizabeth Holtzman successfully argued to extend the ERA’s ratification deadline to June 30, 1982. Ratification was only needed from three states within the next three years.

• Illinois was considered a critical state to ratify the ERA because it was believed that other states would follow. In 1982, seven women, including Sonia Johnson and Zoe Ann Nicholson, went on a public hunger strike at Illinois’ capital, consuming only water. They were provided chairs, but only because a nurse’s union petitioned for them. Other women chained themselves to the rotunda of the building, only to be thrown into trash dumpsters outside in the middle of the night by police forces. http://www.amazon.com/Hungry-Heart-Womans-Fast-Justice/dp/0972392831

• When the deadline arrived in 1982 the ERA was still three states short of ratification. Later in the year, the struggle started all over again when the ERA was officially reintroduced in the United States Congress. In 1983, it failed to pass by the required 2/3 majority in the U.S. House of Representatives–only six votes short.

• From 1985 to the present day, the ERA has been reintroduced into every single session of Congress and has yet to have been included in the Constitution.



• While the ERA wallows, a different amendment is added to the Constitution. The Madison Amendment, introduced in Congress in 1789 and addressing congressional pay, becomes the 27th Amendment to the Constitution.

• The religious Right keeps up its opposition to women rights. “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” – Pat Robertson in a 1992 Iowa fundraising letter opposing a state equal-rights amendment

• During its annual national conference in 1993 NOW organizes two committees to work on the ERA. One committee focused on grassroots efforts, with members from different states launching state-based efforts to support the ERA. The other committee examined the impact of the ERA in states that had already passed their own version of the amendment.

• During an ERA strategy summit at the July 1994 annual NOW conference activists developed a new language for a new ERA, requiring the inclusion of reproductive rights and abortion, regardless of a person’s sexual orientation.

• In 1995 supporters for the ERA continued to push for ratification bills in some of the unratified states, among them Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Virginia. As a result the bill was introduced in several legislative sessions.

• In 1996 Members of NOW vote to advocate a new ERA, the “Constitutional Equality Amendment,” which prohibited sexism, racism, homophobia and discrimination against marital status, ethnicity, national origin, color or indigence.

• -During 1996 the congressional research service analyzed the argument that the passing of the 27th amendment had no implications for the passing of the ERA by three more states would allow congress to declare the ratification done.

• The legal analysis done in 1996 on the 27th amendment is highlighted in an article by Allison Held, Sheryl Herndon, and Danielle Stager called “The Equal Rights Amendment: Why the ERA Remains Legally Viable and Properly Before the States” in the Spring issue of William & Mary Journal Women and the law.

• In 1999 the Vermont Supreme Court decided same-sex marriages may benefit and be protected in the form of civil unions. In 2000 the Vermont Legislature, without a state ERA in place, passed the civil union statute.

• A 2001 study by the ERA Campaign Network in Princeton found that 96% of adults believed that male and female citizens should obtain equal rights; 88% believed that Congress should make it obvious that male and female are equal in the U.S. Constitution, and 72% believed that the Constitution already states that men and women are equal.

• The Washington State Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that limiting marriage to one man and one woman did no violate the state constitution, regardless whether Washington State had an equal rights amendment.

• 2007 Testing the three-state strategy with the ratified bills has been presented during one or more legislative sessions in eight states. (Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Virginia) in hopes to move the bills in all 15th unratified states.

• On July 21, 2009 Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney reintroduced the Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. House, (H.J.Res. 40).

• In September 2010 Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in a conversation with a reporter about the Wal-mart sex discrimination case, expressed his opinion that the Constitution does not protect against sex discrimination.

• On June 22, 2011 Rep. Carolyn Maloney. joined by Sen. Robert Menendez, again publicly reintroduced the Equal Rights Amendment, citing the Supreme Courts decision in the Wal-mart case as a “a classic example of how far attitudes must still come. The facts of the case support the view that over a million women were systematically denied equal pay by the world’s largest employer,” Maloney said. “While the ERA would apply only to government action, its effect would be sweeping, historic—and long overdue.”

• March 8, 20 11 Congress woman Tammy Baldwin and co sponsor Robert Andrew presented H.J.Res 47 in 2011 to remove the ERA ratification deadline — and to make the ERA part of the U.S. constitution as soon as three or more states vote to ratify it.

• On February 14th for the second year now the Virginia Senate has approved a resolution, which would ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

Partial list of Work Cited
“Chronology of the Equal Rights Amendment, 1923-1996.” National Organization for Women (NOW). Web. 08 Mar. 2012. .
Francis, Roberta W. “History.” Equal Rights Amendment Home Page. National Council of Women’s Organizations. Web. 08 Mar. 2012. .
Francis, Roberta W. “FAQ.” Equal Rights Amendment Home Page. National Council of Women’s Organizations. Web. 08 Mar. 2012. .
“1992 Republican Convention.” – Speeches. Web. 08 Mar. 2012.


2 Responses to A Brief History of the Equal Rights Amendment

  1. […] Equal Rights Amendment: Over 90 years ago,   Alice Paul, who was sometimes imprisoned for her activism in the women’s suffrage movement, wrote the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The text was a simple sentence: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” […]

  2. Susan Bingler says:

    I am 70 years old. I cannot believe that this nation cannot get this done! Having lived through the whole attempt from the 1960’s forward, I am aware that people in the 21st century do not take this seriously. I have three grown daughters who are every bit the feminists that I am. I have four granddaughters and one grandson who don’t have a clue about this history. People don’t understand why we need the ERA.

    I have been looking at the current sites on the web and now I am really concerned. The people at NOW are making a mistake by wanting to start all over with a newly named amendment. They are dividing the people who need to stand together to pass the ERA. “United we stand; divided we fall”!

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