Introduction

As the United States struggled with the issue of civil rights, another issue of rights began to gain attention: equal rights or equal opportunities for women. As with African American civil rights, the movement for women’s rights had been part of American politics since the Revolution. It too gained momentum following the Civil War; one accomplishment was the Nineteenth Amendment (1920), which gave women the right to vote. (Several states had granted them that right earlier.) Advocates for women’s rights also proposed an amendment guaranteeing equality of rights for women. First introduced in Congress in 1923, the amendment was introduced every year thereafter and passed and submitted to the states finally in 1972, with a deadline for ratification of March 22, 1979. The amendment read:

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.

Thirty-five of the necessary 38 states ratified the amendment before opposition to it, led largely by Phyllis Schlafly, stalled the process. Under pressure from women’s groups like the National Organization for Women, Congress extended the ratification deadline, but the amendment never passed. The Florida House of Representatives passed the amendment several times but the Senate did not, rejecting it by a vote of 16 for, 22 against a week before the extension deadline.


Anti-ERA Demonstration, 1975. Black & white photonegative, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. https://goo.gl/doUKq5. Photographed in the Florida State Capitol’s Rotunda.


Anti-ERA demonstration. 1975. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, PR02874.

Study Questions

A. In what ways does Shirley Chisholm compare the issues of equal rights for women and African Americans? Why does she think passage of the Equal Rights Amendment is necessary? Does Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s discussion of the “horribles” ascribed to the ERA by its opponents address all of Phyllis Schafly’s objections?

B. Compare the discussion of women’s rights in these documents with the discussions of rights for freed slaves, African Americans, and workingmen. How are they alike? Are they dissimilar in any ways?

C. Consider the arguments presented here in light of the discussion of citizenship in earlier times in American history; how have attitudes from the earlier time period remained in force? How have they changed?