This week marks the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Congress. On December 10, 1923, Susan B. Anthony’s nephew, Representative Daniel R. Anthony (R-KS), and Senator Charles Curtis (R-KS) introduced the ERA in their respective legislative chambers. Just as the Nineteenth Amendment for women’s suffrage had become known as the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment” to honor Anthony’s activism, the ERA was known as the “Lucretia Mott Amendment” in honor of Mott, an abolitionist and suffragist, and other reformers who met at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, to demand equal rights for women. The Lucretia Mott Amendment was drafted by Alice Paul, Crystal Eastman, and other National Woman’s Party (NWP) members and was reintroduced at every session of Congress for the next 49 consecutive years, although the original wording was later revised.
The ERA, which guarantees equal rights under the law regardless of sex, was heavily debated from the 1920s onward, even though support for equal rights for women appeared on both major political party platforms beginning in the 1940s. After languishing in committee for many years, the ERA was eventually brought to a floor vote in 1970 through the efforts of Representative Martha Griffiths (D-MI), and the many other women members of Congress who supported her efforts from both sides of the aisle. The amendment was approved by the House on October 12, 1971. The Senate approved the ERA on March 22, 1972, and the amendment was sent to the states with a seven-year deadline for ratification. In just one year, the ERA was successfully ratified by thirty states out of a required thirty-eight. It looked like smooth sailing.
As the ERA gained momentum, however, a strong conservative opposition arose. By the late 1970s, the ERA had become more politically divisive. No states ratified the amendment after 1977 and some even tried to rescind their previous ratifications. Even though extensions were granted to the ERA’s ratification deadline, the amendment remained three states short of victory, as illustrated by the above Christmas tree shown on the cover of the NWP’s Equal Rights newsletter in December 1980. Many supporters and detractors considered the ERA dead after June 30, 1982, the final ratification deadline. More recently, however, advocates have revived ratification efforts and are pushing for the amendment’s passage in Congress. They continue to argue, in agreement with the text in the illustration, that the “The ERA is NOT DEAD.”
Research materials documenting the perspectives of the ERA’s supporters and opponents are available throughout the Library of Congress, including, but not limited to, the Manuscript Division and the Prints and Photographs Division. Researchers may be especially interested in the records of ERAmerica, League of Women Voters, and National Woman’s Party, and the papers of Patsy T. Mink.
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