Today’s post was written by Christine Blackerby, Education and Public Outreach Specialist in the Center for Legislative Archives.
Today is Women’s Equality Day, which marks the date in 1920 when the 19th Amendment providing for women’s suffrage was declared to be ratified and therefore part of the U.S. Constitution. The drive for women’s voting rights had started in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. By the time the amendment was certified on August 26, 1920, it had taken 72 years to realize the goal.
However, many women saw suffrage as just one step for women’s rights. There was much more to be done to ensure that women would be equal to men. Three years later, in 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was introduced in Congress for the first time. Congressman Daniel Anthony, Susan B. Anthony’s nephew, submitted the joint resolution in the House of Representatives, starting a debate that continues to this day. Introduced in Congress more times than any other amendment, the Equal Rights Amendment would have provided for legal gender equality if it had been ratified by the states.
Anthony’s amendment failed, as did over 1,100 more attempts. The issue continued to gain support though, and in the 1970s Congress held hearings on the Equal Rights Amendment. Many citizens wrote to Congress to express their support or opposition. One supporter was Liz Carpenter, who warned, “Don’t be fooled by the bugaboos raised by the Amendment’s opponents. Women will gladly trade protective laws for some equal pay and equal rights.” But Congress also heard from women like Mrs. Thomas Zeko, who said, “The mal-contents, lesbians and Communists of women’s lib main purpose seems to be to downgrade the marvelous vocation of mother-homemaker.”
The ERA passed Congress in 1972 by a two-thirds vote, as required by Article V of the Constitution. However, amendments must also be ratified by three quarters of the states, and the ERA was just three states short of the 38 ratifications needed. As the seven-year time limit for ratification approached in 1979, Congress and President Jimmy Carter controversially extended the deadline three years. However, no additional states ratified. In 1982, the amendment failed.
The National Archives Museum exhibit “Amending America” features these documents and many other stories about constitutional amendments. All of the documents from the exhibit are available in NARA’s online Catalog as well as in an eBook available as a free download in the iTunes store.
The 1,100 proposals for the ERA are part of the list of more than 11,000 constitutional amendments that have been introduced in Congress. As part of the “Amending America” initiative, the National Archives digitized the list of amendments, and made it available for free download on Data.gov.
We’ll soon be adding new channels for sharing these stories online. The National Archives Women’s Affinity Group (WAG) will introduce a new Twitter account and Tumblr blog to explore the history of American women and promote the documents which tell their stories. Follow @USNatArchives on Twitter and US National Archives on Facebook for information on the launch.