America in Ferment: The Tumultuous 1960s
|The Equal Rights Amendment||Previous||Next|
|Digital History ID 3345|
In March 1972, the Congress passed an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the United States Constitution, prohibiting sex discrimination, with only 8 dissenting votes in the Senate and 24 votes in the House. Before the year was over, 22 state legislatures ratified the ERA. Ratification by 38 states was required before the amendment would be added to the Constitution. Over the next five years, only 13 more states ratified the amendment--and 5 states rescinded their ratification. In 1978, Congress gave proponents of the amendment 39 more months to complete ratification, but no other state gave its approval.
The ERA had been defeated, but why? Initially, opposition came largely from organized labor, which feared that the amendment would eliminate state "protective legislation" that established minimum wages and maximum hours for women workers. Increasingly, however, resistance to the amendment came from women of lower economic and educational status, whose self-esteem and self-image were bound up with being wives and mothers and who wanted to ensure that women who devoted their lives to their families were not accorded lower status than women who worked outside the home.
The leader of the anti-ERA movement was Phyllis Schlafly, a Radcliffe-educated mother of six from Alton, Illinois. A larger than life figure, Schlafly earned a law degree at the age of 54, wrote nine books (including the 1964 best-seller A Choice Not an Echo), and created her own lobbying group, the Eagle Forum. Schlafly argued that the ERA was unnecessary because women were already protected by the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which barred sex discrimination, and that the amendment would outlaw separate public restrooms for men and women and would deny wives the right to financial support. She also raised the "women in combat" issue by suggesting that the passage of the ERA would mean that woman would have to fight alongside men during war.