The Equal Rights Amendment: A Very Short Introduction
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 provision of this article.Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification. These simple words comprise the entire text of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), affirming the equal application of the U.S. Constitution to both females and males. The ERA was written in 1923 by Alice Paul, suffragist leader and founder of the National Woman's Party. She and the NWP considered the ERA to be the next necessary step after the 19th Amendment (affirming women's right to vote) in guaranteeing "equal justice under law" to all citizens. The ERA was introduced into every session of Congress between 1923 and 1972, when it was passed and sent to the states for ratification. The seven-year time limit in the ERA's proposing clause was extended by Congress to June 30, 1982, but at the deadline, the ERA had been ratified by 35 states, leaving it three states short of the 38 required for ratification. It has been reintroduced into every Congress since that time. In the 110th Congress (2007 - 2008), the Equal Rights Amendment has been introduced as S.J. Res. 10 (Sen. Edward Kennedy, MA, lead sponsor) and H.J. Res. 40 (Rep. Carolyn Maloney, NY, lead sponsor). These bills impose no deadline on the ratification process in their proposing clauses. The ERA Task Force of the National Council of Women's Organizations supports these bills and urges groups and individuals to advocate for more co-sponsors and passage.Source: The ERA: A Brief Introduction. Equal Rights Amendment. 12 Dec. 2010. Web. 3 Jan. 2011.
The Era of the ERA
All in the Family
Women's Liberation circa 1970
Firing Line (1973)
Web Resources about the Equal Rights Amendment
Summary: The Discovering American Women’s History Online website “provides access to digital collections of primary sources (photos, letters, diaries, artifacts, etc.) that document the history of women in the United States. These diverse collections range from Ancestral Pueblo pottery to interviews with women engineers from the 1970s.” Readers of the site “can browse the database by subject, place, time period, and primary source type.” Although this site does not deal exclusively with the Equal Rights Amendment (hereafter ERA), it devotes a section of materials (under “Subjects”) to that topic and the rest of the materials provided on the site offer readers a fairly exhaustive overview of the historical and socio-cultural conditions that led up to and culminated in the proposal of the ERA in 1972.
Evaluation: This site is developed and maintained by Ken Middleton, a reference librarian at Middle Tennessee State University Library whose graduate work specialized in American women’s history. The site has been awarded the prestigious ABC-CLIO Online History Award (2009) and the ACRL WSS Award for Significant Achievement (2009). Information is meticulously cited and documented and the research materials provided have clearly been very selectively chosen to provide readers only the most credible resources on the topics. A very easy to navigate and thorough website on American women’s history.
Summary: This primary resource is part of Calisphere, “The University of California’s free public gateway to more than 200,000 digitized primary sources.” Specifically, this site features an interview with the creator of the ERA, Alice Paul, which was conducted by Amelia R. Fry on November 24 – 26, 1972, as part of the Suffragists Oral History Project. According to this website, the Suffragists Oral History Project “was designed to tape record interviews with the leaders of the woman's suffrage movement in order to document their activities in behalf of passage of the Nineteenth Amendment and their continuing careers as leaders of movements for welfare and labor reform, world peace, and the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.” This site features a brief introduction to the Suffragists Oral History Project, a narrative history of the interview with Alice Paul, an overview of the interviewer’s impressions of Alice Paul, and a complete transcript of the interview.
Evaluation: This site offers readers an important piece of the history of the ERA--a discussion of its evolution, its history, and its import from the woman who conceived it, Alice Paul. The site is part of a very credible and ongoing research project sponsored by the University of California library system and, as such, boasts of the highest credibility and intellectual rigor. Thorough information about the project, its origins, and its participants is included on the site and additional related resources (including photo scans of letters from Alice and photo scans of news articles about Alice Paul) are available. A superb primary resource.
Score: 18 Summary: This site provides readers with a comprehensive introduction to American history from the founding of the country to the present day. From the homepage, readers can link to a textbook (which offers a brief but fairly comprehensive chronological survey of American history broken down into mini-essays), a timeline of American history, a searchable database of primary documents, an in-depth look at online exhibits, an extensive online reference room, and multimedia resources related to history. While there are many documents and resources related to women’s suffrage and the ERA made available on this site, there also are a wealth of other topics available for study. The sections of the textbook that deal specifically with women's suffrage can be found HERE. Evaluation: This site is highly credible, co-sponsored as it is by the University of Houston, the Chicago Historical Society, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, American Voices, the National Park Service, and TAH2. Clearly, its primary purpose is to make available to a wide audience documents (both primary and secondary) that record and reflect on America’s rich and diverse history as a country. The information is exhaustive in scope, well-researched in content, and accessible to a variety of audiences. Founded in 2006, the site is maintained by credible authorities in the field of American history (who include both scholars and students of history and all of whom are credited in the section titled Credits) and is regularly updated with new and revised content. The site is very easy to navigate, with a site map as well as a searchable database of documents and resources. This is a spectacular website for amateur and seasoned historians alike.
Score: 18 Summary: Owned by the Independence Hall Association (hereafter IHA) in Philadelphia and created/maintained by some of the country’s top experts on American history (including Carol Berkin, Joseph Ellis, and Robert Regan, among many others), this online history textbook is part of a much larger site (ushistory.org) devoted to documenting and celebrating the history of the United States. Featuring a chronological survey/analysis of major periods and events in America’s history from its Native American past through the Presidency of Bill Clinton, the textbook is well-researched, informative, and accessible to scholars of history at many skill and knowledge levels. Of particular interest to scholars interested in the ERA is the section on “Shaping a New America,” which includes entries on (among other topics) Modern Feminism, The Fight for Reproductive Rights, The Equal Rights Amendment, and Roe v. Wade and Its Impact. Evaluation: All of the historians who have created the content for this site are listed by name in the left-hand column and separate links take readers to additional biographical information about the contributors; this information clearly establishes not only the contributors’ expertise in the area of historiography generally, but also the contributors’ expertise in their individual areas of interest. The page itself is sponsored by the IHA, which was founded in 1942 with the “mission to educate the public about the Revolutionary and Colonial eras of American history, as well as Philadelphia generally”; as such, this resource obviously is intended to “support scholarly research with the conveyance of information.” Sources for information are linked when relevant and appropriate, photographs and other visuals are clearly labeled, and the site is regularly maintained/updated.
Summary: A “project of the Alice Paul Institute in collaboration with the ERA Task Force of the National Council of Women’s Organizations,” this website offers readers an exhaustive introduction to the ERA. Included in the information provided by this site is: a brief overview of the ERA; a thorough history of the events that led up to the proposal of the ERA; a justification for the ERA; a hyperlinked list of Senators and Representatives who support the ERA; a detailed history of the ERA’s national ratification status; an overview of the current three-state strategy that the National Council of Women’s Organizations supports in its efforts to reintroduce the ERA in Congress; a hyperlinked list of national organizations that support the ERA; and links to other sites where additional information about the ERA can be found.
Evaluation: Although parts of the site (esp. the section titled “Strategy” and the appeal to viewers for a tax-deductible donation) are understandably biased (“understandably” because one secondary goal of the site is to advocate for the reintroduction of the ERA into Congress), the overarching tone is largely informative and the site provides a thoughtful and thorough introduction to the ERA. Information is cited (usually in hyperlink form so that readers can move seamlessly between the current webpage and its source), authorship is credited when appropriate (and some authors are important figures within the women’s rights movement), and the site provides readers with a search feature to make navigation even easier. That the site is sponsored by the Alice Paul Institute, whose “principal mission is to enhance public awareness of the life and work of Alice Paul,” indicates some bias, but also points to a larger objective of offering readers factual information.
Summary: Begun three decades ago, the National Women’s History Project set out with the simple, but incredibly important goal of “writing women back into history.” Of particular interest is the “Resource Center” provided on this site, which offers readers: a wealth of information about past and present figures within the women’s rights movement (“Biography Center”); an abbreviated history of the Women’s Rights Movement; an exhaustive state-by-state list of contact information (with hyperlinks when available) for women’s history organizations and museums; an overview of Women’s Equality Day; and much more. While this site includes only a small amount of information about the ERA specifically, it is an invaluable resource for understanding the political culture that gave rise to the ERA.
Evaluation: Although no specific authors are credited for writing the information included on the site, the sponsoring organization is highly credible and well-recognized within the field of women’s studies. Founded in 1980, the National Women’s History Project “is a non-profit educational organization committed to recognizing and celebrating the diverse and significant historical accomplishments of women by providing information and educational materials and programs.” When appropriate and relevant links are provided to additional resources and/or source from which information has been borrowed. The site is frequently maintained and updated and the primary purpose of the site is to provide readers with information (though some biased opinion is obviously included).
Summary: Included on the website for the House of Representatives, and prepared for the 111th Congress by Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney on July 13, 2009, this .pdf provides a comprehensive overview of the ERA as well as some insight into recent efforts to reintroduce the ERA to Congress. Designed in large part to rally support for the reintroduction efforts, this site nonetheless contains some important information, including: the complete text of the Equal Rights Constitutional Amendment; an abbreviated legislative history of the amendment; a list of co-sponsors for the amendment from the 110th Congress; some facts about the ERA; an overview of the 2003 Dingell-Maloney Glass Ceiling Report; a summary of the findings of an ERA Public Awareness Poll; a Statistical Snapshot of American Women; and FAQs on the ERA.
Evaluation: In general, this resource is highly credible. It is published on a government website and written by a well-known and highly reputable member of Congress. Source materials for information cited within the resource are provided and the resource and its sponsoring website are both regularly maintained and updated. The only reservation that I have about this particular resource is that while some of the information is designed purely to inform, ultimately the document was prepared to persuade individuals to cosponsor the ERA. That the focus of the resource is “to promote something” (in this case, an specific piece of legislature) suggests the possibility of bias.
Summary: Begun in 1984 as a means of honoring Alice Paul’s legacy and preserving her home, the Alice Paul institute is a not-for-profit corporation based in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. The website for the Institute reflects the four key missions of the corporation—to educate the public about Alice Paul’s life, to preserve historical Paulsdale (Paul’s ancestral home), to develop future leaders, and to assist in the achievement of women’s equality. Of most relevance to scholars of the ERA is the section of the site on Alice Paul herself, which includes a fairly comprehensive list of links to Resources on Alice Paul, including: The Herstory Scrapbook (over 3,000 articles from the New York Times, dating from 1917 through 1920, on the topic of women’s suffrage), Votes for Women (suffrage books and pamphlets at the Library of Congress site), American Women (a “gateway” to women’s history resources at the Library of Congress), as well as links to literary works about the suffragist movement and Alice Paul herself.
Evaluation: While one of the primary purposes of the Alice Paul Institute website is to rally support by way of membership, donations, planned giving, etc., the primary purpose of the sections discussed specifically above is to provide readers with information about this key historical figure and to outline the impact that her efforts had on American history and the American women’s movement. No specific author is named, though the fact that the site is sponsored by a long-established and well-known not-for-profit contributes to its overall credibility and reputability. Credit is given to the outside sources that are linked to the site and the site is regularly updated and maintained.
Summary: Sponsored by the Liz Library, this site features a wealth of primary and secondary resources on Women’s history in general and Women’s suffrage in particular. Of particular note to this webography is a complete transcript of the 1981 U. S. Commission Report on the ERA. However, other documents provided on the site include: a timeline of women’s suffrage; Abagail Adams’ letters to John Adams; a list of women’s suffrage resources; the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments; Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman” speech; and a comprehensive list of hyperlinks to related resources.
Evaluation: This site is incredibly useful not only for scholars researching the ERA, but also for scholars researching a variety of general and specific issues related to the American women’s movement. Significantly the site features both primary and secondary documents and is sponsored by an organization that is designed to support scholarly research by providing credible resources to parties interested in women's history. While no specific author is listed, a perusal of the home page for the Liz Library (as well as the many additional pages of topical research and resources that this organization provides) suggests that the site is not only maintained by highly credible experts in the fields of women’s studies and women’s history, but also is regularly updated with new resources and information.
Summary: In this article (first published online in 1996), feminist activist Jo Freeman considers the ways in which the ERA is worded and how wording has over time impacted the interpretation of the Amendment. Within the article, Freeman provides a brief, but thorough, history of the evolution of the ERA (both its cultural history within the American feminist movement and its linguistic history as a proposed Constitutional amendment).
Evaluation: Although this article appears on a personal webpage for an individual, and although some of the content on the website reflects the author’s personal bias, ultimately this particular article primarily seeks to support scholarly research with the conveyance of information and the production of “original” research and thinking about the ERA. Freeman provides a comprehensive bibliography and her credentials as a feminist scholar and thinker are impeccable.
Content created by Dr. Heath A. Diehl. Last updated 6 January 2011.