American Women and Their Long Struggle for Equality: Women’s History Month and the ERA

March is “Women’s History Month” in the USA, and like most attempts to honor and respect women, “Women’s History Month” took many years to become official in Congress.

In fact it took from 1981 to 1995!

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Before women had the whole month, the U.S. recognized Women’s History Week; before that, a single International Women’s Day. Dedicating the whole month of March in honor of women’s achievements may seem irrelevant today, but at the time of the conception of Women’s History Week, activists saw the designation as a way to revise a written and social American history that had largely ignored women’s contributions.

Women’s History Month had its origins as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28 which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” Throughout the next five years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as “Women’s History Week.” In 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9 which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.” Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.”

What happened to the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution?

Yes, it is now OK to honor women, but still not OK to offer them equal rights under our constitution. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is a proposed amendment designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. It seeks to end the legal distinctions between men and women when it comes to divorce, property rights, employment, and other matters.

Alice Paul

Alice Paul: Courtesy of the Historic National Woman’s Party, Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, Washington, D.C.

The ERA was originally written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman. and was  introduced in Congress for the first time in 1921. It has prompted many conversations about the meaning of legal equality for women and men ever since.

women working in a factory early 1900s

“In the early 20th century, women who worked outside of the home were primarily low-income factory workers without recourse to oppose the inhumane treatment and serious discrimination they faced. In growing the suffrage movement, activists aligned themselves with the growing female labor force to promote the expansion of labor rights women’s suffrage would help to make a reality. By reaching out to some of the women most hurt by a lack of voice, the suffragist movement gained incredible power in its fights for the vote.

American women gained more than just the right to vote in 1920. After decades of fervent activism and organizing, suffrage finally gave women access to political involvement and the legislative process .The era following the 19th Amendment’s passage saw a dramatic increase in women’s participation in both the workforce. Though societal expectations certainly continued to limit women in many ways, this increase in workplace participation and access to political influence has helped them make amazing strides towards equality at work.”  — SOURCE: https://www.equalrights.org/womens-equality-day-where-would-we-be-without-the-vote/

In the early history of the Equal Rights Amendment, middle-class women were largely supportive, while those speaking for the working class were often opposed, pointing out that employed women needed special protections regarding working conditions and employment hours. With the rise of the women’s movement in the United States during the 1960s, the ERA garnered increasing support, and, after being reintroduced by U.S. Representative Martha Griffiths (D-Michigan), in 1971, it was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on October 12 of that year and on March 22, 1972, it was approved by the U.S. Senate, thus submitting the ERA to the state legislatures for ratification, as provided for in Article V of the U.S. Constitution.

Congress had originally set a ratification deadline of March 22, 1979, for the state legislatures to consider the ERA. Through 1977, the amendment received 35 of the necessary 38 state ratifications. With wide, bipartisan support including that of both major political parties, both houses of Congress, and Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter, the ERA seemed destined for ratification until Phyllis Schafly mobilized her followers against it . These women argued that the ERA would disadvantage housewives, cause women to be drafted into the military and to lose protections such as alimony, and eliminate the tendency for mothers to obtain custody over their children in divorce cases. Labor feminists also opposed the ERA on the basis that it would eliminate protections for women in labor law. The 15 states that did not ratify the Equal Rights Amendment before the 1982 deadline included:     Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana,Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.

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Pillow embroidered by my Mom as gifts to her daughters and granddaughters!

I have to say, I find it amazing that in a country like ours, our equal rights are not a given. This is just another example of how threatening women are to men’s power. After all, where would they be without us? I LOVED the results of the 2018 election.

I guess we need to take over Congress to make it work better!

 

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6 thoughts on “American Women and Their Long Struggle for Equality: Women’s History Month and the ERA

  1. Thank you for the history! Now, as I was reading it it hit me that I’d recently seen something quite recently on the internet about Arizona possibly becoming the 38th state to ratify. I’m in crazytime at work so although the headline caught my eye and made me go “Wait, what?” I didn’t really have time to read it properly, but when I read this I went looking. Pretty interesting rundown, right?

    Like

  2. Great post and I loved that your mom embroidered words of support in your pillow. My mom also has sewn encouragement into her gifts to me, which I then passed on to my daughter. From mother to daughter celebrating strength in our womanhood.

    Like

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