Some of the Pioneers Along the Journey to Women's Equality
Abigail Adams (1744 - 1818)
In 1776, America's founding principle, All Men Are Created Equal established that wealthy, white, land-owning males became the artificial standard of comparison for all human beings. Women and slaves were legally owned as property.
Abigail Adams in letters to her husband, John, urged him to equate the legal status of women alongside of men in the New World.
I cannot say that I think you are very generous to the ladies; for, whilst you are proclaiming peace and good will to men, emancipating allnations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over wives. But you must remember that arbitrary power is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken; and notwithstanding all your wise laws and maxims, we have it in our power, not only to free ourselves, but to subdue our masters, and without violence, throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet."
However, 56 wealthy, white, land-owning males declared their independence from the king of England and established themselves as the standard of comparison to decide the fate of all others. Women became the property of men and were legally barred from establishing and participating in American law, government, business, education, military, religious and social institutions.
For the past 223 years, women have waged an uphill struggle for autonomy. Full equality under law has not been achieved yet and requires ratification of the Equal RIghts Amendment to overthrow centuries of patriarchal domination by tradition.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 - 1902) (top)
In 1848, in Seneca Falls, NY, at the First Women's Rights Convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton presented the revolutionary Declaration of Sentiments to over 300 gathers affirming how the Declaration of Independence could apply to women.
Considered far too radical to pursue, the group settled for achieving the legal right for women to vote. Elizabeth's dedication to women went beyond suffrage to parental and custody rights, property rights, employment and income rights, divorce laws, the economic health of the family, birth control and temperance.
Susan B. Anthony (1820 - 1906)
In 1852, Susan B. Anthony and Ms. Stanton met through a mutual friend and began a 50-year friendship working on women's suffrage. Susan B. traveled the United States and Europe, and averaged 75 to 100 speeches per year for over four decades.
In 1872, Ms. Anthony was arrested and fined $100 for the illegal act of voting. She plead not guilty in this adaptation of her famous speech where she asserts that voting is her legal right as a citizen under the Constitution which promises to All the blessings of liberty.
Susan B. Anthony's arrest proved that the 14th Amendment's 'equal protection clause' did not apply to women. Without constitutional equality to guarantee the right to vote, it took 72 years for women to change the minds and hearts of men and the Constitution.
Author of Equal Rights Amendment, Dr. Alice Stokes Paul (1855 - 1977)
Dr. Paul was a brilliant strategist and courageous pioneer in women's history. She never married and devoted her life to the cause of social justice for women. Studying in England she became involved in the suffrage movement and returned to America as a radical champion for voting rights for women.
Her non-violent activities of campaigning against the party in power, picketing the White House and organizing large-scale parades for publicity landed her in jail three times. Alice went on hunger strikes while in prison where she was brutally tortured and force-fed three meals a day for weeks on end. Her determination and perseverance to fulfill Susan B. Anthony's legacy brought about the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Having been awarded two PhDs in Economics and Law, Alice viewed suffrage as the means to achieving full legal, political and social equality with men. In 1921, she wrote the original Equal Rights Amendment.
It was adopted to the Republican Party platform in 1940. In 1943, Dr. Paul revised the text to resemble the 14th and 19th Amendments and it was added to the Democratic platform in 1944. It would be 50 years before the ERA would finally pass in Congress.
Congresswoman and Presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) (1924 - 2005)
Listen to Ms. Vesta Patrick, a student's recitation of Congresswoman Chisholm's Equal Rights Amendment speech delivered on August 10, 1970.
The ERA FINALLY IS APPROVED BY CONGRESS 50 years later!
On October 12, 1971, the US House of Representatives finally passed the ERA and on March 22, 1972, the Senate followed. However, the final resolution attached an arbitrary seven-year deadline to expire in 1979. Four hundred and fifty national and local organizations stood united to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sex. Citizens lobbied, petitioned, picketed, fund-raised, rallied and celebrated this exciting nationwide movement towards social justice for women.
By 1978, with 35 state approvals in hand, just three states short of victory, proponents requested an extension of another seven years but were only granted three years and three months. Given that it had taken suffragists 72 years to win a single right to vote for women, all other rights that men held were to be won in ten years proved impossible. In ten years, ERA achieved the support of more than 2/3 of Congress and 35 out of the 38 states it needed. Equality, Justice, and Liberty were coming down the home stretch with just three states left to go.... and then June 30, 1982, arrived and the ERA "expired".
A human being's right to equality does not "expire" in democratic societies. And yet it did for Women across America.
Despite the 72% majority opinion of the states in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment, Congress stood silent. Refusing to extend or remove an arbitrary deadline for ratification, ERA was thrust into political exile for nearly 30 years. Until United 4 Equality took a stand to petition Congress to eliminate their deadline for women's equality.
On March 8, 2011, to honor the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, then-Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced United 4 Equality's original resolution to eliminate any deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. On March 22, 2012, to mark the 40th anniversary of the Senate's original passage, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) introduced the joint resolution.
In 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA. In 2018, Illinois became the 37th and in 2020, Virginia became the 38th and final state needed.
In 2020, President Trump's Justice Department and its Office of Legal Council indicated that the ERA's original deadline had expired and therefore the ERA was not able to be approved by the final three states.
Should women be required to start all over again with a new Equal Rights Amendment to ratify? This would require 2/3 of Congress to vote YES and 38 of 50 states.
Or in the spirit of the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause, why should the classification of one's sex be subjected to arbitrary deadlines when one's race is not? Both are immutable characteristics.
United 4 Equality urges Congress not to hit the restart button on ERA and erase the efforts of so many. Instead, recommit to ending sex discrimination as part of America's economic recovery effort and global competitiveness.
Though women have achieved much progress, it has never been without struggle and sacrifice to prove themselves worthy of human rights that are men's from birth. The Equal Rights Amendment is a living legacy of centuries of women pioneers seeking a brighter future in America.
United 4 Equality is honored to help advance these pioneering women's lifelong vision of a better and more just world for All.