First written by suffragist Alice Paul in 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment was a proposed amendment to the US Constitution that would guarantee equal rights for women and give Congress the power to enforce legal equality between men and women. The amendment was introduced for consideration in every congressional session between 1923 and 1970 without ever being presented for a vote (except in 1946, when it was defeated in the Senate).
During the 1960s, second-wave feminism gained momentum and a new generation of activists addressed a broad range of obstacles to women’s rights and equality in the home and workplace. Representative Martha Griffiths sponsored the Equal Rights Amendment for congressional consideration in 1970. Two years later, the amendment passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate and was submitted to state legislatures, three-fourths of which needed to ratify the amendment in order for it to become part of the Constitution.
The National Organization for Women (NOW), established in 1966, was one of the organizations that took a leading role in this movement and the campaign for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. While many states ratified the amendment right away, it also ignited sharp debate, including among women and feminists. As the amendment approached its ratification deadline in 1979, thirty of the thirty-eight required states had ratified it and Congress granted an extension of the deadline until 1982. Despite years of protest and advocacy by NOW and other organizations, no additional states ratified the amendment during the extension period and the amendment was not adopted. This primary source set uses photographs, ephemera, political cartoons, video clips, and other documents to explore the women’s rights activism inspired by the Equal Rights Amendment.
Additional resources for research
- Martha Griffiths and the Equal Rights Amendment, the National Archives and Records Administration.
- The Long Road to Equality: What Women Won from the ERA Ratification Effort, American Women, the Library of Congress.
- The History Behind the Equal Rights Amendment, equalrightsamendment.org.
- Ravitz, Jessica, “The New Women Warriors: Reviving the Fight for Equal Rights,” CNN.
- Mergel, Sarah Katherine, “From Victory to Defeat: The Equal Rights Amendment,” We’re History.