SISTERS OF '77

The Movement

schedule

The E.R.A.

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 provisions of this article.

Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Best known as the ERA, the Equal Rights Amendment was a hot topic at the 1977 National Women’s Conference. At the time, three more states were needed to ratify the amendment into the U.S. Constitution. The conference’s national plan of action called for the ratification of the ERA, and resulted in extending its ratification period for another three years.

States Yet to Ratify the ERA
In order for the ERA to pass, it had to be ratified by 38 states. Indiana was the 35th and final state to ratify the amendment in 1977. As of March 2005, 15 U.S. states have not ratified the ERA:

Alabama
Arizona
Arkansas
Florida
Georgia
Illinois
Louisiana
Mississippi
Missouri
Nevada
North Carolina
Oklahoma
South Carolina
Utah
Virginia

 “If we passed the ERA we'd be in better shape, no question about it. We would have eliminated sex discrimination in insurance.. We would have been better off in social security. Women are still getting 60 percent of what men are getting in social security. We'd have a better opportunity for equality in the military and we would have stronger laws for fighting sex discrimination, wages, and education.”

What is the ERA?

Suffragist leader Alice Paul, founder of the U.S. National Woman’s Party, wrote the ERA in 1923. Paul and her supporters saw the ERA as a necessary step to guarantee equal justice and freedom from legal gender discrimination following the passage of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed voting rights to women in 1919.

The ERA was introduced to Congress every year from 1923 to 1972, when it was finally passed as the proposed 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The next step was to receive ratification from 38 states. After the 1977 National Women’s Conference, Congress extended the ERA’s seven-year time limit for ratification for another three years, but by the amendment’s 1982 deadline, only 35 states had ratified it—three states short of the requirement. The ERA has been reintroduced into every session of Congress since 1982.

Why was the ERA controversial?

Opponents of the ERA claimed that the amendment would deny a woman’s right to be supported by her husband, send women into combat and increase abortion and gay and lesbian rights. Anti-ERA sentiments were also voiced by business interests, such as members of the insurance industry, which profited from gender discrimination. As Gloria Steinem says in SISTERS OF ’77, “The media bears a heavy responsibility for the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, because not one major media outlet ever did a report on what the Equal Rights Amendment would and wouldn't do, not one. And almost no coverage included the wording of the Equal Rights Amendment.”

As opposition to the ERA grew, some states retracted their prior ratification, and others, such as Illinois, changed laws in order to make ratification more difficult. When Indiana became the 35th and last state to ratify the ERA in 1977, pro-ERA groups such as the National Organization for Women (NOW)—which organized a 100,000-person march in Washington, DC—pressed for an extension from Congress. But after President Ronald Reagan took office 1980, the Republican Party removed ERA support from its platform.

The ERA Today

Would the ERA have made a difference if it had been ratified in 1977? According to Feminist Majority Foundation President and former NOW President Eleanor Smeal in SISTERS OF ’77, “If we passed the ERA we'd be in better shape, no question about it. We would have eliminated sex discrimination in insurance. We would have been better off in social security. Women are still getting 60 percent of what men are getting in social security. We'd have a better opportunity for equality in the military and we would have stronger laws for fighting sex discrimination, wages and education.”

Although the ERA continues to be introduced to each session of Congress, passage of the amendment has yet to regain the momentum it did during the 1970s. In order for the ERA to be fully amended, two-thirds of each house in Congress must first pass it, followed by its ratification by 38 states. Ratification efforts continue, with women and men in many of the unratified states working under the “three state strategy.” This strategy argues that because there was no actual time limit for ratification in the original ERA, the amendment remains only three states short of official ratification. As Betty Friedan says, not all hope is lost: “I think we will get the Equal Rights Amendment about the time when we get the first woman president… which may not be so far off.”

Learn about the U.S. women’s movement >>

View a timeline of American women’s struggles and triumphs >>

Find out about the National Women’s Conference >>

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