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The History of the Equal Rights Amendment

by the Alice Paul Institute

Alice Stokes Paul (1885-1977), a Quaker from Mount Laurel, New Jersey, was a key figure in the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. While many suffragists left public life after the enactment of the 19th Amendment, Alice Paul believed the true battle for equality had yet to be won. In 1923, Paul announced that she would be working for a new constitutional amendment, one she authored and initially named the “Lucretia Mott Amendment.” Renamed in 1943 as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), it called for absolute equality stating, “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” The ERA was introduced in every session of Congress from 1923 until it passed in 1972. During the 1940s, both the Republicans and Democrats added the ERA to their party platforms. In 1943, the ERA was rewritten and dubbed the “Alice Paul Amendment.”  In its current wording it reads, Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

“There is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.”
Alice Stokes Paul, author of the ERA

In 1972, the ERA passed both houses of Congress and went to the states for ratification. Congress placed a seven-year deadline on the ratification process, a comparatively short deadline for an amendment, especially when considering that most amendments are never given deadlines to begin with. This time limit was placed not in the words of the ERA itself, but in the proposing clause. Like the 19th Amendment before it, the ERA barreled out of Congress, getting 22 of the necessary 38 state ratifications in the first year. The pace slowed as opposition groups began to organize – only eight ratifications in 1973, three in 1974, one in 1975, and none in 1976. Despite a Congressional extension through June 30, 1982, the ERA did not succeed in getting an additional three state ratifications before the deadline.


“The need for a federal Equal Rights Amendment remains as compelling as it was in 1978, when now Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the Harvard Women's Law Journal: "With the Equal Rights Amendment, we may expect Congress and the state legislatures to undertake in earnest, systematically and pervasively, the law revision so long deferred. And in the event of legislative default, the courts will have an unassailable basis for applying the bedrock principle: All men and all women are created equal."

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