“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” For nearly a century, those 24 words have been the subject of a longstanding battle to win women equal protection under the law. The proposed amendment is simple, but the fight to add the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution has been anything but.
The amendment has its roots in the aftermath of the suffrage movement. Some activists were ready to retire after the 19th Amendment was finally passed in 1920, but Alice Paul was determined to keep fighting for the entirety of the women’s rights program laid out by founding suffragists in 1848. “We always had perfect loyalty to the whole program and, if we could continue, we knew that the thing must extend to get the whole program a reality,” she said in a 1972 oral history.
In 1923, Paul announced plans to develop and champion a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal protection to both sexes. She named it after women’s rights pioneer Lucretia Mott. It was introduced in the 68th Congress in December of that year by Representative Daniel Read Anthony, Jr. and later revised and renamed after Paul.
The concept hit roadblocks from the start. Many came from other women’s rights activists, who feared the amendment might endanger hard-fought laws that protected women workers. Those concerns, and split opinions on women’s rights, haunted the amendment for nearly 50 years.
The ERA was introduced in Congress over and over again, but despite tantalizing victories, like public hearings and its passage in the Senate in 1946, it was never adopted. Meanwhile, the women’s rights movement changed dramatically as old-guard suffragists passed the torch to new activists. Paul continued her tireless advocacy for decades. She finally found the support she needed in the late 1960s, when second-wave feminists helped push it toward pass