The "New" Equal Rights Amendment of 1972

Dangerous? Radical? New? None of the Above?

ERA Yes signes - 2012
ERA Yes: Signs from the 40th anniversary of Congressional passage of the ERA, 2012. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

In 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) passed the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and was sent to the states for ratification. Anti-ERA forces called the proposed amendment a dangerous new idea. They also said this "dangerous ERA" was backed only by radical feminists of the women's liberation movement. But was the ERA of the 1970s a dangerous or radical idea? Was it even new?

In the words of anti-ERA activist Phyllis Schlafly of STOP ERA:

"A radical feminist organization called the National Organization for Women stormed the halls of Congress and forced a vote on the Equal Rights Amendment. Only 24 members in the House, and eight in the Senate, voted against it. On March 22, 1972, Congress sent the amendment to the states, which had seven years to ratify it." (Phyllis Schlafly, editorial in the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers, April 8, 2007)

ERA History

Actually, the supposedly radical, dangerous, new ERA was fifty years old, and had been introduced in almost every session of Congress for decades as a means to dismantle institutional sexism. Early feminist Alice Paul authored the original version of the Equal Rights Amendment, whose wording differed slightly from the 1972 ERA. Alice Paul's amendment was introduced in 1923, three years after ratification of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote.

A Variety of Support

Feminists of various ideologies supported the Equal Rights Amendment, not just radical feminists.

The National Organization for Women (NOW), which contributed its full resources to the passage of the ERA, was a liberal feminist organization that differed philosophically from radical feminism and often had public disagreements with other women's liberation groups.

NOW was founded just a year before the ERA campaign began.  As for radical feminists, they were not called or self-styled "radical" because they were on the fringe of society, but because they analyzed and proposed changes to patriarchal society from its root, which is what radical means.  

The Republican Party included a pro-ERA in its party platform from 1940 until 1980. Betty Ford, Republican First Lady (1974 - 1977), actively supported the ERA, as did many pther Republicans.  

ERAmerica, founded in 1975 to counter Schlafly's anti-ERA campaign, included Maureen Reagan, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, Erma Bombeck and Alan Alda.

While labor unions had for many years opposed an Equal Rights Amendment, because it could dismantle special protective laws for women, the Coalition for Labor Union Women organized in 1974 stood firmly for passage of the ERA.

Some groups rooted in faith, like the YWCA and the National Council of Jewish Women, supported the women's movement and the passsage of the ERA.

Not the First Time

Meanwhile, in the intervening years between 1923 and 1972, the ERA was often discussed in Congress. Both the Republican and Democratic parties added support for the ERA into their party platforms during the 1940s.

The Senate voted on the ERA more than once and passed it during the 1950s. The House passed the amendment in 1970, then again in 1971. Finally, in March 1972 the Senate passed the amendment during the same session of Congress, and it was sent to the states.

Many states also have equal rights provisions in their state constitutions.