August 18, 1920 was the day the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. The Nineteenth prohibits any citizen being denied the right to vote just because they have the misfortune of being born female. The cause was known as the Women’s Suffrage movement; my great-aunt, Mary Utopia Rothrock (Aunt Topie) and her sister, my grandmother, exchanged letters referencing “speaking on the corner” about the issue that held such passion for them both: votes for women.
The pin pictured was given to me by my mother, who got it from Aunt Topie. I know Aunt Topie agitated strongly for women’s rights. Once voting was secured, Topie moved on to equal pay for women, a proposition even more shocking than the thought of women holding power in the electorate. More on that later, including a provocative newspaper account of her efforts.
When I was growing up in the 1970s, the Equal Rights Amendment was big news. ERA it was called, and the bold green buttons were everywhere. My mother was an ardent supporter. My father too. And my sister and all her friends.
The Equal Rights Amendment was introduced to Congress in 1923. In 1972, the Amendment passed both houses and was sent to the states for ratification. By 1977, it had 35 of the necessary 38 state votes. By 1979, five of those states – specifically, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Tennessee, home state of my great-aunt and grandmother – rescinded their approvals. By the extended deadline in 1982, no additional states voted to ratify the ERA. Equal rights for women was dead, and remains so.
What were the words that the majority of states found (and continue to find) so offensive? Simply this:
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.
Clearly, we need more women like my grandmother and my Aunt Topie.