Why an Equal Rights Amendment?
April 5, 1924
The Equal Rights Amendment of the Woman’s Party embodies the goal visioned in 1848 by the Seneca Falls Convention, which marked the beginning of the organized effort for suffrage for women. That convention demanded suffrage for women as a tool with which to uproot all the injustices of the law toward women. We have won the tool. Now, under the leadership of the Woman’s Party, we are going forward to make real the complete equality visioned by the great leaders of 1848.
In not a single State of the Union today do women have equal rights with men. In some instances inequality has been written into the statutes; in many instances the injustices of the Common Law, which considers women little more than chattels, still continues. In one State at least, for instance, the husband can forbid even the wife’s father or mother to come to the house, even though the house is the property of the wife. Columns could be filled with other injustices almost as glaring. Often laws which on their face seem to guarantee women the same rights as those guaranteed to men are interpreted by Courts, which still, so far as the minds of the judges are concerned, belong to a bygone age, to deprive women of the rights guaranteed by such laws. For instance, Secretary of War Baker ruled in 1918 that, though the law said that citizens possessed of certain medical education were eligible to the Medical Reserve Corps, women could not be appointed, and his Judge Advocate General supported him on the ground that “citizens” under that law meant only male citizens, because (in his opinion) “women were not suited for the work.”
Only an amendment to the Constitution, which in clear-cut language decrees that everywhere and always women and men have equal rights under the law, can guarantee to women that they shall not be discriminated against by written statutes or unwritten Common Law, or the narrow prejudice of judges and government officers clothed with a little brief authority.
In every State in the Union a married woman’s work in the household or for her husband in any capacity is the property of the husband. If there were even one State in the Union where today some men legally owned the labor of other men, it would start a revolution. Even Teapot Dome would be forgotten and neglected until Congress and President blotted out such remnants of the days before 1863. But, it is true that today not merely in one State, but in every State, some men, that is husbands, own the labor of some women–that is, own the labor of their wives. Do we not need an Equal Rights Amendment?
Some oppose our program because they still believe that women were created solely for the comfort and glory of men. Some oppose it because they think that “anything that’s new is scandalous.” Some oppose it because equality for women affects their selfish interests. Some oppose it because they would rather play the uplifter to the weak than give the weak a weapon which would make them strong; but, for the most part, those opposed or indifferent are opposed or indifferent because they do not know the facts and have not been aroused to their responsibility to do justice. It is from these latter we will get our recruits to swell us to the mighty army which will sweep us to our goal.
The restrictions placed upon the labor of women unless removed will shut the door of opportunity to women. Executive positions in the business or industrial world, which mean influence and high salaries, are never filled from the ranks of clock-watchers. But a law diminishing the hours of labor for women makes all women clock-watchers. Men and women in industry and business are competitors, and so long as women are subject to restrictions which do not apply to men, women will get only the jobs which no man wants. This is the way the eight-hour law for women only has worked in California and other States. If there were competing stores on either side of a street and those on one side were forced to close at 4 o’clock while those on the other side could stay open until 6, it would be cold comfort to the shopkeepers compelled to close at 4 to tell them that it was for their benefit and to lessen the strain on them, and to give them time for other things, if they saw the customers streaming into the rival stores while they had to stay closed.
Because such restrictions mean the closing of opportunity to women whose ability would enable them to rise to executive positions, the business and professional women of the country are nearly a unit in opposing them. In 1920 the National Federation of Business and Professional Women passed the following resolution:
“Resolved, That the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs favors a shorter work day and the most sanitary and humane conditions in industry, but stands for the principle of equality of rights and opportunities and equal freedom of contract for men and women, and stands for any such industrial legislation regulating hours of labor or in any way affecting freedom of contract as is based upon the conditions obtaining in the respective industries or vocations thereby affected, and not upon the sex of the worker.”
The Woman’s Party will never rest from its labors until women have reached the goal visioned by the great leaders of 1848–the complete emancipation of women.
Source: Gail Laughlin, “Why an Equal Rights Amendment?” Equal Rights, 11 (5 April 1924), p. 61 (Gerritsen Collection of Women’s History, microfilm (1980)).