National Organization for Women (NOW) brochure on Equal Rights Amendment, 1976
Throughout the 1970s, many women witnessed the advancement of African Americans in the work place, public spaces, and education, while little progress was made by feminists. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came with a provision guaranteeing equal rights for women, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was unable to effectively enforce that equality. In response, the National Organization of Women (NOW) stepped in. Twelve years later, NOW printed this brochure as a reminder to everyone in the United States that women's rights had not yet advanced far enough. From its headline of "200 years of bondage is enough," to its closing image of a modern young woman alongside an older suffragist, readers of this Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) brochure felt the intensity of the new feminist movement.
The brochure lists disparities in social and economic status between men and women and suggests remedies. This strategy was notable because it demonstrated a more conservative type of feminism: the makers of this brochure did not want to alienate the lawmakers in Washington by positioning themselves as too radical. The brochure also pointed out that Pennsylvania's ERA amendment did not increase the divorce rate as a result of women's expansion of rights, one of the primary arguments made by opponents. However, civil rights movements had historically only succeeded at the federal level, so feminists focused their efforts on Congress and on obtaining a constitutional amendment. Taking another page from the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s, NOW was backed by wealthy organizations such as the AFL-CIO and the American Civil Liberties Union to promote a stable, centrist image. After all, the majority of members in these organizations were men. And if men could stand behind women's rights, they determined, so could the federal government.
Many attempts to obtain an equal rights amendment had been made throughout the 20th century but were never quite successful. The first attempt in 1923 was not supported by the federal government. An amendment was again submitted in 1958 with President Eisenhower's support, but stalled in Congress and never passed. Despite numerous failures, an ERA bill was introduced with each new Congress. ERA submission to state governments, in contrast, met with much greater success. Early adopters of equal rights amendments such as Alaska, California, and Pennsylvania had equal rights legislation as early as 1972. Currently, over 22 states have explicit ERA stipulations in their state constitutions.
Ultimately, the ERA brochure is evidence of a new generation of women using techniques popularized by the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s to advance their own agenda. They connected with the population using economic appeals, which worked especially well in the weak economy of the 1970s. Although an ERA amendment would eventually pass through Congress, state ratification led to its rejection in 1982. And while gender disparities still exist today in the military, the workforce, and healthcare, efforts like the brochure from NOW reveal the battles American women had to fight in order to win the freedom they have today.
The Equal Rights Amendment: Unfinished Business for the Constitution (website), Alice Paul Institute in collaboration with ERA Task Force of the National Council of Women's Organizations, accessed November 2012, www.equalrightsamendment.org.
"History of NOW," National Organization for Women, accessed November 2012, www.now.org/history.