Ordinary equality

mission & values

With COVID-19 dominating the news and social media, most of us have, understandably, lost sight of the fact that March is National Women's History Month. With the month coming to a close, I wanted to take this opportunity to spotlight an oft-overlooked hero, Alice Paul.

Alice Paul (1885-1977) was a vocal leader of the 20th century women's rights movement. With her friend Lucy Burns, she formed the National Women's Party and organized the Silent Sentinels, a group of women who silently protested at the White House for over two years, until the passage of the 19th Amendment. After women were granted the right to vote, many suffragists retired from public life, but Paul believed that the battle for true equality had just begun. In 1923, she authored the Lucretia Mott Amendment, which was renamed the Equal Rights Amendment (and nicknamed the Alice Paul Amendment) in 1943. Paul devoted her life to fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. as well as women’s rights internationally. She died the same year I was born.

Growing up, I was taught that my parents were partners and equals. Both worked full time jobs and both retired from the top position in their respective organizations. I never felt one parent's job was more important than the other; it didn't occur to me until I was older that one might make more than the other. It definitely never crossed my mind that women would ever be paid less than their male colleagues for doing the exact same job. Or passed over for a well-deserved promotion; or be prohibited from working in certain professions; or have lesser standing in a property dispute, divorce or other legal matters— just on the basis of sex.

With the exception of the 19th Amendment, the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee that the rights it protects are held equally by all American citizens regardless of sex. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) seeks to change that by eliminating all legal distinctions between men and women in terms of employment, divorce, property and other matters.

"There is nothing complicated about ordinary equality." -Alice Paul

Following Paul's authorship of the ERA, it slowly garnered support. In the early 40s, both the Republican and Democratic parties added it to their political platforms (the Republicans removed it in 1980). But it also faced steep opposition from the labor movement and social conservatives.

It wasn't until 1972 that the ERA passed in both chambers of Congress and was sent to the states for ratification with a short 7-year deadline (most amendments aren't given any deadline). Like the 19th Amendment before it, states moved quickly to ratify the ERA, with 22 of the necessary 38 states doing so by the end of the first year. But as opposition began to organize, the pace of ratification slowed: 8 in 1973, 3 in 1945 and 1 in 1975. Despite a 3-year extension, the ERA fell 3 states shy of full ratification. It was a significant defeat for all those who had fought so hard for decades. 

But then, 35 years after the deadline, the state of Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA. Illinois followed in 2018 and earlier this year, Virginia made history by becoming state #38. With the necessary ratifications finally in place, efforts are now focused on lobbying Congress to remove the deadline. 

Just like Alice Paul and thousands of others before and after her, you too can make a difference. You can learn more about current legal efforts to ratify the ERA here, and ways to support the movement here. And take a second  to give thanks to Alice for her lifelong fight for equal rights.

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