Copyright © 2010 Henrietta W. Hay
Remembering NOW and the ERA
October 22, 2010
I was working recently on the endless job of sorting pictures. Too many years of dumping them all in a drawer have caught up with me and I find pictures of my parents and grandparents and me having a picnic in a Denver park next to pictures of my 85th birthday party. The problem with this particular sorting job is that certain pictures jog memory into a dead stop. Mine stopped in the seventies with snapshots of the ERA march in Grand Junction.
Those were exciting times for women. The local chapter of NOW was formed and the ERA had finally gone to the states for ratification. In case anyone is too young to know, ERA stands for Equal Rights Amendment and NOW stands for National Organization for Women.
We were in another political battle, just as intense as the one the country is in now, but not so profane or hateful. We met and we marched and we sang and we probably yelled a little bit. We decided that women had been second class citizens long enough and we weren't going to take it any more! Our ages varied, but most of were young and full of energy and anger at the doors that were closed to us. I was probably the oldest one in the group. And we were having fun, too. This was the first time since the suffrage fights of the 19th century that women had really come together in a political cause that was vital to us.
Nearly forty years later we have aged a lot, and probably mellowed a bit, but most of us still call ourselves, privately at least, "Feminists." One of the gang who winters elsewhere recently sent me an essay titled, "The Collapse of Patriarchy." She said, "Yes, I am still a good "F" and keeping the ideology up despite many odds!" Some of you, of course, are young enough that you do not realize what we were marching for. ERA stands for the Equal Rights Amendment and it simply said, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." That seemed pretty reasonable to us and still does. But oh what a war it started.
Suffragist leader, Dr. Alice Paul, proposed an amendment that would put women in the constitution in 1923. Each year, for forty-nine years the amendment was submitted to Congress and defeated. Finally on March 22, 1972 it passed both houses of Congress. On that day Senator Sam Erwin of North Carolina, its main opponent, acknowledged defeat. Raising both fists toward the ceiling he intoned, "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do . . . American Womanhood (will be) crucified on a cross of dubious equality and specious uniformity."
American womanhood did not get crucified on the Senator's cross.
American womanhood wanted real political, financial and social equality. They certainly did not want uniformity.
The ERA did go down to defeat, however. Ten years later only 35 states had ratified it -- we needed just three more. We had a wake in Grand Junction on June 30, 1982 -- at my house.
But Colorado has always honored its women. Colorado was the first state in the Union to approve women's suffrage in a popular election in 1893.
Colorado was one of the first states to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, and in November of that year, Colorado voters adopted a state Equal Rights Amendment. So why were we marching in Grand Junction with "ERA NOW" signs pinned to the backs of our ERA T-shirts in 1976? The anti ERA forces managed to get an amendment on the ballot rescinding Colorado's ratification. But the antis lost. Led by the newly activist women, including our marchers in Grand Junction, the rescission was defeated.
A National ERA march was held in Denver in 1980 and I wore out a lot of shoe leather that day.
Even without the ERA, the progress of women since those days has been great. But it is so easy to forget what - and who - went into making that progress possible. The word "Feminist" has become the "F" word as women are taking their place in politics, business and in the professions.
As I look at those snapshots taken 26 years ago, I am so proud. We were part of a revolution that has changed the lives of women.
Wonder what pictures I'll turn up next. It won't be Sarah Palin. There is a limit, even to "F".