The Equal Rights Amendment: A Controversial Path to Gender Equality

The ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has been a topic of intense controversy and debate in the United States. Drafted by suffragist and feminist Alice Paul in 1923, the ERA underwent numerous attempts at passage before finally being approved by Congress in 1972. However, despite significant progress and advocacy over five decades, the amendment ultimately fell short of the required ratification by three-fourths of the states, resulting in its failure.

The ERA's Long Struggle for Ratification

The journey of the ERA was marked by persistence and dedication from advocates who believed in its transformative power.

It wasn't until 1972 that the ERA was passed by both the House and Senate and sent to the states for ratification. By 1977, 35 states had approved the amendment, and Congress extended the original deadline from March 1979 to June 30, 1982, hoping to secure the necessary 38 states for ratification. Despite these efforts, the ERA ultimately fell short of the required support.

One of the central tenets of the ERA, as stated in Section 1, is that "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

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" This simple yet profound declaration aimed to eliminate gender-based discrimination and promote gender equality in all aspects of American life.

Alice Paul, a staunch advocate for gender equality, had articulated the need for such an amendment during her address at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1923. She declared, "We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written within the framework of our government.

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" These sentiments continued to resonate with feminists in the 1960s and 1970s, including prominent figures like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem.

Martha Griffiths, the first woman to serve on the House Committee on Ways and Means, played a pivotal role in securing the passage of the ERA in the House on October 12, 1971. Her efforts represented a growing generation of women advocating for equal rights. Liz Carpenter, in a letter to her Congressman in 1971, emphasized the importance of recognizing that certain "protective" laws treated women unfairly and hindered their career development.

The Anti-ERA Campaign and Resistance

Despite the momentum gained by ERA supporters, a formidable opposition movement emerged, led by Phyllis Schlafly, who founded the Stop-ERA Campaign. Schlafly championed traditional gender norms and believed that the ERA would have detrimental effects on American women. Her movement even resorted to hanging "Don't draft me" signs on baby girls in front of state legislatures to thwart the amendment's progress.

The resistance to the ERA had deep roots in the preservation of traditional gender roles. Esther Peterson, a figure from the 1920s, had expressed concerns that the ERA would dismantle labor laws such as minimum wage and maximum work hours for female workers. Opposition from women who believed in preserving traditional gender roles was also evident in letters written to their Congressmen. For example, Mrs. Thomas Zeko wrote to Representative Don Edwards in 1971, stating that women were failing in their "most important job" and attributed societal issues to changing gender dynamics.

Challenges Surrounding the ERA's Deadline

One of the lingering issues regarding the ERA is the ambiguity of its deadline. Supporters of the ERA argue that it should follow the precedent set by the Madison Amendment, which was proposed in 1789 without a time limit and ratified centuries later in 1992. In a curious twist, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA on March 22, 2017, 35 years after the original deadline for ratification.

Today, the Equal Rights Amendment remains a topic of ongoing debate, given its potential impact on the U.S. Constitution and the perception of women in society. The amendment's journey reflects the complexities of achieving gender equality and the persistent challenges faced by advocates for women's rights.


The Equal Rights Amendment, despite its noble intentions and passionate supporters, faced formidable opposition rooted in traditional gender norms and a conservative political climate. While the ERA did not achieve ratification by the required number of states, its legacy endures as a symbol of the ongoing struggle for gender equality in the United States. The debate surrounding the ERA serves as a reminder of the enduring complexities and controversies surrounding the quest for equal rights.

Updated: Nov 06, 2023
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The Equal Rights Amendment: A Controversial Path to Gender Equality. (2019, Aug 19). Retrieved from

The Equal Rights Amendment: A Controversial Path to Gender Equality essay
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