BPW and 75 Years of Fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment
Posted by sherrysaunders on March 15, 2012
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Equal Rights Amendment being sent to the states for ratification and we are still waiting. BPW has been in the fight for Equal Rights even longer.
BPW and the Equal Rights Amendment
Business and Professional Women/USA and the Business and Professional Women’s (BPW) Foundation have a long history of supporting equity for women including the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). During BPW’s 1937 National Convention, the membership endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment and adopted passage as its #1 legislative priority. BPW was just the second national women’s organization, after the National Women’s Party, to support the ERA. Since then, BPW/USA and now Business and Professional Women’s Foundation have fought tirelessly to eliminate gender discrimination in America.
BPW’s work on the ERA slowed during WWII but the organization continued to make ERA information available to other groups urging them to adopt the issue as a priority once the war was over. In 1940, BPW was instrumental in getting the Republican Party to include support for passage and ratification of the ERA into their party platform – where it remained until 1980.
Following WWII, women worked for and achieved passage of legislation that gave them additional and important legal rights, but the most important legislation the ERA did not move.
In the 1960s, John F. Kennedy appointed the first President’s Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. The Commission successfully focused public attention on a broad range of initiatives addressing the unequal position of American women. Yet according to commission member Marguerite Rawalt, a former BPW national president and the only pro-ERA Commission appointee, the other appointees were almost all women who opposed the ERA.
In the Senate, Judiciary Chair Sam Ervin began to push for a rider to the ERA that would allow passage of laws to “protect women.” BPW along with other organizations came out actively against the Ervin Rider.
A summit of women’s organizations was called by Rep. Martha Griffiths (D-MI.) in 1970. This meeting was hosted by and presided over by BPW. Rep Griffiths got enough House Member’s signatures to bypass the anti ERA Judiciary committee and finally the ERA passed the House in 1971. With other women’s organizations, BPW members actively lobbied for passage of the ERA in the Senate and it was finally sent to the states in March of 1972.
BPW convened a national coalition of organizational leaders urging that they get their state organizations to participate in ERA coalitions. Ratification moved along at a respectable clip until 1974 when the ERA hit a brick wall.
At this time BPW retained an advocacy consultant and raised money dedicated to ERA passage. An ongoing ERA assessment of $2.50 per member was added to the BPW dues structure. BPW members worked with the White House and the Offices of First Ladies Betty Ford and Rosalyn Carter. BPW members voted not to hold their conventions in unratified states. BPW members worked with the International Women’s Year Commission and attended the National Women’s Conference in Texas in 1977 to bring attention to the ERA. The Texas meeting brought new enthusiasm to the ERA fight. BPW was one of the founding members of ERA America with BPW member Mariwyn Heath serving as one of the organization’s leaders.
For five decades until her death in 2010, BPW member Mariwyn Heath was a tireless fighter for the ERA. She served for eight years as BPW’s ERA coordinator. In 2001, BPW/USA established the The Mariwyn Heath Equal Rights Amendment Award that was given annually to an individual or group demonstrating strong support of equal rights for women and a strong commitment to increasing visibility and awareness of the ERA, as well as passage of ERA legislation.
During 1979 BPW/USA President Julie K. Arri personally reported to President Jimmy Carter on the findings of the BPW-commissioned Lou Harris poll about attitudes in unratified ERA states.
Taking the fight to the legislators, BPW testified before Congress and state legislative committees. In 1979 BPW established a PAC to support candidates for federal office. One of the main criteria for financial support was that the candidate support the ERA. BPW also developed a public relations campaign in support of the ERA complete with ads for use by state organizations.
Working with other national organizations BPW was particularly active in supporting research showing that states could not rescind a state ERA vote. BPW joined other organizations to gain Congressional passage of a bill extending the deadline for passage, which was passed in June of 1982. BPW remained on the steering committee for ERA America and was active in the nonratified states, primarily funding state coalitions.
In 2002 BPW held a Pass the ERA event at its National Conference in New Orleans. In addition to speeches and PR activities, attendees wrote members of Congress who had not yet sponsored new ERA legislation. Letters were mailed on Women’s Equality Day. August 26, 2002.
In 2003 BPW/Florida co sponsored an ERA Florida kickoff featuring ERA spokeswoman Patricia Schroeder.
BPW/USA has co-chaired the NCWO ERA Task Force and worked with leading ERA advocates to determine how best to move the issue forward legislatively. For years, BPW has strongly advocated for ERA federal legislation, specifically both the “start over” and “3 state” bills. The “3 state” bill states that once three more states pass the ERA then Congress would declare ratification complete. Alternatively the start over bill proposes “an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to equal rights for men and women”, and would essentially start the ERA process all over again.
BPW Foundation believes that the ERA is key ensuring that women have equal rights under our constitution. It makes no sense to deny over half the US population equal legal rights. Our country applauds the Afghans for putting women in their ruling documents and we urged that Iraq to put equality for women in their constitution, but we have made no move to include U.S women in our own Constitution. BPW Foundation plans to see that accomplished!