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The Amendment That Never Was

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I was sixteen when I first heard about the Equal Rights Amendment. At the time, I was taking AP United States History where we learned about our nation’s history from the first colonists to Barack Obama. When we first began learning about the amendments of the constitution, it never came to my mind that new amendments could be made. I thought our ancient constitution was untouchable. Though, in fact, amendments are proposed every year, they just rarely ever make it to ratification. The ERA was one out of six amendments that were passed by Congress, but failed to be ratified by the required state legislatures. I found this news so fascinating that I told my parents about it later at home. Can you imagine? I actually went home and told my parents about what I learned in school that day. It turned out that my parents had never heard of the ERA (it turned out that a lot of people hadn’t a clue of what the ERA was). They were hardly even interested in the amendment that never was. How are they not fascinated by this? I remember thinking. Then I realized, what I learned didn’t excite me, it made me angry. 

It’s the 21st century. We were well into the 2010’s and nearly a 100 years since the Seneca Falls convention, we didn’t have equal rights for women. We still don’t. But now, the ERA is back in action. In 2017 Nevada ratified the amendment, and in 2018 Illinois did the same. Now the ERA is alive again. It’s being talked about and the word is being spread as fast as possible. There’s talk of the deadline being renewed by Congress and of which states are going to ratify the amendment next. The process of officializing an amendment is slow and arduous, just look at how long it took us to get here once again. Women’s fight for equal rights has been ongoing since the beginning of the 1900s. 

It was in 1923 at the Seneca Falls convention when Alice Paul, the founder of the National Woman’s Party, first introduced the Equal Rights Amendment, which she wrote herself. After the passing of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote in 1920, flash forward to 1972 when the ERA was taken seriously for the first time. The amendment was passed by Congress and was awaiting to make it through the two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representative and the Senate. Through laborious hours of women protesting, lobbying, and advocating, they were finally being heard. It was stated in the amendment 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.” States would continue to ratify the amendment in the seven-year deadline given by Congress until the deadline was postponed again for three years until 1982. The numbers of states ratified had come to a lull and there was hesitation in the air after the beginning of the anti-feminist movement lead by Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly led a movement to protest against the ERA because it would take away from “real women’s rights.” She spoke of a woman’s place, claiming it was in the home taking care of her husband and kids, and how this amendment would take this right away from women and destroy the traditional 

American family. Women rallied for her viewpoint and slowly put an end to the ERA. When the time came, 35 states had ratified the amendment, only three states short of what was required. The ERA had ended then. 

Now it’s 2019, and we have 37 states that have ratified the ERA. All we need is one more state for the two-thirds and for Congress to set a new dead-line. Virginia was only one vote short of ratifying the amendment and in April Congress had a hearing on the ERA. It’s time to be heard and it’s time for a change we’ve been ready for. Equal rights for everyone stated directly in the constitution, which will further support people in their political battles and court cases. No-more loopholes. No-more waiting. For the first time, our own constitution might be able to acknowledge that not only men have rights, but all the people in the United States of America. 

Everyone can easily support the amendment, as well. It all starts with being heard. The ERA website contains all the information you need and a toolkit on how you can help with everything you can use to become an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment. Maybe then, one day, a kid can go home and not only tell their parents about the amendment that fought harder than any other and is REAL, but can also proudly say that their nation’s constitution acknowledges them. 

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Illustration by Zoe Wollman

written by
Haley Mitchell
November 25, 2019