Nonviolent Revolution: Women's Rights Fight Continues With ERA

Yesterday I shared a brief history of male rulers' attempts to control women's reproductive organs which I wrote in 1990. Today I am sharing a guest editorial I wrote five years later when we celebrated the 75th anniversary of Woman Suffrage.

In the late '80s I did a lot of research on women's history for my master's thesis, Sexism: Subliminal Societal Control. I wanted to share what I had learned so I wrote guest editorials, spoke at civic meetings, and created a Women's History Month Celebration in Monroe, Louisiana. For 15 years I chaired the event. Some of our earliest history for this piece came from A Time of Protest written by Sally Roesch Wagner (1987, Spectrum Publications).

March is Women's History Month. It is fitting on this seventy-fifth anniversary of
woman suffrage to relate a brief story of American women's heroic campaign to gain the vote.

Women in colonial America held more rights than their descendants hold today.

Before 1776, women practiced every type of profession and craft--representing themselves in court, sitting on juries, and voting. But after the American Revolution, male leaders withheld rights of citizenship from more than half of America's population. Women could no longer vote or control their own property. They were forced out of most wage-earning occupations except nursing and teaching. Modeling American laws on English common law robbed married women of legal rights. Thus, American men enjoyed freedom and equality while denying American women these precious rights. Women and fair-minded men have never stopped fighting to regain them. Nor have all yet been restored!

American women launched a nonviolent revolution unparalleled in history until the recent civil rights struggle. Women endured the same injustices that caused men to go to war against Britain--taxation without representation and no say in the government. In addition, women's legal rights were stolen. Women spoke and picketed. They were often brutalized and jailed. Although belittled and ridiculed by the press, these courageous women persevered in their fight to regain God-given rights, which male governments had denied them.

Women have always been good citizens. They have birthed and raised generations of Americans. Even in wartime, women have done more than their share. As abolitionists worked for freedom and citizenship for slaves, they became acutely aware of their own lack of civil rights. Denied admittance to an international abolitionist conference, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott decided to hold a Women's Rights Convention. Later Susan B. Anthony and other powerful leaders joined them.

Women could have been covered by the Constitution until 1870 when the franchise was extended to black men. In order to allow only black MEN to vote--and to deny all women this right--for the first time, Congress added the word "male" to the Constitution. Women now knew they would have to get their own amendment in order to regain their full citizenship. They were forced to increase the intensity of their fight.

Male leaders only allowed non-suffrage advocates to sit-on-the-platform at the centennial celebration. Suffragists obtained press seats so they could attend the ceremonies. After the reading of the men's Declaration of Independence, suffragists stepped to the platform and presented their own declaration. While being escorted out, they distributed copies to eager crowds and held their own celebration outside Independence Hall.

Another forty-four years would pass before women would actually gain the vote. After women kept the nation functioning during World War I, men found it difficult to continue to withhold this right. Celebrating the diamond anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment is a bittersweet victory as another vital right enjoyed by our foremothers has yet to be restored--women are not yet equal citizens of this nation.

Alice Paul wrote an Equal Rights Amendment, which was introduced into Congress every year from 1921 until 1972 when it finally passed. In a punitive effort to continue to withhold equal citizenship from women, our government placed a time limit on its passage. Unlike the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, whose ratification was required and which conferred full citizenship upon black males, the Nineteenth Amendment received no such federal assistance. A small well-funded organization employed scare tactics in an effort to defeat the ERA. The arbitrary time-limit ran out in 1982. Lacking ratification by only three states, the ERA died. It will again be introduced into Congress this year. One day a fair-minded American populace will insist on its passage and ratification.

And today most history books report that "American women were given the vote in 1920."

I repeat, the proposed 27th amendment to the constitution--the Equal Rights Amendment--states, "Equality of rights under law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." It was approved by Congress in 1972. It has not yet been ratified.

So, 196 years after our Constitution went into effect, the people of the United States were faced with this decision: Are women "people" under our law? Should women have equal rights? Passage of the Equal Rights Amendment would assure that women are, indeed, citizens entitled to equal rights under our laws! And it would eliminate sexist discrimination.

That was 44 years ago.

In 1979 the United Nations General Assembly adopted "The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) international treaty" (, accessed 8-9-16).

Stephanie Downs Hughes writes, "Only six countries have not signed the vitally important Convention for the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), described as an international bill of rights for women. The United States has signed CEDAW but hasn't yet ratified it. Interestingly, the United States insisted that all countries drafting constitutions after World War II include a statement that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. (Research for this article was provided by Karen Ide, 3-12-15, ).

Next time I will provide information about a wonderful group which is currently working to get the time limit removed from the ERA so the amendment can finally be ratified by the last three necessary states.

Stay tuned.