Darien League of Women Voters’ Food For Thought met on Thursday, Feb. 16 for a lively conversation about the Equal Rights Amendment.  Some of the women had braved the snowy weather and seen the movie “Equal Means Equal” at the Darien Library on the previous Sunday afternoon. 

Jean Sweeney, a member of the LWV who is a lawyer and has a passion for educating people about the importance of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, (ERA) introduced the movie and answered questions on Sunday.  She came to Food For Thought (FFT) to provide a brief history of the ERA and answer the many questions we all had.

The conversation began with our many memories of the controversies 40 years ago about the ratification of the ERA.  The deadline to ratify expired in 1982 and with it our awareness of its importance.  The movie is a snapshot of where America is today and our FFT conversation helped fill in the details.

Jean’s history began with the “Declaration of Sentiments” which was ratified at the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848 before the Civil War. Women abolitionists were supporting the freeing of all slaves including women as an inferior class.  When the XIV and XV Amendments were written the idea that they include women was front and center.  However the amendments were ratified only for men.  

Women got the vote in 1920 and in 1923 legal scholar Alice Paul proposed the Equal Rights Amendment so that the Constitution would be a holistic document for both men and women.  The ERA, made up of 24 words still remains outside of our Constitution:  “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Before the deadline in 1982, 38 states needed to ratify the ERA.  By 1977 there were 35 States that had ratified with the following States remaining unratified - Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia.

The conversation included stories of how the absence of the ERA has affected women’s equality in the work place, in the home, in the justice system, with respect to reproductive-rights, on college campuses and more.  We talked about how different generations have seen the rights of women change.  For some, the availability of “the pill” for others the introduction of Title IX which brought about change but also a false sense of equality.  We also learned that in many states there is a state’s ERA and discussed what kind of protection these afforded women.  

The discussion also included learning about some of the reasons why the ratification did not success in 1982.  Insurance companies were concerned about losing money and rumors were spread about the draft amongst many other concerns.

Today an ERA Coalition Poll shows that 80% of Americans believe that men and women have holistic rights under the Constitution and 94% support an amendment to the Constitution for equal rights for men and women.

Today there is a Three-State Strategy being spearheaded and bills in the house and senate to extend the ratification dates.  For an overview of ERA and the legislative status go to ERAAction.org.  The movie “Equal Means Equal” can be rented off the website EqualMeansEqual.com  For an overview of the ERA go to EqualRighstAmendment.org

To get  an outline of the points made in the movie or for Jean Sweeney to present to a group about the ERA she can be contacted at sweemal@optonline.net.  

To  join the Darien League of Women Voters, please  lwv.darien.org and remember, democracy is not a spectator sport!