January 25, 1972 Shirley Chisholm, Member of Congress from
New York's Twelfth District announced her candidacy for
President of the United States. She became the first woman
and the first African-American to seek the nomination of
the Democratic Party for the nation's highest office.
of Ms. Chisholm’s most famous speeches was in support of
the Equal Rights Amendment. It was delivered August 10,
1970 in Washington, DC before the House of Representatives.
The complete text follows.
Speaker, House Joint Resolution 264, before us today, which
provides for equality under the law for both men and women,
represents one of the most clear-cut opportunities we are
likely to have to declare our faith in the principles that
our Constitution. It provides a legal basis for attack on
the most subtle, most pervasive, and most institutionalized
form of prejudice that exists. Discrimination against women,
solely on the basis of their sex, is so widespread that
is seems to many persons normal, natural and right.
expression of prejudice on the grounds of religious or political
belief has become a minor problem in our society. Prejudice
on the basis of race is, at least, under systematic attack.
Their is reason for optimism that it will start to die with
the present, older generation. It is time we act to assure
full equality of opportunity to those citizens who, although
in a majority, suffer the restrictions that are commonly
imposed on minorities, to women.
argument that this amendment will not solve the problem
of sex discrimination is not relevant. If the argument were
used against a civil rights bill, as it has been used in
the past, the prejudice that lies behind it would be embarrassing.
Of course laws will not eliminate prejudice from the hearts
of human beings. But that is no reason to allow prejudice
to continue to be enshrined in our laws -- to perpetuate
injustice through inaction.
amendment is necessary to clarify countless ambiguities
and inconsistencies in our legal system. For instance, the
Constitution guarantees due process of law, in the 5th and
14th amendments. But the applicability of due process of
sex distinctions is not clear. Women are excluded from some
State colleges and universities. In some States, restrictions
are placed on a married woman who engages in an independent
business. Women may not be chosen for some juries. Women
even receive heavier criminal penalties than men who commit
the same crime. What would the legal effects of the equal
rights amendment really be? The equal rights amendment would
govern only the relationship between the State and its citizens
-- not relationships between private citizens. The amendment
would be largely self-executing, that is, and Federal or
State laws in conflict would be ineffective one year after
date of ratification without further action by the Congress
or State legislatures.
of the amendment claim its ratification would throw the
law into a state of confusion and would result in much litigation
to establish its meaning. This objection overlooks the influence
of legislative history in determining intent and the recent
activities of many groups preparing for legislative changes
in this direction.
labor laws applying only to women, such as those limiting
hours of work and weights to be lifted would become inoperative
unless the legislature amended them to apply to men. As
of early 1970 most States would have some laws that would
be affected. However, changes are being made so rapidly
as a result of title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
it is likely that by the time the equal rights amendment
would become effective; no confliction State laws would
any event, there has for years been great controversy as
to the usefulness to women of these State labor laws. There
has never been any doubt that they worked a hardship on
women who need or want to work overtime and on women who
need or want better paying jobs, and there has been no persuasive
evidence as to how many women benefit from the archaic policy
of the laws. After the Delaware hours law was repealed in
1966, there were no complaints from women to any of the
State agencies that might have been approached.
service laws not making women equally liable for jury service
would have been revised. The selective service law would
have to include women, but women would not be required to
serve in the Armed Forces where they are not fitted any
more than men are required to serve. Military service, while
a great responsibility, is not without benefits, particularly
for young men with limited education or training.
October 1966, 246,000 young men who did not meet the normal
mental or physical requirements have been given opportunities
for training and correcting physical problems. This opportunity
is not open to their sisters. Only girls who have completed
high school and meet high standards on the educational test
can volunteer. Ratification of the amendment would not permit
application of higher standards to women.
benefits would be available to husbands of female workers
on the same basis as to wives of male workers. The Social
Security Act and the civil service and military service
retirement acts are in conflict. Public schools and universities
could not be limited to one sex and could not apply different
admission standards to men and women. Laws requiring longer
prison sentences for women than men would be invalid, and
equal opportunities for rehabilitation and vocational training
would have to be provided in public correctional institutions.
Different ages of majority based on sex would have to be
harmonized. Federal, State, and other governmental bodies
would be obligated to follow nondiscriminatory practices
in all aspects of employment, including public school teachers
and State university and college faculties.
would be the economic effects of the equal rights amendment?
Direct economic effects would be minor. If any labor laws
applying only to women still remained, their amendment or
repeal would provide opportunity for women in better-paying
jobs in manufacturing. More opportunities in public vocational
and graduate schools for women would also tend to open up
opportunities in better jobs for women.
effects could be much greater. The focusing of public attention
on the gross legal, economic, and social discrimination
against women by hearings and debates in the Federal and
State legislatures would result in changes in attitude of
parents, educators, and employers that would bring about
substantial economic changes in the long run.
prejudice cuts both ways. Men are oppressed by the requirements
of the Selective Service Act, by enforced legal guardianship
of minors, and by alimony laws. Each sex, I believe, should
be liable when necessary to serve and defend this country.
Each has a responsibility for the support of children.
are objections raised to wiping out laws protecting women
workers. No one would condone exploitation. But what does
sex have to do with it. Working conditions and hours that
are harmful to women are harmful to men; wages that are
unfair for women are unfair for men. Laws setting employment
limitations on the basis of sex are irrational, and the
proof of this is their inconsistency from State to State.
The physical characteristics of men and women are not fixed,
but cover two wide spans that have a great deal of overlap.
It is obvious, I think, that a robust woman could be more
fit for physical labor than a weak man. The choice of occupation
would be determined by individual capabilities, and the
rewards for equal works should be equal.
is what it comes down to: artificial distinctions between
persons must be wiped out of the law. Legal discrimination
between the sexes is, in almost every instance, founded
on outmoded views of society and the pre-scientific beliefs
about psychology and physiology. It is time to sweep away
these relics of the past and set further generations free
agencies and institutions responsible for the enforcement
of equal opportunity laws need the authority of a Constitutional
amendment. The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1963 Equal
Pay Act are not enough; they are limited in their coverage
-- for instance, one excludes teachers, and the other leaves
out administrative and professional women. The Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission has not proven to be an adequate
device, with its power limited to investigation, conciliation,
and recommendation to the Justice Department. In its cases
involving sexual discrimination, it has failed in more than
one-half. The Justice Department has been even less effective.
It has intervened in only one case involving discrimination
on the basis of sex, and this was on a procedural point.
In a second case, in which both sexual and racial discrimination
were alleged, the racial bias charge was given far greater
of discrimination on the basis of sex should hardly have
to be cited here. It is in the Labor Department’s employment
and salary figures for anyone who is still in doubt. Its
elimination will involve so many changes in our State and
Federal laws that, without the authority and impetus of
this proposed amendment, it will perhaps take another 194
years. We cannot be parties to continuing a delay. The time
is clearly now to put this House on record for the fullest
expression of that equality of opportunity which our founding
fathers professed. They professed it, but they did not assure
it to their daughters, as they tried to do for their sons.
Constitution they wrote was designed to protect the rights
of white, male citizens. As there were no black Founding
Fathers, there were no founding mothers -- a great pity,
on both counts. It is not too late to complete the work
they left undone. Today, here, we should start to do so.
closing I would like to make one point. Social and psychological
effects will be initially more important than legal or economic
results. As Leo Kanowitz has pointed out:
of law that treat of the sexes per see inevitably produce
far-reaching effects upon social, psychological and economic
aspects of male-female relations beyond the limited confines
of legislative chambers and courtrooms. As long as organized
legal systems, at once the most respected and most feared
of social institutions, continue to differentiate sharply,
in treatment or in words, between men and women on the
basis of irrelevant and artificially created distinctions,
the likelihood of men and women coming to regard one another
primarily as fellow human beings and only secondarily
as representatives of another sex will continue to be
remote. When men and women are prevented from recognizing
one another’s essential humanity by sexual prejudices,
nourished by legal as well as social institutions, society
as a whole remains less than it could otherwise become.
more information about Shirley Chisholm, click here.
following words comprise the entire text of the Equal Rights
Amendment (ERA), affirming the equal application of the
U.S. Constitution to both females and males.
1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied
or abridged by the United States or by any state on account
2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate
legislation, the provisions of this article.
3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the
date of ratification.
ERA was written in 1923 by Alice Paul, suffragist leader
and founder of the National Woman's Party. She and the
NWP considered the ERA to be the next necessary step after
the 19th Amendment (affirming women's right to vote) in
guaranteeing "equal justice under law" to all
ERA was introduced into every session of Congress between
1923 and 1972, when it was passed and sent to the states
for ratification. The seven-year time limit in the ERA's
proposing clause was extended by Congress to June 30, 1982,
but at the deadline, the ERA had been ratified by 35 states,
leaving it three states short of the 38 required for ratification.
It has been reintroduced into every Congress since that
a more comprehensive historical account of the ERA, click
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