"The 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."
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
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 shaped 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
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
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
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 of them.
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 weight.
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
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 of sex.
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
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 citizens.
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 time.
a more comprehensive historical account of the ERA, click here.