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History of the ERA in Missouri

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Written by Dr. Isabel Warner
Published on March 11, 2024
Research Highlights

The ERA was introduced more than 100 years ago to ensure equal treatment before the law.  

Ratification by the required 38 states was achieved in 2020, 38 years after the deadline.  

MO nearly passed the ERA three times and was the birthplace of anti-ERA organizing.  

The ERA was introduced more than 100 years ago.  

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was first introduced in Congress in 1923. It stated that “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” In the early 1940s, both major political parties had added support of the ERA to their party platforms (Democratic Party, 1944; Republican Party, 1940). The ERA was modified and reintroduced in 1943, changing its language slightly to “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” It was passed by both houses of Congress in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification (HJR 208, 1972). 

Congress initially placed a seven-year deadline on the ratification process (HJR 208, 1972). However, in 1978 Congress extended the deadline for ratification to June, 1982 (HJR 638, 1978). In 1980, the Republican party removed support for the ERA from its party platform (Republican Party, 1980). Current efforts to ratify the ERA aim to remove the deadline for ratification (HJR 25, 2023; SJR 4, 2023), or to restart the ratification process altogether (HJR 28, 2021).  

Initially, some women’s rights organizations worried that the ERA would strip women of recent gender-based rights, including working condition protections and minimum wages (Johns-Ellsworth, 2010). However, the Yale Law Journal concluded that the amendment would simply ensure equal treatment before the law and not regulate the private sector (Brown, et al., 1971). In practice, this meant:  

  • Women would no longer be exempt from jury and Selective Service.  
  • Laws preventing women from participating in business equal to a man would be removed.  
  • Child labor laws would be extended to cover all children of the same age, regardless of gender.  
  • Retirement ages and college admission standards would be equalized.  
  • Government benefits would be extended to women.  

 

Ratification by the required number of states was achieved in 2020.  

A Constitutional Amendment must be ratified by ¾ of states (38/50) to become an official amendment (U.S. Constitution, Article V). By the 1982 deadline, only 35 of the necessary 38 states had ratified the ERA. In addition, 5 states (NE, TN, ID, KY, SD) had rescinded ratification. By 2020, NV, IL, and VA had ratified the ERA (HJR1, 2020; SJR2, 2017; SJR4, 2018), bringing the total to the required 38 states (Figure 1).  

Because Article V does not grant the power to rescind ratification, and previous attempts to rescind ratification have been ignored (Coleman v. Miller, 1939), the ERA has crossed the threshold to amend the Constitution. However, courts have ruled that the original deadline and extension set by Congress will hold unless Congress chooses to remove them (Virginia v. Ferriero, 2022; Illinois v. Ferriero, 2023). To this end, legislation has been introduced in Congress each session to remove the deadline for ratification of the ERA (HJR 25, 2023; SJR 4, 2023).  

 

MO was the birthplace of anti-ERA organizing.   

Although Governor Kit Bond, a Republican, openly supported the passage of the ERA in MO in 1972 (Jaekel Miller, 1972), and newspapers were predicting the ratification within two years (UPI, 1972), it was defeated in both the MO House and the Senate by May 1973 (Spitzer, 1973). By February 1973, the ERA had become publicly controversial in MO (Johns-Ellsworth, 2010). However, in November 1973, polls showed that 81% of all Missourians still supported the amendment (Bond, 1975). The ERA was voted on twice more: in 1975 and 1977. In both years, it passed the House but narrowly failed in the Senate (Kelley, personal communication). In all instances, the votes were not split along party lines (Hucker, 1973; Kelley, personal communication; Spitzer, 1973).  

In 1972, Phyllis Schlafly founded the STOP (Stop Taking Our Privileges)-ERA movement and began organizing in St. Louis. Researchers credit STOP-ERA organizing with shifting public sentiment nationally and the ultimate failure to ratify the ERA by the 1982 deadline (Critchlow, 2005). In addition, the leading supportive organization for the ERA, the National Organization for Women (NOW), underestimated the challenge of state-level ratification, and was not prepared when a well-organized opposition formed (Pleck, 1986; Frances Berry, 1988).  

In MO, pro-ERA groups did not start organizing until after the 1973 vote. By contrast, STOP-ERA was operating in 26 states by early 1973, and MO housed one of its strongest state chapters. Pro-ERA groups also explicitly discouraged proponents from holding rallies, while anti-ERA groups routinely bussed demonstrators to the Capitol (Kelley, personal communication).  

Figure 1. Ratification status by state. The 38 states required to ratify the ERA are shown in green and orange. Orange denotes where a state attempted to rescind its ratification. Purple states have never ratified the ERA. Dotted green states ratified the ERA after the 1982 deadline had passed.  

 

References:  

Bond, C. (1975). “Separate but Equal: ‘ERA’ will not Legislate Sameness.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Feb 10, 1975. https://www.newspapers.com/image/140638721/?terms=ERA&match=1  

Brown, B.A., Thomas I. Emerson, Gail Faulk, and Ann E. Freedman. (1971). “The Equal Rights Amendment: A Constitutional Basis for Equal Rights for Women,” The Yale Law Journal 80, no 5: 871-985. link   

Coleman v. Miller. (1939). 307 U.S. 433. https://tile.loc.gov/storage-services/service/ll/usrep/usrep307/usrep307433/usrep307433.pdf  

Critchlow, D.T. (2005). Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman’s Crusade. Princeton University Press. link 

Democratic Party. (1944). Democratic Party Platform. Presidency Project, UC Santa Barbara. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/1944-democratic-party-platform  

Frances Berry, M. (1988). “Why the ERA Failed: Politics, Women’s Rights, and the Amending Process of the Constitution.” Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 70.  

HJR 1 (2020). Virginia. House Joint Resolution 1. 2020 Session. https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?201+ful+HJ1+pdf  

HJR 25 (2023). 118th Congress. https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/house-joint-resolution/25  

HJR 28 (2021). 117th Congress. https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-joint-resolution/28  

HJR 208 (1972). 92nd Congress, 2nd Session. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-86/pdf/STATUTE-86-Pg1523.pdf  

HJR 638 (1978). 95th Congress, 2nd Session. https://www.congress.gov/bill/95th-congress/house-joint-resolution/638  

Hucker, C.W. (1973). “Missouri House Kills Rights Amendment,” Kansas City Star. May 10, 1973. https://kansascity.newspapers.com/image/676254466/?terms=hucker&match=1  

Illinois v. Ferriero. (2023). link

Jaekel Miller, B. (1972). “Women to Urge Politicians to Ratify Rights Amendment,” November 14, 1972. Kansas City Star. https://kansascity.newspapers.com/image/676237346/?terms=jaekel%20miller&match=1  

Johns-Ellsworth, T.M. (2010). Missouri newspapers and the Equal Rights Amendment, 1972-1973. University of Central Missouri ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. link

Pleck, E. (1986). “Failed Strategies; Renewed Hope,” in “Rights of Passage: the Past and Future of the ERA.” Ed. Joan Hoff-Wilson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 107.  

Republican Party. (1940). Republican Party Platform. Presidency Project, UC Santa Barbara. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/republican-party-platform-1940  

Republican Party. (1980). Republican Party Platform. Presidency Project, UC Santa Barbara. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/republican-party-platform-1980  

SJR 2 (2017). Nevada. Senate Joint Resolution 2, 79th Session. https://www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/79th2017/Bills/SJR/SJR2_EN.pdf  

SJR 4 (2023). 118th Congress. https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/senate-joint-resolution/4  

SJR 4 (2018). Illinois. Senate Joint Resolution 4. 100th General Assembly. https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/100/SJRCA/PDF/10000SC0004lv.pdf  

Spitzer, D. (1973). “Equal Rights Plan Beaten in House,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. May 10, 1973. https://www.newspapers.com/image/140240949/?terms=spitzer%20&match=1  

United Press International (UPI) (1972). “Hawaii First to Ratify Equal Rights Amendment,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. March 23, 1972. https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/140233156/  

U.S. Constitution, Article V. Amending the Constitution. https://constitution.congress.gov/browse/article-5/  

Virginia v. Ferriero. (2022). https://www.theusconstitution.org/litigation/virginia-v-ferriero/  

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