Episode 34

The Equal Rights Amendment

Published on: 15th June, 2021

Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. I remember one day when I was about 25 years old, I was talking with a friend and she mentioned the Equal Rights Amendment, and I said something like, “Yeah, of course. So important, right?” And I think from my response my friend could tell I had only vaguely heard of it, so she said “You know it didn’t pass, right? The Equal Rights Amendment was up for ratification in the 1970’s and it didn’t pass.” And to my horror, she then told me that the ERA hadn’t passed because of the leadership of a group of Christian women, and that our own church had been instrumental in its defeat. I felt so betrayed, I literally remember where I was sitting and what I was wearing because I couldn’t make sense of it. 

 It’s embarrassing for me to admit that at the age of 25 I didn’t know the Equal Rights Amendment wasn’t already a part of the Constitution… but apparently I’m not alone - many, many Americans to this day have heard of the Equal Rights Amendment, but they think that like the 19th Amendment, it was up for ratification and there was a big battle to pass it… and eventually it passed. They don’t know that many states still won’t ratify it, and that they may live in a state or belong to a church that opposes it.

So this is an incredibly important “essential text” that we’re covering today. It’s really short, but it has a long history that is still unfolding as we speak, and I’m really grateful to have two experts here to clear up misinformation and help us understand this critical piece of legislation! My reading partners today are Emily Bell McCormick and Kelly Whited Jones, co-chairs of Utah ERA Coalition .  They represent a coalition of individuals, as well as local and national groups that have been working on the Equal Rights Amendment for decades.  Their mission is to educate, elevate the role of women, and ratify in Utah.  So I’m thrilled to welcome you today, Emily and Kelly - Thank you so much for being here!!

(Hello, etc.) :)

To start out, could each of you tell us a bit about yourselves? (in whichever order you like)

Emily: Bio

  • Born and raised in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Family: mother, father, one sister, two brothers
  • Mother artistic and creative--parents met in Paris. Father kind and gentle--from a cowboy family in Wyoming. 
  • Mother had a brain tumor when I was 10 and became bedridden and chronically ill. Passed when I was 19. 
  • Memory of reading a book about Joan of Arc with my mom. We laugh about her family being the original feminists.
  • BYU--Communication--thought of political science but didn’t think there was a natural career choice
  • Married
  • The Ohio State University
  • Worked in PR and marketing until started apparel company Shabby Apple
  • Moved to Richmond, VA and then to Arlington--suburb of DC
  • Had three children
  • Sold Shabby
  • Worked in comms consulting
  • Moved to Utah, adopted two kids
  • Experience at Apartheid Museum and meeting with Diana for brunch--The Policy Project

Kelly: Bio

  • Born in Orem, Utah. 
  • Youngest of eight, sister is the oldest, six brothers, then me.
  • Grew up without television, on a small farm.
  • Asked a lot of awkward questions in Young Women’s class - was a regular on the Father & Sons Campout, and begged my parents to let me wear pants to Primary.  They let me once.
  • From polygamist pioneer stock -- Edwin Dilworth Woolley’s second wife. President Spencer W. Kimball is my grandfather’s cousin, he attended our Woolley family reunions.
  • Both parents were educators, mom elementary school and dad at BYU.
  • Attended the U of U on a Theatre Scholarship
  • Graduated with a B.A. in Speech Communication, Masters in Environment & Health
  • Worked for the U’s Central Development Office in fundraising.  Corporate & Foundation Giving and Planned Giving.  Started in publications and PR.
  • Three great kids, Donovan, Reilly & Gabrielle. My husband’s favorite pandemic mask is his ERA Mask. My family would like me to get this ratified, so they don’t have to talk about it anymore.
  • Teach college communication, interpersonal/intercultural/dialogue & conflict studies

Amy: And then I also like to ask my reading partners what “breaking down patriarchy” means to you.

Emily: Response

Peace comes when I understand the why. That way for a lot of people. If we understand it, we are more able to deal with our relationship to it. Anecdote. Not some big elusive reason. It just happened. Series of small things over centuries. 

Kelly: Response 

Patriarchy is a system that prioritizes and values men over women, so removing that “power over” dynamic and seeking partnership is a necessary shift.  In relation to the ERA, it’s recognizing that after 98 years, women are still waiting to be constitutionally protected in our founding document, while men have enjoyed those privileges since the document was written. It’s Abigail Adams entreating John Adams to “Remember the ladies” as he headed off to the Constitutional Convention, and John, well, not remembering to include the ladies.  It’s sobering to realize that women were intentionally excluded from the Constitution. But we can fix that.

Amy: Let’s learn about the author of the Equal Rights Amendment, Alice Paul. 

Amy: Alice Stokes Paul was born on January 11, 1885, a descendant of William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania. She grew up in the Quaker tradition of public service, and she first learned about women's suffrage from her mother, who was a suffragette and would sometimes bring her along to suffragist meetings.

In 1901, Alice  went to Swarthmore College, and she graduated with a bachelor's degree in biology in 1905.

Paul then earned a Master of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907, after completing coursework in political science, sociology and economics. She then went to Birmingham, England to continue her studies, and took economics classes from the University of Birmingham, while earning money doing social work. She first heard Christabel Pankhurst speak at Birmingham, and when she later moved to London to study sociology and economics at the London School of Economics, she joined the militant suffrage group the Women's Social and Political Union led by Christabel and her famous suffragist mother, Emmeline Pankhurst. Paul was arrested repeatedly during suffrage demonstrations and served three jail terms. And I have to share a couple of these stories because they’re just so interesting:

On one occasion Paul and local suffragists made plans to protest a speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sir Edward Grey. For a week prior, they spoke with people on the streets to promote knowledge about why they were protesting against the Cabinet member. At the meeting, after Grey discussed proposed legislation he claimed would lead to prosperity, Paul stood up and exclaimed: “Well, these are very wonderful ideals, but couldn’t you extend them to women?” Police responded by dragging her out of the meeting and through the streets to the police station where she was arrested. As planned, this act was viewed by many as a public silencing of legitimate protest and resulted in an increase of press coverage and public sympathy. (These are classic civil disobedience tactics, also used by Gandhi and by MLK and others in American Civil Rights movement - provoke the other side to do something egregious to demonstrate how far they were willing to go, and get the public on your side)

Another example: Before a political meeting at St. Andrew's Hall in Glasgow in August 1909, Paul camped out on the roof of the hall so that she could address the crowd below. When she was forced by police to descend, the crowds rallied to support her, and when she and her fellow suffragettes attempted to enter the building for the meeting, they were beaten by police and taken into custody. The crowds tried to protect the women, and gathered outside the police station demanding the women's release.

After returning from England to the United States in 1910, she earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation was entitled "The Legal Position of Women in Pennsylvania", and it discussed women’s suffrage as the key issue of the day.

Paul later received her law degree (LL.B) from the Washington College of Law at American University in 1922. In 1927 she earned a master of laws degree, and in 1928, a doctorate in civil law from American University. (!!!)

One of Paul's first big projects was initiating and organizing the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. This was designed to put pressure on Wilson, because the President would have the most influence over Congress. Over 8,000 people marched, led by Inez Milholland on a white horse, and people said it was an incredible event. But listeners might also remember this parade from our episode on Anna Howard Shaw’s speech on women’s suffrage - some of the white suffragettes wanted the march to be racially segregated, and Ida B Wells was told she shouldn’t march with her home state of Illinois because she was Black. (She marched with them anyway because she was a queen.) But it was a really disappointing, really tragic misstep by Alice Paul that she capitulated to racist Southern white feminists in segregating the parade, rather than standing with the African American women who were fighting so ardently alongside her for suffrage.

Once suffrage was achieved in 1920, Paul and some members of the National Woman's Party shifted attention to constitutional guarantees of equality through the Equal Rights Amendment, because of course the right to vote does not guarantee the right to equal justice under the law, equal access to opportunity, equal education, equal pay for equal work, etc. So Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment and delivered it to Congress in 1923. For twenty years it didn’t pass, and in 1943, the amendment was renamed the "Alice Paul Amendment", and its wording was changed to the version that still exists today. So Emily, can I have you tell us what that current version is?


Emily: 24-words. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.


Section 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.

Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.


Beginning in the 113th Congress (2014-2015), the text of the ERA ratification bill introduced in the House of Representatives has differed slightly from both the traditional wording and its Senate companion bill. It reads:

Section 1: Women shall have equal rights in the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Section 2: Congress and the several States shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

The addition of the first sentence specifically names women in the Constitution for the first time and clarifies the intent of the amendment to make discrimination on the basis of a person's sex unconstitutional. The addition of "and the several States" in Section 2 restores wording that was drafted by Alice Paul but removed before the amendment's 1972 passage. It affirms that enforcement of the constitutional prohibition of sex discrimination is a function of both federal and state levels of government.


Amy: So normally on the podcast, I would say the year our book was published, or the date the article was signed into law. But although we have a date that the text was authored - 1923 - as I mentioned at the beginning, we still don’t have a ratification date, so this story is still ongoing. 

So Kelly, can you tell us what has happened since 1923?


Kelly: (1923-1960’s) The Amendment has been introduced in every Congress since it was first presented by Susan B. Anthony’s nephew, a Republican, and by a future vice-president of the U.S. Charles Curtis, in a bi-partisan bill. But it has faced the same challenges it faces today. It has been blocked in committee and not brought to the floor, or it would pass one house, but not the other.  In the 1940s in particular, women were more engaged than ever in this effort. Prominent women in Utah, such as Amy Brown Lyman, the eighth General Relief Society President of the Mormon Church and Lucy Grant Cannon, President of the Young Women’s Association in 1943, wrote their Senator, Judge Abe Murdock, asking him to “join with the women of the United States in their appeal for equal rights with men and urge your favorable consideration and vote for the equal rights amendment, S.J. Res. 25.”  (located by Ardis Parshall, a historian and researcher, just last year.) 

There’s a perception that things went dark on the ERA, but this idea is unfounded.  Women’s groups like the American Association of University Women, founded in 1917, have been working to pass it since it was written, and are still part of efforts to ratify today.  We count them among our Utah ERA Coalition partners.  The ERA has never lacked the support of tenacious women across our nation. The League of Women Voters took some time to sign on, until just after the ERA passed Congress in 1974, but realized the positive impacts of the amendment for women, seeing First Ladies Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, and Roselyn Carter champion the ERA, and the League reversed their decision and have been ardent supporters ever since.  Just this year, the National organization awarded a grant to our League of Women Voters of Utah to support ratification efforts here -- a postcard campaign and a video detailing Utah’s complicated history with passage. It’s a sobering and honest look at why ratification didn’t pass when it was proposed here in 1977.  It’s transparent about the role that the LDS church took, much like the efforts of Prop 8 in California, actively working against gay marriage.  Where Mormon women supported fundamental rights in 1940, in the 1970s they were given callings to oppose it, speak out against it, and were even bused to conventions to vote against it. A religious committee was formed specifically to stop progress for women in our state. Many of the women who work for the ERA today, have mothers that were told to actively oppose it in the 70s. 


Amy: What happened in the 1960’s and 1970’s? I just watched Mrs. America - which I highly recommend to listeners - and this was the chapter in history that my friend told me about that made my world go dark. 


Kelly: (Phyllis Schlafly vs “the women’s libbers”) The aim of Phyllis Schlafy was to preserve a traditional role for women, even as she herself worked outside of the home as an attorney.  She was a contradiction in terms, she would bring Eagle Forum propaganda attached to baked goods to legislators to highlight her role as a homemaker, even though she didn’t fit that traditional mold herself.  She capitalized on fear of change during that progessive time period of Civil Rights and her ideas resonated.  She effectively said, women want to remain on the pedestal, in the gilded cage, and be protected. Making claims about social security and child custody that had no basis in fact.  She fed misinformation and fearmongering about what the amendment might do.  We hear many of these arguments still being made today.  In fact, a few months ago we hosted a debate between Senator Riebe who ran the bill this year, and the Eagle Forum here in Utah that formed under Schlafly.  The current president Gayle Ruzicka said straight out, “women don’t want equal pay.  Women don’t want to be equal.”  And I had to check my watch to make sure I wasn’t back in the 1930s.


Amy: What were the counter-arguments used at the time? Why were they effective?  



They were effective at slowing progress.

  • One argument was it would take women out of the home to work and thus destroy the traditional family.  Women were already working outside the home then, younger women especially were joining the workforce and they needed workplace protections more than ever before. 
  • Another argument was that it would bring about gay marriage, something that happened due to social shifts in the last decade, but without the ERA. 
  • One argument said that the ERA would legalize abortion.  But we know that abortion became law in 1973 because women were dying from unsafe procedures. The Supreme Court decided Roe V. Wade...
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Breaking Down Patriarchy
An Essential Texts Book Club
Breaking Down Patriarchy is a podcast for everyone! Learn about the creation of patriarchy and those who have challenged it as you listen to bookclub-style discussions of essential historical texts. Gain life-changing epiphanies and practical takeaways through these smart, relatable conversations.

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Amy Allebest

I grew up in Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, reading, writing, drawing, singing, and practicing the piano and violin. I attended Brigham Young University, where I met Erik Allebest during my first week of freshman year, studied abroad in Israel, lived in Chile for a year and a half as a missionary, and married Erik all before graduating with a degree in English. Erik and I moved around - to Colorado, Southern California, Utah, Spain, and Northern California - while Erik started and ran chess businesses for a living (primarily chess.com) and I stayed home to raise our four children. Those four kids have become brilliant, hilarious people and are our very best friends. I am a long-time trail runner, a recent CrossFitter, a lifelong reader and writer, and an almost-graduate of Stanford University's Master's of Liberal Arts program.