Aug. 26, 2010, marks the 90th anniversary of the day American women gained the right to vote.
Women in Maine and beyond are right to celebrate our foremothers’ arduous 75-year-long effort to win the basic tool of democracy that had been denied them because of their sex. And we should remember the early suffragists, including Susan B. Anthony, who rallied women at Harmony Hall in Hampden on Sept. 28, 1898, but who died before they could taste the fruit of their labor.
A leader among the second wave of suffragists, Alice Paul was raised a Quaker and believed in the equal rights of women and men. But the lifelong suffragist knew the historic 19th Amendment, which enfranchised half the nation’s adults, would fall short of its intended goal. The document that declared Votes for Women said nothing about equal rights for all in church, in college, in the workplace or even in their paychecks.
Undaunted, Paul in 1921 wrote an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It reads, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.” This amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1923 and in every Congress thereafter, except the most recent session.
Though it finally passed Congress in 1972, it was ratified by only 35 of the requisite 38 states by the July 1982 deadline, leaving unfinished business for the Constitution.
How could this be? American women already enjoy equal rights, don’t they? Hillary Clinton and Maine’s own Margaret Chase Smith ran for president, three women are serving as Supreme Court justices, women have made gains in the military, on Navy submarines, and even in space.
Roberta W. Francis, co-chair, ERA Task Force, National Council of Women’s Organizations, wrote, “The Equal Rights Amendment is needed to affirm constitutionally that the bedrock principles of our democracy — ‘all men are created equal,’ ‘liberty and justice for all,’ ‘equal justice under law,’ ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ — apply equally to women.”
Enter Carolyn Cook of Washington, D.C. She is among this generation’s leaders who are stoking the ERA flame. She leads United4Equality LLC, the social justice enterprise dedicated to ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment by 2015 and supports other social justice issues for women.
Cook has invested three years in designing a new strategy to ratify the ERA. She lobbied Congress and secured a House sponsor to introduce a proposed bill for the ERA. She also has big plans for this Women’s Equality Day in the nation’s capital.
Francis of the ERA Task Force found in an online poll “Seventy-two percent of respondents assume that the Constitution already includes such a guarantee [of equal rights]. It is clear that the citizens of the United States overwhelmingly support a constitutional guarantee of equal rights on the basis of sex, and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment will achieve that goal.”
What will you do for American women’s equality? To learn more and get involved, visit http://www.equalrightsamendment.org/era.htm; rent the HBO film “Iron Jawed Angels,” and host an event. Teach this forgotten piece of American history in your college or high school courses, join forces with Carolyn Cook’s United4Equality by e-mail at info@United4Equality.com, and read her compelling article, “Say ‘I Do’: Constitutional Equality is Forever,” in the summer edition of On the Issues magazine at http://ontheissuesmagazine.com/2010summer/2010summer_cook.php.
Melissa MacCrae works as a Bangor Daily News copy editor and is author of “It Takes a Woman: Women Shaping Pubic Policy.” She may be reached at email@example.com.