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Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
These words are at the core of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which passed both houses of Congress and was sent to the states for ratification on March 22, 1972. This process, which required at least 38 states to ratify the amendment within seven years, triggered a long and sometimes difficult struggle between ERA supporters and those who hoped to block its passage. Despite a quick start, the pace of ratification soon slowed, and the requisite number of states was not achieved by the deadline nor during a 39-month extension authorized by Congress.
In Washington, a state equal rights amendment, HJR61, was narrowly approved by voters in November 1972 prior to ratification of the federal amendment. Anti-ERA groups mounted a strong campaign to convince legislators and voters of the dangers that the amendment posed for the protection of both women and family values. Despite their efforts, the federal ERA was ratified in 1973, although movements for rescission began almost immediately. Washington never rescinded its ratification, but organized opposition led to a confrontation between pro-ERA and anti-ERA forces at the Ellensburg International Women’s Year Conference in July 1977 and ultimately brought about the demise of the Washington State Women’s Council.
Oral History Project
The Era Rights Amendment Oral History Project focuses on the views of women who worked both for and against the passage of the amendment in Washington State or who were members of organizations that were involved in these campaigns. The project incorporates the perspectives of members of pro-ERA groups including the National Organization for Women, the American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, and the Washington ERA Coalition as well as anti-ERA supporters of STOP ERA and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum. It also provides insights on the role of legislators, judges and attorneys who reviewed the political and legal issues associated with the amendment as well as a journalist who documented the era. The oral history interview process allows these individuals to share their own memories of the ERA campaign and their assessment of its impact on women in the state.
The Women’s History Consortium sponsored this program, and interviewees were selected by the Consortium’s advisory board and director based on recommendations from people throughout the state. A team of four oral historians recorded the interviews, following the guidelines of the Oral History Association, a national professional organization. The interviews were then transcribed and made available to the narrators to review and to edit where necessary. The final transcripts of these interviews are included on this website and the original recordings are deposited in the collection of the Women’s History Consortium at the Washington State Historical Society.
As you view these documents, please be aware that transcripts of the spoken word do not always “read” the same way as a written document, but we believe they provide a more personal view of the issues and opinions that surrounded the struggle over the ERA.