Women's History Month

Women’s History Month: The ERA Edition

On March 22, 1972, the Senate approved the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which banned discrimination on the basis of sex, and was sent to the states for ratification.

In Washington, a state equal rights amendment, HJR61, was narrowly approved by voters in November 1972 prior to ratification of the federal amendment, preventing discrimination on the basis of sex in all areas of public life.

Man wearing an “Equal Rights Amendment” t-shirt (with part of the proposed amendment on the back) during Gay Pride week at the Seattle Center, Seattle, Washington, June 30, 1974

The passed amendment read: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment march down Pennsylvania Avenue,  1977.

The ERA was originally written by Alice Paul and was first presented to Congress in 1923, and re-introduced to every session of Congress for nearly 50 years. It mostly stayed in committee until 1946, when a reworded proposal, dubbed the Alice Paul Amendment, lost a close vote in the Senate. Four years later, the Senate passed a weaker version of the amendment that was not supported by ERA proponents.

In 1972, it passed both houses of Congress and went to the state legislatures for ratification. Opposition to ERA came from social conservatives and from labor leaders, who feared that it would threaten protective labor laws for women. Support for the amendment increased during the 1960s as the Civil Rights Movement inspired a second women’s rights movement. The National Organization for Women (NOW), founded in 1966, led to movement for the passage of ERA.

The national ERA fell three states shy of ratification before the final deadline mandated by Congress of June 30, 1982 expired, and so it was not adopted.


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