The History Behind the Equal Rights Amendment by Roberta W. Francis, Chair, era task Force, National Council of Women's Organizations



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19th-Century Women’s Rights Struggles

The first visible public demand for equality came in 1848, at the first Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, who had met as abolitionists working against slavery, convened a two-day meeting of 300 women and men to call for justice for women in a society where they were systematically barred from the rights and privileges of citizens. A Declaration of Sentiments and eleven other resolutions were adopted with ease, but the proposal for woman suffrage was passed only after impassioned speeches by Stanton and former slave Frederick Douglass, who called the vote the right by which all others could be secured. However, the country was far from ready to take the issue of women’s rights seriously, and the call for justice was the object of much ridicule.

After the Civil War, Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth fought in vain to have women included in new constitutional amendments giving rights to former slaves. The 14th Amendment defined citizens as "all persons born or naturalized in the United States" and guaranteed equal protection of the laws – but in referring to the electorate, it introduced the word "male" into the Constitution for the first time. The 15th Amendment declared that "the rights of citizens . . . to vote shall not be denied or abridged . . . on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude" – but women of all races were still denied the ballot.

To Susan B. Anthony, the rejection of women’s claim to the vote was unacceptable. In 1872, she went to the polls in Rochester, NY, and cast a ballot in the presidential election, citing her citizenship under the 14th Amendment. She was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined $100, which she refused to pay. In 1875, the Supreme Court in Minor v. Happersett said that while women may be citizens, all citizens were not necessarily voters, and states were not required to allow women to vote.

Until the end of their long lives, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony campaigned for a constitutional amendment affirming that women had the right to vote, but they died in the first decade of the 20th century without ever casting a legal ballot.




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