The 100-year struggle of the Equal Rights Amendment

The path of the ERA is full of obstacles, but its supporters refuse to give up on equality.

Meghan Holt, DN Illustration
Meghan Holt, DN Illustration

Scarlet Gallagher is a first-year international business major and writes “Sprouting Thoughts” for the Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.

I don’t have enough fingers to count how many times I’ve heard someone claim that there is already gender equality for women. Unfortunately, true gender equality doesn’t exist in the United States and many other places in the world. Change is needed, and one way of achieving that changes comes in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment.

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has a long and complicated history. The amendment was first introduced to Congress in 1923, and the first version of it was written by Alice Paul — a suffragist and women’s rights activist, according to the Smithsonian Institution.

The ERA has had the long-lasting purpose of constitutionalizing gender equality. It would ensure the rights of more than 167.5 million American women, as well as nonbinary, transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals.

In 2022, the Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero, found himself in the middle of a heated disagreement between supporters and opponents of the ERA over the publication of the amendment. As Archivist, it was his responsibility to publish and certify amendments once they were ratified. 

Supporters of the ERA believed it had met the qualifications to be published while its opponents felt it had not. In an interview with C-Span, Ferriero took the side of those in opposition to the ERA’s publication, stating, “The time limit has expired … so that's a constitutional question.” It was a question he felt he couldn’t answer.

Ferriero, who retired in early 2022, was succeeded by Colleen Shogan, who became the first woman to be appointed to the position, according to the National Archives. She echoed her predecessor’s stance on the ERA during her nomination hearing, deeming it outside of the role of an Archivist and stating she would not publish the amendment until the constitutional issues were resolved.

In the time since its first introduction, the ERA has yet to become part of United States law. It has faced opposition on several fronts — from both men and women — and it wasn’t successfully approved by both the House of Representatives and Senate until the 1970s.  

After being approved, the ERA still needed ratification by the states. For a constitutional amendment to be ratified, three-fourths of the U.S. (38 states) are required to ratify it into the Constitution.

Up until 1977, only 35 states had approved the amendment. In 1978, Congress voted to extend the deadline until mid-1982. 

However, no more states voted “yes” in the years to follow. 

There has been a continued push for the 15 remaining states to ratify the ERA. Article V of the Constitution does not give Congress the power to impose time limits on ratification, which supporters of the ERA believed meant the ratification requirements would still be met if 38 states voted yes. 

It wasn’t until January 15, 2020, that the 38th state, Virginia, finally ratified the amendment. 

The 38-state requirement had been met. However, political opponents of the ERA have used the limit — among other concerns — as their main point of focus in refusing to publish the amendment.

There has been pushback to the ERA since its conception, with groups like “STOP ERA” mobilizing to oppose the amendment. According to the Bill of Rights Institute, the group claimed the amendment would destroy protections for women regarding issues like alimony and child custody and was concerned with how the ERA would disrupt the “family unit” and other traditional hierarchies in society. 

As another form of fear-mongering, “STOP ERA” also used the military draft as a scare tactic and claimed women would be drafted if the ERA passed. 

In reality, the Constitution itself does nothing to prevent women from being included in the draft — it only briefly mentions conscription, not specifying any ages or genders prohibited from it. Additionally, adding women to the draft has almost happened on several occasions, including during World War II, according to the Selective Service System.  Since this is the case, it is better to ensure equal legal protection for all genders than to hesitate on account of the draft.

There is another complication to the ERA’s ratification. 

Five of the 38 states that ratified it have since voted to withdraw their ratification of the amendment. While it’s a problem still being considered, there was a legal precedent established during the ratification of the 14th Amendment that determined an attempt to withdraw ratification is not legally valid, according to the Alice Paul Institute’s ERA website.

Article V of the Constitution only mentions the power of ratification the states hold but says nothing about the power to rescind ratification. In previous cases, states attempting to rescind ratification were dismissed.

This means there should still be 38 states that have ratified the amendment, which means it should meet the requirement for constitutional ratification. 

The ERA is a very important piece of legislation — one still needed today. Having equality under the law nationwide would be a powerful step toward removing the barriers at hand. Protecting women legally will lead to further social change and gender equality.

Women still face discrimination men don’t have to worry about or even realize exists.

It comes to light in many forms: dismissal of sometimes serious health issues and pain as simply hysteria or being overdramatic, low representation in politics and leadership roles in the workplace, occupational segregation discouraging women from working in many fields and industries, and social expectations for women to carry additional burdens like housework and childcare that are not seen as a man’s responsibility. 

According to the Pew Research Center, women make up only 28 percent of the current 118th Congress session members, and it is at the highest percentage in history. Women and their interests are not equally represented in the federal government.

Women are also discouraged from working in some fields entirely. According to the American Association of University Women, gendered expectations and stereotypes influence children from the time they start school, influencing what classes, extracurriculars, and eventually college majors and careers they choose. It is easy to think of examples of stereotypical male and female jobs — fireman, policeman, salesman, chairman, maid, nanny, washerwoman, midwife.

The social expectations outside of work differ as well. According to a Sage Publications journal article, “Although women’s housework hours have declined in recent years, women continue to do more housework in most households, even those where women’s earnings are the same as or greater than their husbands.”

I have heard men praised as if they have done something incredible just for doing something women are often expected to do.

Most medical research has historically been done solely on men, with the results being assumed to also apply to women, according to a women’s health report published in the National Library of Medicine. 

This has led to inaccurate diagnoses and the mishandling of health issues, which can sometimes prove fatal. Research on everything from medication side effects and dosage levels to seatbelts in cars is skewed toward male subjects, placing women at higher risk of harm.

The 2022 KFF Women’s Health Survey found that 29 percent of women from age 18 to 64 who saw a healthcare provider in the past two years reported their concerns were dismissed by their doctor. 

Women are told they are overbearing, dramatic and hysterical. Assumptions are made about their health. It shouldn’t take years of pain and near-death experiences to receive treatment.

It’s immensely important to realize how significant the ERA is to a great multitude of facets of life. It can prevent discrimination in employment and the medical community, as well as squash the stereotypes women oftentimes face.

Decisions need to be formally made by the Supreme Court and Congress about the validity of the time limit and the recessions — both still controversial in their constitutionality and with conflicting historical precedents.

More than a century of work has already been put into the current ERA and restarting the process could require another century of it.

The ERA has been pushed back for over a century. But the continuance of gender inequality clearly shows why legislation like this is so crucial. 

The path forward to greater gender equality will need to ensure the enshrinement of equal rights, protecting them from future attacks.

Contact Scarlet Gallagher with comments at


More from The Daily

This Week's Digital Issue

Loading Recent Classifieds...