League of Women Voters fights for Equal Rights Amendment

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl Members of the League of Women Voters read the Declaration of Sentiments aloud on the steps of Dunkirk’s City Hall on Thursday. Here, they are holding the women’s suffrage flag, which has 36 stars to represent the 36 states required to ratify the 19th amendment. Pictured from left to right are Mary Croxton of Fredonia, Judi Lutz Woods of Fredonia, Marcia Westling Johnson of Fredonia, Nicki Schoenl of Forestville and Joyce Haines of Fredonia.

The approval of just one more state is all that is needed to end the legal distinctions between men and women in terms of divorce, property, employment and more, thereby providing citizens with the highest and broadest protection against sex discrimination. Known as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), this important piece of legislation grew out of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote in 1920. Although the ERA was approved in 1972 by the Senate and the House of Representatives, in order to become a part of the Constitution, three fourths of the U.S. (38 states) must ratify the proposed amendment. To date, 37 states have done so, and on Thursday, members of the League of Women Voters called attention to this small — but crucial — disparity on the steps of Fredonia’s Village Hall and Dunkirk’s City Hall.

That LOWV members took to the streets in support of the ERA on Independence Day was no coincidence. Just as their predecessors did 100 years ago, the members read aloud the Declaration of Sentiments, which calls for full rights of citizenship for women, including equal pay and access to all occupations, the right to vote, equality in marriage and divorce, and equality in church governance.

“One hundred years ago today, readings of the Declaration of Sentiments took place on the steps of the courthouse in every county in New York state as part of the campaign for the 19th amendment,” Mary Croxton, LOWV member explained.

Indeed, just as the ERA requires the approval of three quarters of the U.S., so also did the 19th amendment 100 years ago. In 1919, then-President Woodrow Wilson called a special congressional session for the proposed amendment, which had been brought to Congress multiple times since 1848, when the first women’s rights convention took place in Seneca Falls, New York. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments, modeled after the Declaration of Independence, was first presented at this convention and became the catalyst for a national women’s suffrage movement.

On May 21, 1919, the House of Representatives passed the amendment, followed by the Senate on June 4, 1919. The amendment was then submitted to the states for ratification; at the time, the ratification of 36 states was required, which is represented by the 36 stars on the women’s suffrage flag. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, and eight days later, it was officially adopted just in time for the 1920 presidential election.

“Women have yet to win full equality in our country and continue to call for the passage of the national Equal Rights Amendment,” Croxton said to the small crowd gathered outside City Hall.

Croxton and LOWV members Judi Lutz Woods, Marcia Westling Johnson, Nicki Schoenl and Joyce Haines took turns reading the Declaration of Sentiments aloud. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal…” Lutz began, “…But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.”

The members read the 16 sentiments, and Haines ended the reading: “Now, in view of this entire disenfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation–in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.”

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