The Equal Rights Amendment
The League of Women Voters was originally created as an organization for women, by women to support women in their efforts to achieve the right vote and gain equality. Yet, the League did not support the Equal Rights Amendment for decades. The Equal Rights Amendment in its most basic form would make sex discrimination illegal, and has been ratified in individual states but not nationwide. League efforts to ratify the amendment did not begin until in the mid 1970’s and the main involvement from the Northfield League seems to be financial.
From 1923-1954, the League of Women Voters actively opposed the Equal Rights Amendment for a variety of reasons. While they did not support the ERA, the League still supported anti-discriminatory legislation with a particular focus on poor and vulnerable women. The League worried about the effect of the ERA on labor protection laws that they had championed for women.
According to the 1970 League of Women Voters National Board Report, the League did not support the Equal Rights Amendment from 1923-1954 because of fears it would jeopardize long-worked for anti-discrimination legislation. Despite the lack of support for the ERA, the League actively supported equal pay measures and other anti-discriminatory policies until 1954.
In a 2019 oral interview, Ms. Orick “Ricky” Peterson, President of the Northfield League of Women Voters ~2010, mentions the conservative nature of the National League of Women Voters’ stance on the Equal Rights Amendment and the general lack of engagement with the ERA, while noting her involvement with ERA efforts outside of League.
Between 1954-1972 the League of Women Voters held no official stance on the Equal Rights Amendment. However, the social movements of the 1960’s and a renewed interest in women’s issues reinvigorated League interest in the ERA. In 1970, the LWV thought that fighting sex discrimination at the state level would be more effective than an amendment to the Federal Constitution.
In 1974, the Minnesota State League of Women Voters sent a memo to local leagues, outlining and explaining the League’s change of positions on the ERA.
This snippet from a book about the League of Women Voters and the ERA gives further socio-historical context for the League’s evolving positions on the ERA over time.
By 1970, some members of the LWV started pushing for the LWV to speak explicitly in support of the ERA. The League of Women Voters overwhelmingly supported the ERA at that National Conference in 1972. This was a catalyst for a national fundraising campaign to ratify the ERA. The change seemed fast enough to some members of the MN League that the State Office had to send out a memo to local leagues entitled “LWV – and ERA? YES!”
By 1973, the Northfield League had joined forces with Leagues around the country to fundraise for the purpose of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. This marked a departure from the League’s active opposition and later non-position on the amendment. In 1973, the national president of the League of Women Voters encouraged women to support the ERA.
1979 saw a continuation of League support for the ERA, specifically through fundraising. The League hoped to raise thousands of dollars to support ratification efforts in States across the country.
In 1981, while the ERA still faced much opposition on the national political stage, the Northfield League continued to publicly support the ERA. The Northfield League connected its support for the ERA to other local issues relating to gender equality.
The ERA Today
Today, the League of Women Voters supports the ERA on a national level and the Northfield League continues to fight for its ratification. Last year, the Northfield League hosted Betty Folliard, a Minnesota legislator leading the fight for the ERA, as a speaker at a League meeting, indicating their ongoing support and engagement with the issue.
For some Northfield citizens, it still comes as a surprise that the ERA hasn’t passed, but for members of the League of Women Voters in Northfield this fight is still ongoing. As Bonnie Jean From reflects in this 2019 interview, members of the League are still confronted with these questions of equality. Do you think the League should be renamed the League of Men and Women Voters?
Excerpt from an oral interview with Adrienne Falcon, current President of the Northfield League of Women Voters as of 2019. Hear her describe the 2018 national gathering of the League of Women Voters and the resounding support of League members for the Equal Rights Amendment.