While the controversial subject of the “war on women” is currently making the news, it should come as no surprise that we have had such a “war” ever since the founding of our country. As a historian and author, I have done extensive research for various national historical projects on women’s great struggles for equality and rights.
During the 18th century and much of the 19th century, women were discouraged from speaking in public, going to college, serving on a jury and having a profession. If they were married, they were not allowed to sign contracts and could not even have their own children if divorced. Such suffragists as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and many others fought for these rights, as well as the basic right to vote. However, passage of the 19th Amendment, although a hard-fought victory for women’s voting rights, still left unsettled many inequalities that women experienced.
Alice Paul was one of these heroic women. She was not satisfied only with the women’s right to vote, even though she suffered for it by being brutally treated in a Virginia prison because she dared to picket the White House. After the 19th Amendment was ratified, Paul began to draft what she called the “Equal Rights Amendment” and introduced it to Congress in 1923. The basic tenet of this bill was that “men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” Unfortunately, the bill was never ratified.
So the real question involving women in this presidential election year, in my opinion, is this: Should another attempt be made to reintroduce the Equal Rights Amendment and seek ratification? Maybe 2012 is the year.
— Tom Mach,