Major activities and events are listed chronologically. Each item is designated as either primarily national or North Carolina (US or NC).
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution, is simple in its statement.
- Women shall have equal rights in the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
- Congress and the several States shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
- This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
Nevertheless, these simple words evoked extremes of both support and opposition, and as of 2020, the ERA remains a failed attempt to amend our Constitution.
A version of the ERA was first proposed in 1923 by suffragist leader Alice Paul and other women’s rights advocates. Paul wrote another version in 1943, and it is the basis of the version that finally was passed by Congress.
On March 22, 1972, the ERA passed the Senate and the House of Representatives by the required two-thirds majority and was sent to the states for ratification. The original seven-year deadline was later extended by Congress to June 30, 1982. When this deadline expired, only thirty-five of the necessary thirty-eight states (the constitutionally required three-fourths) had ratified the ERA.
North Carolina was not among the states that approved the amendment.
The antecedents of the ERA can be found in the suffrage movement that led to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. North Carolina was not among the ratifying states. Not until 1971 did the North Carolina General Assembly symbolically approve the Woman Suffrage Amendment.
Some North Carolina women’s rights advocates hold that as a slave state, North Carolina’s men, like other men in the American South, became dismissive of individual freedom. They adopted a “pedestal” view of women and could or would not view them as equals. Women participated in social clubs, and they made contributions to society in restricted ways that did not threaten men. Only slowly did these activities evolve to efforts to gain the same rights as men.
Circular letter from Dorothy Slade, January 18, 1973, in the Martha C. McKay Papers #04856. Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The National Organization for Women began a campaign to support passage of the ERA. In North Carolina, the North Carolina Women’s Political Caucus, led by Martha McKay, joined the effort. Twenty-two states quickly ratified the amendment. Advocates thought that North Carolina ratification in 1973 was likely.
Caucus leaders entrusted to work with the Legislature were Elizabeth S. Petersen and Patricia Locke. On the first day the Legislature met in January, State Representative Willis P. Whichard introduced a bill of ratification to the House of Representatives. There was substantial support in the Senate for a similar bill. The Republican Governor, James Holshouser, was in favor of ratification, as were major North Carolina newspapers.
Nancy Drum, National Organization for Women in Winston-Salem, became a full-time paid coordinator for ratification.
Opposition began to organize. National ERA opponent Phyllis Schlafly recruited Dorothy (Dot) Malone Slade as a key North Carolina opponent. The John Birch Society also joined the opposition.
A professor of law at Wake Forest University, Robert E. Lee, became an effective opponent before the legislature. North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Susie Marshall Sharp joined with US Senator Sam Ervin in opposition to ERA.
The NC Senate defeated the ERA ratification bill on February 28, 1973.
Letter from Phyllis Schlafly to Sam Ervin, September 15, 1975, in the Bennehan Cameron Papers #3623, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Letter from Sam Ervin to Phyllis Schlafly, September 22, 1975, in the Bennehan Cameron Papers #3623, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
North Carolina US Senator Sam Ervin, a ranking member and a “strict constructionist” of the US Constitution, opposed the ERA. He had also opposed most civil rights legislation as a threat to the integrity of the Constitution. He was generally not regarded as a racist or a demeaner of women. Senate colleague Birch Bayh wrote “Sam did not in his heart of hearts understand the kind of problems women were facing…He was very bright and yet could not see what was going on under his nose…” His opposition to the ERA was a powerful influence on the North Carolina Legislature.
Ervin also believed the Amendment would disregard physiological and functional differences between men and women. He was reluctant to eliminate traditional gender roles, as he thought ERA would do, writing that it was "height of folly to command legislative bodies to ignore sex in making laws" ("The Question Of Ratification Of The Equal Rights Amendment CON." Congressional Digest 56.6/7 (1977): 171). After the ERA passed Congress, Ervin allied with Phyllis Schlafly, a powerful national opponent of ERA.
Judge Susie Sharp, in the Portrait Collection #P0002, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Letter from Susie Sharp to Sam Ervin August 28, 1970, in the Sam J. Ervin Papers, Subgroup B: Private Papers #3847B, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Letter from N.C. State Senator J. Ollie Harris to Susie Sharpe, March 9, 1977, in the Susie Sharp Papers #4898, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Judge Susie Sharp, appointed in 1962 as the first female Associate Judge of the North Carolina Supreme Court, also opposed the ERA. In 1974, Sharp was elected Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Letter from Lela Chesson to Sam Ervin, January 29, 1975, in the Sam J. Ervin Papers, Subgroup B: Private Papers #3847B, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Letter from Sam Ervin to Lela Chesson, February 3, 1975, in the Sam J. Ervin Papers, Subgroup B: Private Papers #3847B, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
This exchange of letters between Lela Chesson, Women's Editor of the Rocky Mount Evening Telegram and Senator Sam Ervin shows some of the fervor involved with the ERA debate.
The ERA came up for vote in the NC Senate in 1973, where it failed. It was re-introduced in 1975, and the NC House defeated it. In 1977, it came before both bodies. The house passed it, but the senate rejected the bill. That was the last time a ratification bill came to a vote. In 1979, a Senate committee killed a ratification bill. In 1981, a Senate bill was withdrawn rather than risk failure. In 1982, the Senate again voted to table an ERA ratification bill.
The US Congress extended the ratification deadline to June 30, 1982, but no more than thirty-five states of the required thirty-eight ratified.
While the timeline for ratification ended in 1982, efforts to revive the failed amendment continued, both nationally and in North Carolina. On January 27, 2020, Virginia became the thirty-eighth state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. On February 13, 2020, the US. House of Representatives voted to remove the original time limit assigned to the Equal Rights Amendment.
The Alice Paul Institute through its web site equalrightsamendment.org provides information and support for continuing ERA approval. The National Organization for Women also continues to be a leader for ERA ratification.
In North Carolina, the Equal Rights Amendment North Carolina Alliance serves as an umbrella for several local organizations that continue to support passage of the ERA. Ratify ERA NC and North Carolina for ERA are additional organizations working to make North Carolina the thirty-ninth state to ratify the ERA.
This timeline provides a chronology of additional national and North Carolina events.
January 2, 1923 to February 5, 1924
A version of the ERA is first proposed in 1923 by suffragist leader Alice Paul and other women’s rights advocates. Paul writes another version in 1943, and it is the basis of the version that finally is passed by Congress. (US)
Alice Paul writes another version of the ERA in 1943, and it is the basis of the version that finally is passed by the United States Congress. (US)
May 6, 1971
The North Carolina General Assembly approves the Woman Suffrage Amendment. A symbolic act, it passes unanimously in both houses. (NC)
The Equal Rights Amendment is passed by the United States Congress and sent to the States for ratification. Congress sets a ratification deadline of March 22, 1979. (US)
Twenty-two states ratify. (US)
The National Organization for Women begins a campaign to support passage of the ERA. In North Carolina, the North Carolina Women’s Political Caucus, led by Martha McKay, joins the effort. Twenty-two states quickly ratify the amendment. Advocates think that North Carolina ratification in 1973 will be likely. (NC)
Eight states ratify; Nebraska rescinds. (US)
North Carolina Women’s Political Caucus leaders entrusted to work with the Legislature are Elizabeth S. Petersen and Patricia Locke. On the first day the Legislature meets in January, State Representative Willis P. Whichard introduces a bill of ratification to the House of Representatives. There is substantial support in the Senate for a similar bill. The Republican Governor, James Holshouser, is in favor of ratification, as are major North Carolina newspapers. (NC)
Nancy Drum, National Organization for Women in Winston-Salem, becomes a full-time paid coordinator for ratification. (NC)
Opposition begins to organize. National ERA opponent Phyllis Schlafiy recruits Dorothy (Dot) Malone Slade as a key North Carolina opponent. The John Birch Society joins the opposition. (US)
A professor of law at Wake Forest University, Robert E. Lee, becomes an effective opponent before the legislature. North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Susie Marshall Sharp joins with US Senator Sam Ervin in opposition to ERA. (NC)
February 28. The NC Senate defeats the ERA ratification bill. (NC)
Another attempt at legislation awaits the 1975 legislative session. Both sides prepare for that. (NC)
Three states ratify; Tennessee rescinds. (US)
Twenty seven groups have joined North Carolina’s ERA United (NCUERA), led by Nancy Drum. (NC)
Thirty four of the required thirty eight states have ratified ERA. Herbert Hyde, Democrat senator from Asheville, introduces a ratification bill to the Senate on January 17. It is co-sponsored by H. M. (Mickey) Michaux from Durham, the most prominent African American politician in North Carolina. Opponents include House speaker Jimmy Green and A. Hartwell Campbell, chair of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments. (NC)
March 4. NC House holds a public hearing for proponents. (NC)
March 11. NC House holds a public hearing for opponents. Senator Sam Ervin, an opponent, is allowed an additional session. (NC)
April 16. Ratification is defeated in the NC House 57-62. (NC)
ERA can next appear before the NC Legislature in 1977. (NC)
Reverend Maria Bliss heads NCUERA.
Renewal is believed needed. NCUERA adopts slogan "ERA is for Everybody." The slogan appears on campaign literature, buttons, bumper stickers. Antiratificationists also step up their efforts. (NC)
One state ratifies; Idaho rescinds. (US)
Ervin and Schlafly speak at a Dorton Arena rally jammed with 1,500 opponents, many from fundamentalist churches in rural parts of the state. They wear red "Stop ERA" stickers. (NC)
January. General Assembly prepares to meet. ERA is supported by Governor Jim Hunt and House speaker Carl Stewart. Antiratificationists are strong, and "ratification fatigue" appears to be a factor against ratification. (NC)
NCUERA develops a strong board including former Governor Robert Scott, Duke University President Terry Sanford, former UNC-CH Chancellor William Aycock, and others. (NC)
February 9. NC House passes ERA 61-55. Ratificationists feel that momentum is growing in their favor. (NC)
March 1. Antiratificationists mount a huge effort, using national resources, to defeat ERA in the NC Senate. Senate ratificationists are led by Bill Whichard, James B. Garrison, and Lawrence Davis. Senate defeats bill 24-26. (NC)
Phyllis Schlafly nationally and Dorothy Slade in North Carolina continue their efforts to kill any possible hope that North Carolina will ratify the ERA. They focus on electing antiratificationists to the NC General Assembly. They are successful in influencing the balance of ERA support in the House. (NC)
US Congress passes bill extending ERA ratification deadline to June 30, 1982. (US)
February 15. Pro-ERA majority NC Senate Constitutional Amendments Committee halt ERA bill because of inadequate pro votes in Senate. (NC)
May. NCUERA joins with North Carolina Women’s Political Caucus (NCWPC) to form a single ERA Political Action Committee to influence the 1980 election. (NC)
November 4. The landslide election of Ronald Reagan affects the NC elections as well, adding antiratificationists to the NC General Assembly. (NC)
February 27. A NC legislative "gentlemen’s agreement" permits the ERA bill to remain alive but dormant in committee, but not debated or voted on in the 1981-82 North Carolina Senate session. (NC)
Betty McCain becomes Governor Jim Hunt’s ERA lobbyist. (NC)
June 4. NC Senate tables ERA bill. (NC)
June 30. Ratification deadline. (US)
Ratificationists begin efforts to revive ERA. (NC)
RATIFY ERA-NC organizes to advocate for ratification in NC. (NC)
Efforts continue in US Congress to remove the ratification deadline. (US)
March 21, 2017
The Nevada Legislature becomes the first state in 40 years to ratify the ERA. (US)
ERA is re-introduced to NC General Assembly. (NC)