Equal Rights Amendment: A Century of Speaking Out aims to examine the campaign for the ERA and how different activists have defined gender equality and battled over conflicting visions of women’s role in modern America
The New York Public Library’s new, free exhibition Equal Rights Amendment: A Century of Speaking Out open now sheds light on the tumultuous journey of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the United States. On view in the Rayner Special Collections Wing of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, this compelling exhibition will take visitors through the struggle for gender equality, offering insights into the challenges, triumphs, and ongoing debates surrounding how equal rights could or should be enforced.
The exhibition begins with an exploration of the aftermath of the 19th Amendment’s ratification in 1920 and the early efforts of the National Woman’s Party in pushing for the ERA. With the rise of modern women’s movements in the 1960s and ‘70s, enthusiasm for the ERA surged thanks to mass protests, political activism, and the efforts of influential lawmakers like Representatives Shirley Chisholm and Martha Griffiths breathed new life into the ERA.
Highlights of the exhibition include:
- Campaign ephemera and audio of a speech by Shirley Chisholm supporting the ERA;
- Early 20th-century periodicals devoted to the passage of the ERA;
- Photographs from the Women’s Strike for Equality on August 26, 1970;
- Pamphlets highlighting the tradition of progressive religious activism in support of the ERA; and
- “The Phyllis Schlafly Report” newsletter and pamphlets from Save Our Children Inc. and Concern Women for America that presage the ideological battles that continue to the present time.
In August 1920, the movement for women’s equality in the United States won a major victory with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. Following the passage of the amendment, in 1921 Alice Paul, a prominent leader of the suffrage movement, and Crystal Eastman, a lawyer and socialist, began drafting the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which they presented to Congress in 1923. Far more sweeping than the 19th Amendment, the aim of the ERA was to outlaw gender discrimination, yet a century later, while the proposed Amendment continues to be introduced once every session in Congress, it still has not passed.
Even as the popularity of the ERA grew, other women-run organizations mobilized against the amendment. Phyllis Schlafly, attorney and conservative activist, emerged as a formidable opponent of the ERA, organizing the STOP ERA campaign and successfully mobilizing opposition to its passage. The exhibition offers insight into these grassroots efforts that reshaped the ERA debate as social mores changed in the second half of the 20th century.
Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos Exhibitions Fund, Jonathan Altman, and Miriam and Ira D. Wallach.
About The New York Public Library
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