“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” — The Notorious RBG
Sitting at their dining room table, Elizabeth and Lucretia conversed about their recent experience of being denied entrance into the Anti-Slavery conference in London. Their husbands were welcomed. They were not. They were denied entrance because they were women. The year was 1840.
So outraged, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott became frequent speakers on the subject of women’s rights. In 1948 they hosted the first women’s conference in Seneca Hills, New York. This gathering was the launch pad for the women’s suffrage movement. At that convention, Stanton read the “Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances,” a treatise she had prepared days before. Her preamble was from the Declaration in Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights... ” She went on to highlight the injustices inflicted upon women in the United States and called upon women to organize and petition for their rights.
It was the beginning of the Women’s Suffrage movement. It took another 70 years before women received the right to vote. The year was 1920. Yes, the right to vote, but not the right to own property, the right to equal pay, or the right to equal employment.
Fast-forward to 1942. World War II was in full force. Men were going off to fight. Women were asked to enter the workforce and “do the work of men.” Yes, they rose to the occasion and went to work — think Rosie the Riveter. Equal pay for equal work? No! They earned 53 cents for every dollar a man earned. Once the war was over, their employment was over. Women continued to be denied employment and if they did secure it, they earned pennies on the dollar that men did.
But wait, there’s hope on the horizon! On June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act (EPA) into law. It was the first federal anti-discrimination law that addresses wage differences based on gender. It requires that men and women in the same workplace be given equal pay for equal work. One would think, do we really need a law to say that pay should be equal? Evidently we do.
Eight years later, in 1971, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). It guaranteed legal gender equality for women and men. It would end legal distinction between genders in terms of divorce, property, employment and other matters. Think equal pay for equal work.
Didn’t we just pass that law? The reality — in 1971 women earned 60 cents for every dollar that a man earned. Unfortunately, the ERA did not reach the required ratification by 38 states in the required time. It was a disappointment, but we forged ahead.
A bright spot was the passage of Title IX, Educational Amendment Act in 1972, which reads “No person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program.” Athletic programs are considered educational. A victory!
Another 50+ years have passed. Today, women earn 84 cents for every dollar a man earns. Hispanic, Black, Indigenous women earn between 56 and 75 cents for every dollar a man earns. In some professions — think construction — women earn 93 cents, and in the world of sports, the World Surfing Association guarantees women the same prize money and monster waves to surf as men.
More good news! Three states, Nevada (2017), Illinois (2018) and Virginia (2020), ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. In 2020, the U.S. House passed a resolution to remove the time limit for ratification of the ERA. Unfortunately, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky refused to let the Senate vote on it. In January 2021, with a new Congress in session, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Senator Ben Cardin introduced legislation to remove the deadline to ratify the ERA.
Murkowski said, “As we begin a new Congress, I can think of no better legislation to lead with than one that removes impediment to find ratification of the Equal rights Amendment — an amendment that firmly embeds in a law equality between men and women." Cardin stated, “There should be no time limit on equality.”
It’s been 170 years since Lucretia and Elizabeth sat at that dining room table. Through their courage and inspiration we continue to stand strong and focused. We will not be silent. We will not be dismissed... not now, not ever! As Susan B. Anthony said in 1851, and still holds true today, “There shall never be another season of silence until women have the same rights men have on this green earth.”
This is the first entry in a new occasional column by Beth Lincoln, the founder of Women Stand Up St. Helena, and Monday Vigil — Black Lives Matter. She is a national speaker with expertise in cultural awareness and diversity in healthcare, education and law enforcement. Ms Lincoln is a Family Nurse Practitioner and adjunct faculty at Pacific Union College.