How They Voted: The Equal Rights Amendment

Before the question of abortion came to the forefront of American political thinking, the Equal Rights Amendment was a measure often supported by Republicans, including conservative ones as this vote will demonstrate. The amendment, written by suffragist Alice Paul, had first been introduced in the Senate one hundred years ago by Majority Whip Charles Curtis (R-Kan.) and Rep. Daniel Anthony Jr. (R-Kan.) (a nephew of women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony), both were regarded as conservatives in their day and the former would be vice president from 1929 to 1933. In 1946, the House version of the ERA was sponsored by none other than Clare Hoffman of Michigan, who I have previously covered and was such a truculent rightist during World War II that FDR wanted him prosecuted for sedition.

Curiously, one of the measure’s opponents was Democrat Emanuel Celler of New York, normally a champion of liberal causes, who I have also covered for his incredible career. He opposed because he didn’t want special labor protection laws for women rendered unconstitutional. Although at one time Celler’s stance was mainstream among liberal Democrats, including Eleanor Roosevelt, few liberal Democrats by 1970 were sticking to this rationale for opposition and he faced an embarrassing defeat as House Judiciary Committee chairman when Martha Griffiths’ (D-Mich.) petition to move the bill out of his committee succeeded. The amendment would be voted on by both chambers in the 92nd Congress and voted for overwhelmingly. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) argued that the ERA should be adopted to counter extensive sex discrimination, while Sam Ervin (D-N.C.) argued that the ERA would give way to developments like co-ed bathrooms and dorms, legalization of homosexuality, and women being drafted. He feared that all distinctions between men and women would be obliterated. Some of Ervin’s predictions came to pass even without the ERA’s adoption, including co-ed bathrooms and dorms and military service for women (U.S. Senate). Today, the ERA is divisive because of the issue of abortion, and the trans issue may now contribute as well to opposition. These are the votes:

House Passage, 354-24: D 217-12; R 137-12, 10/12/71.

Senate Passage, 84-8: D 46-2; R 37-5; I 1-0; C 0-1, 3/22/72.

Notes on the Vote:

Reps. H.R. Gross (R-Iowa) and Durward G. Hall (R-Mo.) voted for…they were among the most conservative members of the House.

Sens. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), James Eastland (D-Miss.), and Wallace F. Bennett (R-Utah), who voted against this version, had voted for the 1953 version of the Equal Rights Amendment after the Hayden Rider was added, which clarified that this amendment would not take away any privileges currently held by women, thus protecting sex-specific labor laws. Interestingly enough, all but six Senate Democrats would vote for the Hayden Rider. The yeas among Democrats included Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota and Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas. Curiously, John Sparkman of Alabama, who voted for the 1972 ERA, voted against the 1953 version.

Sen. Margaret Chase Smith (R-Me.), the only woman in the chamber at the time, voted for. She had been a long-time supporter of the amendment.

Mississippi is the only state in which a majority of its federal legislators opposed. The closest to the state were Arizona and Utah, in which half of their federally elected officials voted against.

The states of Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia had no legislators opposed.

No Senate liberals voted against.

Both John Birch Society members in Congress, Republicans John Rousselot and John G. Schmitz of California, were among the opposition.

Although the dissenters were mostly conservative, what is remarkable is that a number of prominent conservatives were on board with this, including Senators Carl Curtis (R-Neb.), Roman Hruska (R-Neb.), Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), and John Tower (R-Tex.).

Rep. Leonor K. Sullivan (D-Mo.) was the only woman in Congress to vote against the ERA.

Judiciary Chairman Emanuel Celler (D-N.Y.) and William McCulloch (R-Ohio) were primarily known for their collaboration on civil rights legislation of the 1960s, but this time they collaborated in opposition to the ERA.

In addition to chairing the Watergate Committee, Sen. Sam Ervin (D-N.C.) led the Senate opposition to the ERA.


S.J. Res. 49. Joint Resolution proposing amendment to the Constitution relative to equal rights for men and women. Hayden amend. providing that nothing in the amendment shall be construed as impairing any rights or benefits given by law to women. Govtrack.

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S.J. Res. 49. Passage. Govtrack.

Retrieved from

The Senate Passes the Equal Rights Amendment. U.S. Senate.

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