Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.
January 17, 1926: A petition asking President Coolidge to support the Equal Rights Amendment was delivered to the White House today by Edith Houghton Hooker and a delegation of 300 members of the National Woman’s Party.
Their march to the Executive Mansion followed a mass meeting at the Belasco Theater in which the party’s E.R.A. campaign was outlined. Among other things, they hope the amendment will overturn so-called “protective” laws – which are really just “restrictive” laws – that limit jobs and working hours for women only. Laws which are truly protective should apply equally to men as well as women; laws which are simply restrictive should burden neither sex.
According to Mary Murray, when the New York State Legislature passed the Lockwood Bill in 1919, three thousand women railroad workers – she among them – were either fired or had their hours and pay cut. Presently it is illegal for New York women to work more than eight hours a day, or after 10 p.m., in all but a few specifically exempted professions. These restrictions apply even to major employers such as restaurants, laundries and factories. Lucrative overtime pay is therefore available to men only, and any jobs in which even occasional extra or late hours are required are now off-limits to women. Night pay is often better than that on the day shift, and it would be easier for many women to work at night and be home during the day. But while men can make such choices for themselves, women cannot.
The petition reads:
To the President, the White House:
We, the self-supporting women from various parts of the country, have gathered to ask you, as head of our nation and the leader of the party in control of our Government to give your powerful aid to securing the immediate passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Equality in the suffrage between men and women was held so important that our national Constitution was enlarged in order to guarantee that right to women. Even more important to women is the right to earn their living on equal terms with men. We ask that this most important right of all be guaranteed by our national Constitution, so that women shall no longer be handicapped by laws barring them from industrial equality with men.
We who are earning our living find our struggle made more difficult by laws that prevent us from entering entire occupations entirely; by laws that prevent us from continuing our work after we are married.
In earning our living we must struggle against prejudice and custom. We ask that the laws of the country not be thrown into the scale against us and our struggle thereby made still harder. We ask that our national Government should protect its women workers equally with its men workers.
We who have been thrown out of work because of a law prohibiting our working after a certain hour of the day; we who have been thrown out of work because of a law preventing our working as many hours as our male competitors; we who have been thrown out of work because of a law debarring us from certain occupations; we who have been thrown out of work because of a law preventing us from continuing our occupation after marriage; we who have had our wages lowered and our opportunity for advancement restricted by these same laws inasmuch as they have narrowed the field of paid work open to women – we appeal to you as the responsible head of our country to give your backing to this amendment which will guarantee to women the right to equality with men in the struggle to support themselves and their families.
Respectfully submitted, by the Industrial Council of the National Woman’s Party. For The Council: Mary Murray, New York, Chairman; Josephine Casey, Chicago, Vice Chairman; Myrtle Cain, Minneapolis, Vice Chairman; Margaret Hinchey, New York, Secretary.”
Since the Republican Party provided the vast majority of votes in both Congress and the State legislatures for the 19th (woman suffrage) Amendment just a few years ago, it is hoped that at the urging of President Coolidge, the Republican-controlled Congress will soon pass and send to the State legislatures a 20th Amendment, this one finishing the job of winning permanent, absolute equality for women.