Today in Feminist History: The ERA Makes it to the Senate (March 21, 1938)

March 21, 1938: There is jubilation today among Equal Rights Amendment supporters, because after an almost 15-year struggle, the E.R.A. has been reported to a branch of Congress for the first time.

PHOTO: Susan B. Anthony’s nephew, Representative Daniel Read Anthony (8/22/1870 – 8/4/1929), a Republican of Kansas, who served in Congress from May 23, 1907 – March 3, 1929, and was an original sponsor of the E.R.A. in 1923.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 9-9—a tie being sufficient—to report Senate Joint Resolution 65 to the full Senate for action. 

Written by Alice Paul, the E.R.A. was first introduced into the Senate as S.J.R. 21 on December 10, 1923, and the House as H.J.R. 75 three days later.

It was sponsored by two Kansas Republicans: Representative Daniel Read Anthony—a nephew of Susan B. Anthony—and Senator Charles Curtis. It has been the subject of hearings since February 6, 1924.

Over the years, the National Woman’s Party has eloquently testified many times in the amendment’s favor. Though alone at first, the N.W.P. has now been joined by many other groups.

Today, the amendment’s supporters include the National Association of Women Lawyers, the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs and the American Federation of Soroptimists. 

While celebrating today’s victory, Sarah Pell—head of the National Woman’s Party—said of the nine pro-E.R.A. Senators:

“In every crucial period of history, there are those of clear vision who balance the scales in favor of justice and who stand for fundamental principles such as the Equal Rights Amendment.”

Democratic National Committee member Emma Guffey Miller, who coordinated the proponents’ testimony in the recent hearings said:

“Of course I am glad that the amendment is now before the Senate. It is the first time the full Committee of the Judiciary has acted on it. I realize that reactionary forces and the old prejudice of the Dark Ages against equal rights between men and women are still abroad in the land, and it is significant that there are nine members of the committee who are convinced of its justice.”

Senator Edward R. Burke, Democrat of Nebraska, whose Senate Judiciary Subcommittee reported the amendment to the full Senate Judiciary Committee said:

“I have become even more firmly convinced than I was at the start that this is an essential amendment to the United States Constitution.”

With ominous events such as Germany’s annexation of Austria nine days ago, and our nation’s growing need for preparedness in mind, Representative Burke noted an additional reason to support the E.R.A.:

“In view of the troubled conditions elsewhere in the world, it seems to me that in the United States we should call on all the resources of our country, men and women alike.”

Though it’s clearly a long journey from a 9-9 Senate committee report to a two-thirds supermajority of both Houses of Congress, then ratification by 36 of the 48 States, today’s vote is a major and crucial step toward making the E.R.A. the 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution, and achieving the goal of full equality for women that has been the goal of feminists for many generations. 


David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.