Today in Feminist History: Amelia Earhart Fights for the Equal Rights Amendment (September 22, 1932)

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.


September 22, 1932 : Amelia Earhart and four high-ranking members of the National Woman’s Party lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment (also known as the Lucretia Mott Amendment) today at a meeting with President Hoover in the White House.

President Hoover, with whom she met today, presenting Amelia Earhart with the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society on June 21st of this year for her Transatlantic solo flight.

Earhart and Anita Pollitzer did most of the talking, with the President paying close attention to what they had to say. Long-time N.W.P. members Burnita Matthews, Anna Kelton Wiley, and Ruth Taunton were also present. Earhart told Hoover:

“I know from practical experience of the discriminations which confront women when they enter an occupation where men have priority in opportunity, advancement and protection. In aviation the Department of Commerce recognizes no legal differences between men and women licensed to fly. I feel that similar equality should be carried into all fields of endeavor, so that men and women may achieve without handicap because of sex.

As far as our country is concerned, in every State of the Union today there are discriminations against women in the law. I join with the National Woman’s Party in hoping for the speedy passage of the Lucretia Mott Amendment, which would write into the highest law of our land that ‘men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.’ Your own statements on equality of opportunity make me believe you understand our desire.”

One example of President Hoover’s support for the cause of women’s equality occurred at a meeting with an N.W.P. delegation on January 5th of last year. He expressed his opposition to the growing practice of married women workers being fired to make jobs available to men as a way of (allegedly) alleviating the current unemployment crisis. Anita Pollitzer said: “Do you realize, Mr. President, that there is no single State in the Union today where all the laws apply equally to men and women? In almost one-half of the States women are limited in their power to contract or to carry on a business.”

She then left a report with Mr. Hoover that summarized the many laws that discriminate against women.

Earhart has expressed feminist views many times before. On May 8th of last year she told 250 Barnard College students at their annual Barnard Athletic Association Dinner that the educational system was based on “sex, not aptitude,” and that it was unfair for girls to be shunted into cooking and sewing classes solely on account of their sex: “I know a great many boys who should be making pies – and a great many girls who would be better off in manual training. There is no reason why a woman can’t hold any position in aviation providing she can overcome prejudices and show ability.”

On June 24th of this year she reaffirmed that she would keep her “flying name” of Amelia Earhart despite her marriage to George Palmer Putnam on February 7, 1931.

Her most recent aviation feat was a solo flight from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland, May 20th to 21st, the fifth anniversary of Lindbergh’s first solo crossing of the Atlantic. No one other than she and Lindbergh have ever flown the North Atlantic alone, and Earhart is the only person to have crossed the Atlantic twice by airplane. Her first trip was as a passenger on June 17th to 18th, 1928. Women’s aviation is growing rapidly here in the U.S., and Earhart certainly deserves a share of the credit. On January 1, 1929, there were only 34 licensed women pilots, but as of this Spring, there were 512.

The Lucretia Mott (Equal Rights) Amendment was written by Alice Paul, and became the National Woman’s Party’s top priority after the 19th Amendment was certified by the Secretary of State as being part of the Constitution on August 26, 1920. At their first post-suffrage national convention on February 16, 1921, there was a unanimous and enthusiastic call for “absolute equality,” and work was begun on drafting a Constitutional amendment to bring that about.

On July 21, 1923, at an N.W.P. convention celebrating the 75th anniversary of the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York, on July 19th to 20th, 1848, the wording was set, and the amendment officially endorsed by the party members. In the same spirit as the suffrage amendment was nicknamed the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment,” it was decided to call this one the “Lucretia Mott Amendment” in honor of another pioneer feminist.

On December 10, 1923, the Equal Rights (Lucretia Mott) Amendment was introduced in Congress by Senator Charles Curtis and Representative Daniel Anthony (nephew of Susan B. Anthony). Both legislators were Republicans from Kansas. The first hearings were held by a House Judiciary Subcommittee two months later. The amendment continues to pick up support, and the campaign will go on until sex equality is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, regardless of how long that make take, because there is no acceptable alternative to equality. 


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About

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.