Fulfilling My Great-Grandmother’s Legacy for an Equal Rights Amendment

“My great-grandmother and other women like her marched and spoke out and went to jail because of their commitment to securing full equal rights under the Constitution. Today we carry the banners of the women who came before us.”

Fulfilling My Great-Grandmother’s Legacy for an Equal Rights Amendment
Sophie Gooding Rose Meredith served as the chair of the Virginia branch of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, later renamed the National Woman’s Party. (Library of Congress Manuscript Division)

This article originally appeared in the Portland Press Herald based in Portland, Maine. It is reposted here with permission.

Several generations of women in my family have been working for constitutional rights for women, starting with my great-grandmother.

The latest fight is over a joint resolution that would remove an arbitrary timeline so that the amendment can finally be ratified. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is a cosponsor of the bill, and Sen. Angus King (R-Maine) will join her, as he did with a similar bill two years ago. I am hopeful that both of them will be strong advocates for its passage.

My journey to becoming an ardent advocate and co-founder of ERA Maine began when I was clearing out my father’s attic and found a carton of curtains tucked away in the corner. Below the curtains, hidden out of sight, were four banners—over 100 years old—that chronicled the last decade of the women’s suffrage movement from 1913 -1920. 

The banners, which belonged to my great-grandmother, piqued my curiosity. I knew little about my great-grandmother other than she had “gone to jail.” As I later found out, she was arrested four times for picketing with banners outside the White House in 1918 for a federal amendment enfranchising women.

My great grandmother, Sophie Gooding Rose Meredith, was an outspoken supporter of suffrage who helped to set up the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia in 1909. She realized that suffrage would never pass in the Virginia legislature and in 1915 joined with Alice Paul and her National Woman’s Party to focus instead on pushing for a Constitutional Amendment to secure women’s right to vote across the United States.

Suffrage was only the beginning. Alice Paul knew women would not be treated equally under the law without an Equal Rights Amendment.

After ratification of the 19th Amendment, my great-grandmother supported Paul’s campaign for an Equal Rights Amendment that would guarantee full constitutional rights for women throughout the country. When the ERA was introduced in Seneca Falls by Alice Paul at the National Woman’s Party convention, Sophie was one of the women to second the ratification of an Equal Rights Amendment just before it was introduced in the United States Congress for the first time in 1923.

Fulfilling My Great-Grandmother’s Legacy for an Equal Rights Amendment
Officers of the National Woman’s Party on May 21, 1922. Left to right: Alice Paul, Sue White, Florence Boeckel, Anita Pollitzer, Mary Winsor, Sophie Meredith and Evelyn Wotherspoon Wainwright. (Library of Congress Manuscript Division)

My great-grandmother and other women like her marched and spoke out and went to jail because of their commitment to securing full equal rights under the Constitution. Today we carry the banners of the women who came before us. We have an opportunity now to help fulfill their legacy—our legacy—for future generations of women. We’ve waited too long. It’s time to recognize that the ERA can still be added to the Constitution and that there is no time limit on equality which is why the Senate needs to act now.


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There are some who say the Equal Rights Amendment is not needed or that women are already covered under the Constitution. But it was the late Justice Antonin Scalia who said, “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It does not.”

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex is the text of the ERA and the simple statement to be added to the Constitution. We need not wait another 100 years for the loopholes to be fixed in laws like the Violence Against Women Act or Title IX for equality in education and sports.

My great grandmother survived the flu pandemic of 1918, as hopefully I will along with my children and grandchildren in 2021. Women were an important part of winning the First World War and providing nursing care for soldiers and civilians alike to help stamp out the pandemic. For some in Congress, universal suffrage was one way of showing appreciation and respect for women’s work during the war and the flu pandemic.

During today’s COVID-19, women are a majority of frontline health care workers, service providers, teachers and other care givers, with a disproportionate number of women of color, who have put their lives at risk. A million more women have lost their jobs than men since the lockdown a year ago.

Now is the time for the Senate to again show respect and acknowledge that Constitutional rights for women are needed now more than ever.

Take Action on the Equal Rights Amendment

To take action now in support of the ERA, head over to erayes2021.org where you can directly contact your U.S. legislators, share your ERA story, and find an ERA Toolkit with ready-to-post social media images and other advocacy resources.

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About

Sophie (Posie) Cowan lives in Maine. She is a retired divorce mediator and couple's therapist who gives presentations about the need for both a state and federal ERA.