The Florida Senate rejected the amendment to give women the right to vote in 1919, and today, 58 years later, it dealt a blow to the Equal Rights Amendment by defeating it 21 to 19.
Both proponents and opponents of the amendment see Florida's action as a possible end for the ERA, which must be ratified by three more states by March, 1979, for passage. Florida was the fourth state to vote it down since January. Only two states, Virginia and Mississippi, have failed to put ERA to a vote of the full legislature since it was proposed by Congress in 1972.
Florida's Senate has voted it down before, but this year was to be different. Just two weeks ago there were 21 senators - a majority - pledged to vote yes on the ERA. Legislators who have been here for 20 years, though, concede that it is the most emotional issue they have ever had to deal with.
The reasons for its defeat are many - including arguments that the amendment would legalize homosexual marriages and unisex bathrooms, and pre-empt state rights on many laws governing a family.
Those allegations were labeled "lies" and "myths" by ERA proponents, but they were effective.
But the major reason was a political power play that, like many legislative maneuverings, had little to do with the merits of the amendment, which says: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
This Southern Senate, heavy with conservative Democrats, is controlled by three men - the president, Lew Brantley, a sheet-metal contractor; a past president and dean of the Senate, Dempsey Barron, an attorney and rancher; and Tom Gallen, chairman of the Rules Committee, an attorney.
All have long opposed the ERA, and proponents claim their "arm-twisting" "backroom deals" are reason for the sudden switch in key votes.
Gallen made no bones about his strategy. The only reason the bill ever got out of his committee was that he knew there were enough votes to defeat it in the Senate and that "we could kill it better on the floor."
Barron, who in the past has made no secret of his gubernatorial ambitions, grinned as he said he saw the vote as a victory against Gov. Reuben Askew, who in the final hours strongly urged legislators to vote for the bill.
Barron grinned even more when he said he had turned down the opportunity to talk to President Carter, who called to lobby for the bill. "It would be a waste of the President's time." he said.
Vice President Mondale and former First Lady Betty Ford had also lobbied for the amendment.
One ERA proponent, Sen. Robert Graham, said, "It's unfortunate that something of such fundamental importance as the ERA got caught up in almost undergraduate jealously."
Mark Siegel, Carter's White House aide pushing for ERA passage, said they're playing "absolute hard ball: 'If you on't vote right, I'll take away your chairmanship.'"
Kenneth MacKay, now referred to as a "doghouse Democrat" for unsuccessfully pushing for reform of Senate powers, says to fight the leadership means that your "committee assignments go to hell, your bills don't go anywhere."
Barron, reffered to by some as "King Barron," shrugged. "That's what losers always say."
Many who took the floor, ostensibly to debate the ERA, used their time to argue that they were not "good old boys" locked in a "last hurrah to desperately hold onto their power," as Sen. Lori Wilson, one of two women in the Senate and a sponsor of the ERA, charged.
Sen. Ralph Poston denied that his surprise switch last week had anything to do with the fact that he Rules Committee had exonerated him in a charge of influence-peddling that arose over the issue of whether he was required to disclose his interest in a whellchair ambulance service when he voted for a controversial bill regulating such services.
And Phil Lewis, who voted for the ERA in the past, denied heatedly that his "no" vote was a trade-off for the leadership support which virtually guarantees his presidency of the Senate in an imminent election.
Few of the pro and anti forces who packed the gallery and overflowed to sit on the floor outside the chambers knew the rumors and threats that swirled around this capitol in the closing hours of intense lobbying.
Tuesday, women for and against the amendment talked the corrilors pushing buttons and pamphlets at anyone. Anti-ERA women wheeled infants through the halls with red and white "Stop ERA" buttons which read, "There is a difference' and showed a little boy and little girl pulling down their underpants.
Pro forces, who feared being characterized as bra-burning harpies, were low-keyed until the last minute. But in one desperate attempt, a female member of the House in favor of the ERA threatened to disclose an illicit sexual affair of a senator if he did not change his vote. This so infuriated Barron that he said, "I'll get five yes votes to switch just like that," and snapped his fingers, "if that happens."
Betty Friedan, a national ERA proponent, told Barron that such groups as League of Women Voters would refuse to hold Florida conventions as an economic boycott. Barron replied, "That doesn't bother me. We got oceans, white sand, orange juice and Anita Bryant, and that's enough for me."
Bryant, the former Miss America and outspoken opponent of homosexuals battling over housing discrimination in Miami now views with Phyllis Schlafly, the head of the Stop-ERA movement, in popularity with many of the anti-ERA legislators. Both women lobbied heavily here this week.
The final four hours of debate today were long-winded, as literary authorities from Scripture to Mother Goose were cited.
The anti forces argues that the ERA was unnecessary, and that there were already enough laws to protect women.
The pro-forces argued that existing laws were not enough, and that 38.5 million women in the labor force are single, separated, divorced, widowed or have husbands who earn less than $10,000 a year and are still clustered in the low-paying jobs.
"This is in spite of the Equal Pay Act of 1973 and Title V11 of the Civil Rights Act," said Sen, Betty Gastor. "Existing laws are not doing the job."
As had happened in ERA debates across the country in the last five years, arguments broke down along the line of conservative versus liberal, and how women are viewed in society.
Poston pointed out that the women who were against the ERA were largely housewives who did not work and felt privileged to be supported by their husbands, while those for it were often career women. He said, "I have trouble with women getting married and not taking their husband's names."
David McClain, against the amendment, said he felt it was a "perfectly logical distinction based on sex" that mothers should be excused from jury duty. "When it comes to physical strength the man has got it. God decreed it, I didn't. God decreed women who have children, I didn't."
The main question now is what will happen to the ERA. President Carter has already vowed that if it does not pass in his term, he will consider his administration "a failure." One opponent cheered and said, "We have sent them a message, the ERA is dead."
Many of the states that could still ratify the amendment in the next two years are the very states that have opposed it this year.
Pro-ERA forces were downcast as the vote was announced, but a few hours later they were painting signs in their headquarters in a crumbling old hotel. The signs said "Men of quality aren't afraid of women with equality."
Even those ERA argued that the proponents had made many mistakes to date. Sen. Lori Wilson was generally viewed as ineffective in marshaling her votes. The proponents even admitted that for too many years they underestimated the power of the antiforces.
But their final self-criticism was reversed for focusing on national campaigns, rather than zeroing in on the very men who, like the Florida Senate, call the shots.