The word is out -- and in elaborate script--that a big wake is planned for June 30, the deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The mourners will not grieve, but will celebrate the expiration of the amendment, counting on women on both sides of the issue to come together in a kind of harmony--strained to be sure--that was denied them during the course of the struggle.
As a legislator who supports the ERA as well as Maryland's own 10- year-old ERA, I recognize that the odds are not good for the amendment's passage. And although any individual in public life today is tempted with the lure of olive branches, I am convinced that the basic issue embodied in the amendment must continue to be pursued.
In all candor I know not the specifics of such pursuit but believe that wisdom on the matter will be distilled in the months ahead. I am sustained in my conviction by the fabric of American history, which illustrates all sorts of tear-but-wear in the area of women's rights. The first constitutional amendment relating to women's suffrage was introduced more than a half-century before it was to be ratified. Issues broached at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 did not emerge as serious topics of political and judicial concern until well into the next century. And Judith Sargent Murray's questions, advanced during the course of the American Revolution, were politely relegated to obscurity for decades: "Is it upon mature consideration we adopt the idea, that nature is thus partial in her distributions? Is it indeed a fact that she hath yielded to one half the human species so unquestionable a mental superiority?"
History also reveals some trends that may shed light on strategies for the future, as for example the tactic of quid pro quo: when Utah became one of the first territories to provide women's suffrage in 1870, it did so in part to ensure communal unity in the face of imminent federal interference. When women's suffrage leaders organized in the post-Civil War period, one alternative chosen was championing amendments to state constitutions. Most efforts failed, but leaders learned the artful strategy of advancing their aims through concentrating on small electoral entities such as precincts. And their reliance on this method proved decisive in the case of New York State.
When suffragettes pursued at the same time initiation of an amendment by Congress, it was not sheer coincidence that the final months of the struggle saw the entrance of the first woman into the House of Representatives. When earlier in the 19th century women recognized that the judiciary represented still one other avenue in which to seek suffrage, they forced the Supreme Court to go on record, leaving sometimes a track of inconsistencies: women, in one case, could be denied the vote by states; in another case, certain individuals because they were citizens of the United States (as were women) were made "voter(s) in every state in the Union."
Finally, as an educator, I believe there is one additional reason why the elaborate announcement of the death of the movement for equal rights is premature. The passage of time, the increase of education, and the simple matter of experience--all together should bring challenges and evolution. Margaret Fuller, writing in 1845, expressed this perception best: "It should be remarked that as the principle of liberty is better understood, and more nobly interpreted, a broader protest is made in behalf of Woman. . . ."