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“Agony and Ecstasy”: The Fight for the Equal Rights Amendment Extension in Congress | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives

Over the course of a year, from October 1977 to the fall of 1978, the fight to extend the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) played out on a public stage in the nation’s capital. From the iconic National Mall to the House Judiciary Committee Room, the debate over the ERA featured passionate pleas from those both for and against the amendment. Intrigue and drama often characterized the lead up to key votes, and lawmakers and activists worked to shape public opinion. Away from the spotlight, women Members, vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts in Congress during the late 1970s, designed a highly effective vote-counting operation to achieve an improbable victory and keep the hopes for ERA alive.The ERA Is BornThe Equal Rights Amendment, drafted by the revolutionary suffrage leader, Alice Paul, had first been introduced by an ally in Congress in 1923 to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention on women’s rights. Paul’s original bill stated that “men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and in every place subject to its jurisdiction.” Over the next 50 years, the bill remained in committee, unable to break free from the obstacles other lawmakers put in its way.In 1970, however, clever maneuvering by Representative Martha Wright Griffiths of Michigan wrested the ERA from the House Judiciary Committee and sent it to the House Floor. Although the amendment passed the House easily on August 10, 1970, the Senate’s addition of a clause exempting women from the military draft doomed the measure in the 91st Congress (1969–1971). Undeterred by the setback, Griffiths led the charge again in the 92nd Congress (1971–1973) and guided the ERA through the House by an overwhelming margin of 354 to 24. The Senate followed suit and passed the ERA on March 22, 1972, by a vote of 84 to 8. Just 32 minutes later, Hawaii became the first state to ratify the ERA. Before the end of the year, 22 of the required 38 states had voted in favor of adding equal rights for women to the Constitution.Momentum for the ERA, however, slowed considerably after the initial surge of support. The amendment had a seven-year window in which it could be ratified and added to the Constitution. By the fall of 1977, 33 states had ratified the amendment, but four states (Idaho, Nebraska, Tennessee and Kentucky) had rescinded their initial approval leaving the fate of the ERA unclear.UnderdogsIn 1972, the same year the ERA passed Congress, Elizabeth Holtzman was crafting her own underdog narrative by challenging New York’s venerable Representative Emanuel Celler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, for the Democratic nomination from a Brooklyn district. Celler staunchly opposed the ERA and used his position to stifle the measure until Representative Griffiths forced his hand to bring the amendment to the floor for a vote using a discharge petition. Celler described the ERA as a “step backward” and accused his male colleagues of supporting the measure to “get the women out of their hair.”In 1972, Holtzman, a Harvard trained lawyer, used Celler’s vocal criticism of the ERA to help her defeat the chairman in an upset, earning her the nickname, “Liz the Lion Killer.” When Holtzman entered the House in 1973 she received a spot on the Judiciary Committee, and the committee that once served as the ERA’s primary obstacle became a new hope to revive the neglected women’s rights legislation.The Pieces Come TogetherOn April 19, 1977, the Congresswomen’s Caucus, a new legislative service organization in the House that focused on issues important to women across the country, convened its first meeting. Holtzman and Representative Margaret M. Heckler of Massachusetts served as co-chairs of the new organization which boasted 15 members from both sides of the aisle.As the ratification window narrowed, the ERA became a main concern for the new caucus. Holtzman recalled that Eleanor Smeal, then president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), approached her with the idea that Congress could pass a bill to extend the deadline. Holtzman was initially hesitant but she came to like the idea. Holtzman moved methodically to solidify support for an extension, first consulting with the only other woman on the Judiciary Committee, civil rights leader Barbara Charline Jordan of Texas. Holtzman and Jordan approached Chairman Peter Rodino of New Jersey with the plan, and once Rodino pledged his support, Holtzman worked to secure the backing of Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill of Massachusetts. With Rodino and O’Neill on board, Holtzman presented the idea to the Congresswomen’s Caucus. Thirteen members of the caucus signed on as cosponsors. Other cosponsors included, Rodino, Don Edwards of California, the chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee of Civil and Constitutional Rights, as well as several members of Democratic leadership—Thomas S. Foley of Washington, John Brademas of Indiana, and Jim Wright of Texas. Those signing on to the bill sent an important message to the House about the legislative battle on the horizon.Inside and OutsideOn October 26, 1977, Holtzman introduced H.J. Res. 638, a “Joint Resolution extending the deadline for the ratification of the equal rights amendment.” The bill was vital, Representative Cardiss Collins of Illinois said, because the states needed more time to debate what she called “one of the most important human rights issues of the century.”Holtzman and the Congresswomen’s Caucus wasted no time building support for what many—including Holtzman and Democratic leadership—viewed as an uphill battle. The plan featured two parts: a sophisticated internal whip campaign in Congress and a grassroots movement to pressure Members from the outside. “All of us networked to people we knew, particularly those we thought would be the hardest to please about that amendment,” Mary Rose Oakar of Ohio recalled. The caucus employed interns and designed a detailed computer program to manage what was described as a “formidable whip operation” in order to track where the vote stood. Although the lawmakers lacked formal party whip experience, Holtzman proudly observed, “We figured it out. We were all very smart women.”The caucus also worked closely with women’s organizations beyond Congress to add additional pressure. Holtzman managed a massive grassroots mobilization of women intent on winning support by lobbying individual Members of Congress. Holtzman, Heckler, Patricia Scott Schroeder of Colorado, and Barbara Ann Mikulski and Gladys Noon Spellman, both of Maryland, regularly met with outside groups to offer lobbying tactics, plan strategy, and share research.When the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights began hearings on the extension, crowds on both sides of the issue crowded the room. Eleanor Smeal of NOW, who had worked closely with Holtzman and other Congresswomen, warned that rejecting the extension could lead to the demise of the ERA and would set back “the clock of progress for the advancement of the rights of women in this society.” Leading the opposition was chair of the Stop ERA movement, Phyllis Schlafly. “It’s illegal and unfair,” Schlafly said. “It’s like a losing football team demanding that a fifth quarter be played. You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game just because you’re losing.”When the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights held a hearing on the issue in May, members of NOW and Stop ERA packed the room and lined the hallways. Intense lobbying followed the hearing and on June 5, the subcommittee, by a vote of 4 to 3, approved a seven-year extension for the amendment. Harold Lee Volkmer of Missouri observed that while he voted no, he may have been amenable to voting in favor of a shorter extension. “The American people have a right to think about this for as long as it takes,” Robert Frederick Drinan of Massachusetts replied. Don Edwards, the subcommittee chair and vocal supporter of the ERA, expressed confidence that the full Judiciary Committee would pass the resolution despite the close vote.The push to save the ERA intensified in the weeks leading up to the full committee vote. On July 9, 1978, the fight moved from the backrooms of Congress to the National Mall, when tens of thousands of ERA supporters from across the nation, many donned in white to symbolize the work of the suffrage movement, marched on Capitol Hill. Former Congresswomen Patsy Mink of Hawaii and Bella Abzug of New York joined activists Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Members of Congress—including Holtzman, Mikulski, and Heckler—on a hot and hazy day, to lead a peaceful protest demanding more time for states to deliberate the equal rights amendment. “We must be prepared for a very long haul,” Mikulski warned the enthusiastic crowd. “We will work this summer like we have never worked before.” After the speeches, protestors made good on their promise to inundate the Capitol and beseech Representatives to vote for the extension. Patsy Mink best captured the mood of the day when she asserted, “And if they dare to turn us down . . . we will turn them out on the next election day.”Lingering ObstaclesIn Congress, however, opposition to the extension persisted. Shortly after the protest march, Representative Edwards called to postpone the vote in the Judiciary Committee scheduled for July 11 when it became clear that a majority of his colleagues did not support the resolution. Congressman Thomas Fisher Railsback of Illinois led opponents who wanted to tie the extension to a provision allowing states which had previously voted in favor of ERA to rescind their vote. Railsback’s argument became a rallying cry for Phyllis Schlafly who claimed giving states the option to rescind “would take away a little bit from the unfairness of it.”The Judiciary Committee finally voted on Holtzman’s extension bill on July 18, 1978. The day-long proceeding featured passionate debate and detailed arguments about the necessity for an extension, the length of time, and whether states could rescind an earlier vote. So many Members made opening remarks that Representative James David Santini of Nevada likened it to an “oratorial parade.” Spectators once again packed the committee room in anticipation of the historic vote while television cameras broadcast the meeting.To win over reluctant Members, proponents suggested cutting the extension from seven years to 39 months. When the committee voted on the proposal, Harold Sawyer of Michigan, a proponent of the original seven years who did not know about the change ahead of time, voted against the measure. Chairman Rodino recessed the hearing to confer with colleagues as tension mounted. At one point, Congresswoman Millicent Hammond Fenwick of New Jersey sought unsuccessfully to convince Sawyer to change his vote. “There’s nothing like a delicate ego,” Fenwick surmised.After the brief recess, Representative Santini, an opponent of the extension, left the hearing without warning and missed the subsequent vote on the change to shorten the extension. With Santini missing, the shorter extension passed by one vote, 17 to 16. Santini denied he purposely left the hearing, and instead claimed he went to the House Floor to check in on another legislative matter. A slew of amendments followed the first vote, but none, including Railsback’s proposal to allow states that had ratified the ERA an opportunity to rescind their votes, passed the full committee. The room erupted in loud applause when the full committee voted to send the ERA extension of 39 months to the House Floor by a vote of 19 to 15. Pleased by the outcome, Holtzman, nonetheless, knew the battle would continue. “We haven’t done a vote count for the House, but we’re hoping,” she said. “We’ve spent so much time concentrating here, that there just hasn’t been time.”The Day of the VoteThe ERA extension went to the House Floor two weeks later on August 15, 1978. Holtzman and her fellow Congresswomen whipped the vote until the last minute. On their way to the Capitol, Members encountered both enthusiastic supporters and opponents of the ERA lining the hallways. Once on the House Floor, Representatives saw a sea of women in the galleries wearing “ERA NOW” or “Stop ERA” buttons. More than 100 lawmakers spoke during what the press described as “seven spirited hours of debate.” The majority of women Representatives took to the House Floor to build the case for allowing more time for the states to ratify the ERA. “I find it inconceivable that today we are still debating the question of equality for one-half of the population of the United States,” Congresswoman Spellman observed. “I also find it inconceivable that there are those in this House who question the fact women are not yet being given equal status . . . we see it every day in a hundred different ways.”Chester Trent Lott of Mississippi doubted the Senate would take up the issue and questioned why the House should therefore endure the “agony and ecstasy” of debating the extension. Congresswoman Jordan responded. “I would say to the gentleman from Mississippi (Trent Lott) that women have been going through agony and ecstasy all their lives, and we shall continue to do so until the words ‘equal rights under the law shall not be denied because of sex,’ are a part of the Constitution.”The House voted down two measures that threatened to derail the extension—the Railsback amendment allowing states to rescind ratification, and an attempt to require a two-thirds vote for passage of the extension rather a majority—clearing a path for its passage. Although supporters braced for a nail-biting finish, H.J. Res. 638 easily passed the House by a vote of 233 to 189. Cheers erupted in the gallery as the long and hard-fought battle for an ERA extension survived the House. The Senate passed the measure 60 to 36 on October 20, 1978, extending the ERA’s deadline to 1982.At the time, few outside the institution realized how essential the whip operation run by Holtzman and the Congresswomen’s Caucus was to keeping the ERA fight alive. Holtzman acknowledged their formidable opposition. But, she said years later, “we won despite their efforts.”Sources: Congressional Record, House, 95th Cong., 2nd sess. (15 August 1978): 26198, 26219, 26225; “The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives (10 March 2016). The interview transcript is available online. “The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives (2 March 2017). The interview transcript is available online. Atlanta Constitution, 16 August 1978; Baltimore Sun, 19 July 1978; Chicago Tribune, 11 June 1978, 10 July 1978, 16 August 1978; Los Angeles Times, 24 October 1977, 5 June 1978, 8 October 1978; New York Times, 22 March 1972, 19 July 1978; Washington Post, 11 August 1970, 19 May 1978, 10 July 1978, 11 July 1978, 19 July 1978, 16 August 1978; Irwin N. Gertzog, Congressional Women: Their Recruitment, Integration, and Behavior (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1989).

Classroom Ready: New Women’s Suffrage Primary Source Set | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives

For more than a century after the founding of the United States, nearly half of the country’s citizens could not vote because of their sex. After repeatedly failing to approve legislation for women’s suffrage, the U.S. Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment in 1919. The law declared that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” For many women, the amendment was the conclusion of decades of activism. For others it marked a new phase in the effort to secure voting rights and full citizenship in the United States.Learn about the long journey to the 19th Amendment and women’s voting rights with this primary source set. Created with teachers and students in mind, this educational tool follows the quest for suffrage using House records, art, and photographs.Analyzing primary sources is a great way to examine historical perspectives and practice critical thinking skills. This women’s suffrage primary source set is accompanied by a brief contextual essay, discussion questions, and activities to facilitate classroom use. Students can also examine the records, art, and photographs with our primary source analysis graphic organizers. These worksheets guide students as they investigate the purpose and significance of the featured primary sources. We encourage educators to download and use these materials in their classrooms. Download a PDF of the entire Primary Source Set: Women’s Suffrage classroom packet here. The primary source set and the graphic organizers can be used online or printed as handouts. Check out another primary source set about Prohibition here.Visit our Education page and read the blog for updates about new classroom-ready materials. If you’d like to be added to our educator email list to receive updates about our new classroom resources, let us know.

Recent Artifacts Online, Spring 2024 | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives

What’s new in the House Collection? This round of digitized additions to the House’s treasure trove covers everything from 18th-century Speakers of the House to 20th-century cartoons.Jonathan DaytonThis delicately drawn profile portrait of Jonathan Dayton, Speaker of the House from 1795 to 1799, came to the Capitol sometime after his service. It was one of several portraits on paper depicting Speakers that appeared in the Capitol by the mid-19th century. In 1910, the House decided to commission 19 oil-on-canvas portraits of former Speakers to replace the “crayon or other portraits not in oil, which are now hanging in the lobby of the House of Representatives.” The following year, the House honored Dayton with an oil-on-canvas portrait in this same pose.Craig Anthony WashingtonCraig Washington won a 1989 special election for Representative Mickey Leland’s Houston, Texas, seat. Leland died four months earlier in a plane crash while travelling to a United Nations refugee camp in Ethiopia. Washington adopted the campaign slogan “Pass the torch,” visible in the sign behind him in this photograph, not only to show his respect for and continuity with his predecessor but also to reflect the support his campaign received from Leland’s family. Washington came to the House with a background as a criminal defense attorney and civil rights activist, followed by terms as a state representative and senator.Jeannette Rankin Brigade Lapel Pin“If we had 10,000 women who were willing to make the sacrifices that these boys had given their lives for” the Vietnam War could be ended. With those words at a 1967 gathering, former Member and lifelong peace activist Jeannette Rankin inspired a women’s march the next year, named for her and commemorated in this button. At the 1968 event, Rankin used her privilege as a former Member to enter the House Chamber and deliver the protesters’ petition to the Speaker of the House.Berryman’s Cartoons of the 58th HouseClifford Berryman was the chief cartoonist at the Washington Post in 1903 when he published this handsome 104-page set of caricatures of each Member of the House. Berryman drew the subjects’ features with great fidelity, but the poses, gestures, and settings lampooned the Representatives’ particular characters. When the book first appeared, a local newspaper reported that denizens of the Capitol found the drawings so apt that it “brought forth peals of laughter from those who are personally or otherwise acquainted with their careers.”Interested in seeing what else we have digitized lately? Check these out.

Edition for Educators—Portraits in the House Collection | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives

The House Collection of Art and Artifacts contains thousands of objects which provide glimpses into the history of the institution as well as the rich lives of the tens of thousands of people who have served, worked, and visited the nation’s capital. Painted portraits form the backbone of this collection and represent a long tradition of honoring notable figures in the House’s history. Hundreds of significant individuals—Speakers, committee chairs, and others—are represented in paintings dating back to the 1780s. This month’s Edition for Educators highlights these portraits in the House Collection and the stories surrounding their creation and acquisition.Featured Portrait ExhibitionsPortraits in the House of Representatives This digital exhibition discusses the origins and history of committee chair portraits and other Member portraits the House has commissioned. Although committee chairs make up the largest portion of the portrait collection, additional commissions depicting historically significant figures in House history—including future Presidents, founders, and congressional trailblazers—have continued to expand the House Collection in the twenty-first century.Speaker Portrait Collection The House of Representatives Speaker Portrait Collection is a vital visual record of House history. The Collection is located in the Speaker’s Lobby, just outside the House Chamber, and boasts a significant arrangement of portraits of former Speakers. As noted in the bronze plaque in the lobby, the collection was conceived as a “tribute to their worth to the nation.”Featured Portraits from the House CollectionThis small sample of portraits shows off the range of subjects included in the House Collection. Speakers, committee chairs, and founding fathers share wall space with more recent notable House Members and even foreign dignitaries.More than 300 portraits can be viewed in the Collections Search.Featured HighlightsArtist Gilbert Stuart’s Portraits of George Washington On April 12, 1796, President George Washington posed for artist Gilbert Stuart for the famous Lansdowne portrait that became the basis for two portraits of Washington in the U.S. Capitol. One was painted by John Vanderlyn and the other by an unknown follower of Stuart. Stuart was the foremost portrait painter in the United States at the time, and Washington posed for him for four separate portraits. The resulting paintings became the standard images of Washington.Bay State Day in the House of Representatives On January 19, 1888, the state of Massachusetts presented, with much fanfare, portraits of three former Speakers of the House, transforming the House Chamber into a veritable picture gallery. The three large paintings stood against the Speaker’s rostrum, commemorating Massachusetts Representatives Theodore Sedgwick, Joseph B. Varnum, and Nathaniel P. Banks. They were featured alongside the portrait of Speaker Robert C. Winthrop, which had first been presented in 1882, and was brought out again having been the inspiration for Massachusetts to commission the other three.Speaker Sam Rayburn’s Portrait Leaves the “Board of Education” On January 19, 1962, two months after the death of Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas, the House moved the portrait of the late Speaker from its longtime home in an office on the first floor of the Capitol, to the Speaker’s Lobby, just outside the House Chamber. After spending 20 years in the fabled “Board of Education” room, Rayburn’s longtime gathering place, the Texan’s portrait joined the collection of former Speakers of the House. For decades, Rayburn and other House leaders had met in the Board of Education to socialize and plot strategy.Featured Oral HistoryCalifornia Representative Ron Dellums became the first Black member of the Armed Services Committee in 1973; he went on to chair the committee in the 103rd Congress (1993–1995). In the three videos below, Dellums discusses the process of choosing artist Andre White for his committee chairman portrait and recalls the portrait’s unveiling in 1997.Featured BlogsWashington, Schlepped Here A familiar portrait of George Washington hangs in the Rayburn Room of the Capitol, near the House Chamber. Its location seems to make perfect sense: the capital city bears Washington’s name, he laid the building’s cornerstone, and his likeness is repeated hundreds of times around the city. Nonetheless, the Capitol was never intended to be this painting’s home. This portrait of Washington took a curious path to its current resting place, starting with an American citizen abroad in Spain before eventually arriving on Capitol Hill.Adele Fassett, Washington’s Trendsetting Woman Portraitist With the decision to commission a portrait of then Speaker and former Appropriations Committee chairman Joseph G. Cannon of Illinois in 1904, the House Committee on Appropriations began a tradition of honoring the service of committee chairs with artwork. Cannon, however, was not the first Appropriations chair to have a portrait painted. The story of how the Appropriations Committee eventually ended up with two nineteenth-century portraits of its former chairmen is entwined with the career of the woman who created them, Adele Fassett.The Artist Formerly Known as Fox At 10 different portrait unveilings on Capitol Hill, a man named Charles J. Fox was praised as the artist who captured the sitter’s likeness. Fox didn’t immediately fit the image of an artist in mid-century America—an unkempt genius in a beret and paint-splattered smock. Instead, he looked like a prosperous businessman with a well-tailored suit and receding hairline. Nor did he look like a sophisticated aesthete, although a promotional pamphlet described him as “the son of a well-known Austrian artist whose subjects were European royalty and continental society.” The only problem was that Charles J. Fox was not the artist’s true identity.“The Battle of the Portraits” Newspapers called it “the battle of the portraits.” As many as 16 artists submitted portraits of the late Speaker Henry T. Rainey of Illinois, hoping the portrait commission would select their likeness of the man to hang in the House. The winner would receive a $2,500 commission, which was a substantial sum during the height of the Great Depression. It took two years, a House committee, and some well-targeted insults to resolve the matter.This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.