The Equal Rights Amendment and the Rise of Emancipationism

I am thrilled to see my article, “The Equal Rights Amendment and the Rise of Emancipationism,” published in Frontiers‘ special issue on the ERA. My article is based on a paper that I presented at “The ERA in the 21st Century” conference in November 2013. It also builds upon two chapters from my PhD dissertation, which I successfully defended in March 2014.

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Historical Research: Philosophy and Practice

To borrow from Joyce Appleby, I consider myself a practitioner of “practical realism.” I appreciate post-modern theorists’ suspicion of supposed essential universal truths; however, I still strive to obtain a degree of professional objectivity in my reconstructions and interpretations of the past.

Joyce Appleby
Joyce Appleby

In general, I investigate the interplay between language and ideas, particularly in the realms of religion, politics, gender, and the law. My current research examines the dueling civic ideologies embedded in the conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in order to shed light on the gendered ideas that have influenced social initiatives, political positions, and legal philosophies. In total, my work seeks to explore how the construction of ideas through language helps to create communal identities and values.

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The Backstory to the Stubborn Persistence of Sex Discrimination in America



Forty-four years ago, when Shirley Chisholm became the first woman, and the first African-American, to seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, critics dismissed her campaign as quixotic. Today, Hillary Clinton could become the party’s flag bearer, surely a moment of triumphal progress. But, the journey from asterisk to possible nominee has not stopped male commentators in the media from criticizing Clinton for shouting too much and for smiling too little. As well, Clinton, a former First Lady, Senator from New York, and Secretary of State, has had to face condemnation from media outlets for not being inspiring enough. Then there is last month’s attack ad from Republican presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, that reduced Clinton to an annoying barking dog who is too weak to protect America’s national security interests. The ad not only dehumanizes Clinton, but it also reinforces a discriminatory attitude that women are unfit for leadership positions. This mindset, moreover, has long played a principal role in the shaping of American society, as it is of a piece with earlier judicial and political opinions that limited women’s rights on the basis that women were too feeble to exercise civic independence. In Mackenzie v. Hare (1915), for example, the United States Supreme Court not only upheld the Expatriation Act of 1907, an act that made an American woman lose her nationality status if she married a foreigner, but it also proclaimed the centuries-old belief that women needed men as their protectors to be “an ancient principle of our jurisprudence.”

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Historical Perspectives on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

In a recent American Historical Association (AHA) roundtable, historians Ruth Bloch, Naomi Lamoreaux, Alonzo Hamby, and John Fea offer insightful discussions on the historical implications of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores.

Ruth Bloch and Naomi Lamoreaux retrace the history of the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on corporate personhood to argue that Justice Samuel A. Alito’s opinion breaks with a long line of decisions that treated for-profit companies as “persons’ under the Constitution only for the purpose of protecting property rights-not the liberties-of individual members.”

As well, Alonzo Hamby discusses the relationship between Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) and Hobby Lobby. He contends that Hobby Lobby reflects a growing cultural conflict that will continue to divide American society well into the foreseeable future.

John Fea reminds us that corporate personhood has a long history; to this point, he notes that in post-Civil War America the Supreme Court on several occasions affirmed that corporations (primarily railroads) were covered under the Fourteenth Amendment. Yet, he also encourages us to further reflect upon the extent to which a for-profit company can posses a soul and practice a religious conscience. As he puts it, “Religious liberty was an inherently Protestant concept. It stemmed from the belief that people could read the Bible for themselves and draw their own religious conclusions. It has always been a religious idea applied to individual human beings.”

Hobby Lobby also touches upon some of the themes that I examine in my own research. As discussed in other posts, my Ph.D. dissertation looks at the competing civic ideologies embedded in the conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from 1920-1963. Throughout the original ERA conflict, ERA supporters documented the numerous times the Supreme Court had restricted women’s standing under the Fourteenth Amendment (Bradwell v. Illinois 1872; Minor v. Happersett 1874; Mackenzie v. Hare 1915; Goesaert v. Cleary 1947, etc.). Put simply, the Court maintained that the Fourteenth Amendment did not guarantee equal treatment before the law for men and women citizens. For ERA proponents, such rulings denied women their full standing as “persons under the law.” Moreover, amendment proponents insisted that the ERA would remedy this problem by affirming complete constitutional sexual equality and ensuring the full constitutional incorporation of women into the sovereign power of the people.

~Rebecca DeWolf, Ph.D.


The Fight for Equality Continues: The Problems of Christina Hoff Sommers’s History of Feminism

Recently Bill Frezza of Real Clear Radio Hour interviewed Christina Hoff Sommers about her new book, Freedom Feminism: Its Surprising History and Why it Matters Today.[1] Frezza also wrote a follow-up piece in the opinion section of Forbes magazine.[2] As Frezza describes it, Sommers’s book uncovers the hidden history of feminism and its implications for women today.

To start, Sommers identifies two major strands of feminism that have shaped the struggle for women’s rights: “egalitarian feminism” and “maternal feminism.” (For those familiar with Sommers’s earlier works, she previously labeled these competing strands as “gender feminism” and “equity feminism”).

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