This dissertation uncovers the competing civic ideologies embedded in the conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from 1920 to 1963.It identifies these ideologies as emancipationism and protectionism. Emancipationists supported the ERA as the logical and, indeed, necessary outcome of the Nineteenth Amendment. Protectionists, in contrast, opposed the ERA as a threat to sex-based legal distinctions. Through an examination of over-forty different manuscript collections as well as an array of government documents, especially the often-overlooked congressional hearings on the amendment, this study shows that men and women politicians, intellectuals, labor activists, reformers, and government officials all participated in the original ERA conflict. Moreover, the participants not only argued over women’s status; they also contested the nature of American citizenship.
Above all, this study contends that the original ERA conflict created America’s gendered citizenship. In short, the Nineteenth Amendment profoundly changed women’s relationship to the state; however, disparities in men and women’s positions persist even to this day, because protectionists modernized the justification for sex-based differential treatment. To this end, protectionists successfully advanced the contention that their position provided men and women citizens with the appropriate level of equality, which also preserved women’s traditional right to special protection. Ultimately, protectionists effectively refashioned full citizenship status to include separate standards for men and women citizens, but their triumph also created dual meanings for American citizenship that negated the doctrine of universal rights and responsibilities.
-Rebecca DeWolf, Ph.D.