Women in the Workforce & The Equal Rights Amendment: Collections
The fight for equal rights and gender equality in the workplace has over a century of history, and the battle still continues today. In the United States, the Equal Rights Amendment is a key consideration when it comes to achieving this goal. First proposed in 1923 by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, the Equal Rights Amendment seeks to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex, ending the distinction between men and women in matters of divorce, property, and employment, amongst others. Yet the amendment was not destined to be ratified in Alice Paul or Crystal Eastman’s lifetime. By the 1960s, the amendment had gathered increasing support, following the rise of the women’s movement in the United States. However, it wasn’t until 1972 that the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by the House and the Senate and submitted for ratification. Opponents of the amendment have focused on traditional gender roles, and it was at this time that Phyllis Schlafly organized a successful campaign to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment, mobilizing conservative women to stand against it. She argued that the amendment would disadvantage housewives and reduce protections for women, such as alimony and custody rights; would cause women to be drafted into the army; and that the amendment supported single-sex marriage. It took until the 2010s for support for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to once again gain momentum, and in January 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, although the political and legal challenges to the ratification must be resolved before the Equal Rights Amendment can be certified as part of the constitution.
The Equal Rights Amendment would play a key role in securing the rights of women within the workforce. Although, through the 1970s and 1980s, many labor feminists also opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, believing it would eliminate protections for women in labor law, over time these concerns have been allayed, and more unions and labor feminist leaders have turned toward supporting the amendment. To fully understand the impact the Equal Rights Amendment would have on women in the workforce, it’s essential to understand the history of the female labor force. Labor history, and the ways in which it has been affected by gender and equal rights, can be explored in detail through Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive, which features a number of collections that address the intersection of feminism and labor in history, from the early 20th century to modern day. Scholars can use these collections to examine multiple facets regarding women in the workforce, from women’s trade unions and labor unions to feminist leaders central to labor politics, including Mary E. Gawthorpe and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. The primary sources in the archive also enable in-depth exploration of the intersection of law, politics, gender, and employment, including materials that focus on issues specific to Black women and minority women, with papers from the National Network of Hispanic Archives, which explore the problems faced by Latinx women in the workplace. The archive also looks outside of the United States, providing a global perspective on women’s issues. For example, the records of the Equal Opportunities Commission, from the National Archives at Kew, allow direct comparison between the United States and the United Kingdom.
The Women’s Studies Archive is an essential resource for researchers exploring the intersection of gender and labor history. Discrimination and the equality of men and women within policy and legislation has long been an issue for advocacy, and the primary sources in these collections enable scholars to examine the long history of this advocacy, alongside other considerations regarding women in the workplace from before Alice Paul proposed the Equal Rights Amendment or Phyllis Schlafly opposed it, until well into the 21st century.