Next week marks the 90th anniversary of the first time the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was introduced in Congress. The purpose of the ERA was to establish legal gender equality. It was a proposed amendment to the Constitution which stated, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
H.J. Res. 75, Proposing an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, December 13, 1923. From the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives
National Archives Identifier 7452156
While the ERA failed to become part of the Constitution, it remains the most popular proposed amendment to the Constitution. About ten percent—over 1,100—of all the amendments introduced in Congress have been for the ERA. Three documents from the records of Congress can help your students understand why an amendment with considerable support ultimately failed to meet the constitutional bar for ratification.
The Equal Rights Amendment was drafted in 1923 by well-known women’s rights activist Alice Paul. It was first introduced in Congress on December 13 by Representative Daniel Anthony (R-KS), who was suffragette Susan B. Anthony’s nephew. The debate over the ERA continued for decades, and the ERA was reintroduced in every Congress until 1972.
Central to the ERA debate was the argument over the value of protective legislation for women. In the early 20th century, there were many laws designed to protect women. These laws excluded women from certain jobs in some professions that were deemed too physically difficult for women’s fragile physiques. Some laws regulated the hours a woman could work so she would still have time to take care of her children. Those who supported protective legislation believed that an equal rights amendment would void this type of law and leave women open to exploitation.
Letter from Mrs. Thomas Zeko against ERA, September 9, 1971. From the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Proponents of the ERA felt that protective legislation enforced women’s status as second class citizens and that absolute legal equality was necessary to combat discrimination. When Representative Martha Griffiths (D-MI) led the House to a vote on the ERA during 1970s, for example, she asserted that protective laws only confined women to poorly paying occupations with little opportunity for advancement. She also argued that protective legislation limiting working hours did not stop women from holding multiple, low salary positions, but put jobs like chief executive out of reach.
Both traditionalists, who believed that women belonged in the home taking care of the family, and protectionist feminists were vehemently opposed to the ERA’s central demand for equality. This coalition managed to prevent the ERA from passing Congress, despite its reintroduction in every Congress from 1923 to 1972.
Letter from Liz Carpenter in support of ERA, September 23, 1971. From the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 1970, after decades of receiving little attention and getting bottled up in committee, congressional hearings were held and the amendment was given serious consideration. By March 1972 the ERA had been approved by 2/3 vote of both houses of Congress and was sent to the states for ratification. Twenty-two states quickly ratified the amendment in 1972. But when the final deadline for ratification arrived in 1982, the constitutionally required number of ratifications—3/4 of the states—had not been attained. It was three states short. Although the ERA continues to be introduced in each Congress, it has never again reached the level of support it had in 1972.
Share these documents with your students to introduce the controversy over the Equal Rights Amendment. Get them to consider the timing—that the amendment was first introduced right after woman suffrage was secured, and came to fruition during the era of feminism. Pose these questions:
- Why did these two women write to Congress?
- Why were some women opposed to equal rights for women?
- Why did some feel it was needed? Was an equal rights amendment necessary in 1971? Is it necessary today?
Today’s post comes from Neve Schadler, former summer intern in our Education and Public Programs Division.
Each year some of our nation’s most promising future documentary-makers and website designers participate in National History Day (NHD) and create individual or group documentaries and websites based upon a specific theme. In order to assist the 6th through 12th graders who are taking on the challenge of bringing a part of American history to life through documentary film and the internet, the volunteer and intern staff at the National Archives explored our vast moving images holdings to find video clips for our young historians to use.
Students will find over 500 videos related to this year’s NHD theme—Rights and Responsibilities—on our new Historic Video Footage web page. Videos are categorized by topic, such as “Human and Civil Rights” or the “Responsibility of Government” to help students find videos related to their projects. Plus we have included a sampling of almost 30 videos in a special NHD playlist our YouTube channel.
You can find even more NHD resources on our main National History Day page: online research tools, information about doing archival research in person, news about upcoming NHD workshops for teachers and students, and a special DocsTeach page.
During this video project, we had the privilege of taking a peek into both public and private moments in history, from the downtime of soldiers fighting on the front, to the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. And as we identified those videos that relate to rights and responsibilities, we had the opportunity to walk in the shoes of those who have come before us in our nation’s history by witnessing snippets of their lives.
This is the same familiarity with history which we hope that NHD students will gain. Our goal is for them not just to learn how to complete research and dedicate themselves to an intensive project, but also to experience history, and to learn that while it may have taken place years, decades, or centuries ago, it is still relevant to who we are as individuals and as a nation today.
Today’s post was written by Corrin Baker, former education intern at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
In July of 1975, the Apollo-Soyuz test project was completed. Apollo-Soyuz was the first joint docking between American and Soviet spacecraft.
This project was the culmination of work between American and Soviet scientists. Though this space flight was important to the scientific community, it also brought together two national superpowers in the midst of a tense diplomatic struggle. Both President Ford and Soviet National Secretary Leonid Brezhnev understood that Apollo-Soyuz has implications beyond the scientific realm. Apollo-Soyuz was an important step in the multifaceted process of détente.
Excerpt of letter from President Ford to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev Regarding the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, 9/17/1975, From the White House Central Files Subject Files Collection at the Gerald R. Ford Library
Unfortunately, the ways that science has aided diplomatic endeavors is hard to communicate to students. However, DocsTeach enables teachers to convey this idea through primary document analysis. Utilizing documents and artifacts can help students see the connection between the two.
When we sat down to create an activity for President Ford’s 100th birthday at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, we decided to create a lesson that enables students to analyze how President Ford used the first joint country space flight as a diplomatic opportunity. In the activity Apollo-Soyuz: Space Age Detente, students will compare President Ford’s and Soviet General Breszhnev’s letters of congratulations on the completion of the Apollo-Soyuz mission.
The goal of this lesson is for students to better understand unusual avenues for diplomacy. The activity prompts students to identify and compare key phrases and ideas within each letter. Because both letters are only one page, this activity is an excellent introduction to document analysis.
Feel free to tell us how this activity worked with your students. We’d love to hear your feedback! And for more teaching activities for this time period, visit our special “Turning Points in the Nixon & Ford Years” page.
by Annie on November 18, 2013
The assassination of John F. Kennedy 50 years ago shook the nation and the world. Those who remember it recall that everything stopped. Schools, businesses, normal life stood still for four days. By 1963, most people had television, and the televisions were on when the assassination was reported on live TV. A national day of mourning allowed for all to view the funeral.
President John F. Kennedy’s family leaving the Capitol Building after Kennedy’s funeral, 11/24/1963. From the JFK White House Photographs Collection. National Archives Identifier 595952.
But what was the lasting impact? I once asked my grandmother if this was the worst national event she had experienced. “Mercy, no,” she replied. “I have lived through other assassinations and two World Wars. It’s terrible, but we’ll be fine.” Over time, we all gain historical perspective so that we can view events within a broader context.
So many horrible things had happened in 1963, for some Americans of African descent, the death of JFK symbolized a horrible blow to Civil Rights, to freedom, and to safety.
The National Archives has plenty of resources about John F. Kennedy, his administration, and also the assassination.
Look on DocsTeach.org and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum’s website.
Some links of particular interest will be:
The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection—In 1992, the National Archives and Records Administration established this collection pursuant to Public Law 102-526. The Collection contains more than 4 1/2 million pages of assassination-related records, photographs, motion pictures, sound recordings and artifacts.
JFK Fast Facts from the Kennedy Library—Find quotations, dates, and all kinds of useful resources.
The November 22, 1963 Press Kit from the Kennedy Library—Prepared for use by the national and international press, you’ll find a comprehensive set of resources.
LBJ taking the Oath of Office on Air Force One, 11/22/1963. Read the oath, see more images, and listen to the audio recording of LBJ taking the oath on the Tragedy and Transition website. (National Archives Identifier 194235)
Nov. 22, 1963: Tragedy and Transition from the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum—This new multimedia site includes more than 400 historic photos, videos, audio, and documents, some available to the public for the first time.
JFK Profile in Courage Essay Contest—Invite your high school students to participate. The contest deadline is January 6, 2014.
If you are in Boston for the anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, the National Archives at Boston will offer “Remembering JFK: Observance of the 50th Anniversary of the End of John F. Kennedy’s Presidency.” This program of music and poetry features a concert by the U.S. Navy Band Northeast Top Brass Quintet, readings by actor Michael Hammond, and a reflection on JFK’s legacy by Jeanne M. Lenza, Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. This free event will take place November 21, 2013, at 6 p.m. at the National Archives at Boston. Registration is requested—email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While students may know about the Underground Railroad, which moved enslaved persons north to freedom, they may know less about the reverse movement of free African Americans in the north who were moved south and forced into slavery. Last week we shared The Documents Behind Twelve Years a Slave, the story of Solomon Northup’s kidnapping into slavery. The newly released movie Twelve Years a Slave is based on Northup’s autobiography. Northup’s story may be the most well known, but he was by no means the only one who endured this calamity.
The nature of this crime makes it impossible to know how many free African Americans were kidnapped and enslaved. Many of the kidnapped African Americans were sold “down the river” and, unlike Solomon Northup, no one heard from them again. Today we share a document from the Center for Legislative Archives in the National Archives that illustrates the devastating problem of pre-Civil War kidnapping of free African Americans.
Letter from Quaker Elisha Tyson to Rep. McKim regarding the kidnapping of free people of color, December 5, 1811; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives. (Click on each page to enlarge it.)
The number of free African Americans in the north increased after the American Revolution, due to emancipation laws in northern states, private manumissions, and the ability of some slaves to buy their own freedom. These free African Americans were easy prey for kidnappers, who, under the guise of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act, kidnapped and sold them into slavery. Some slave catchers did not take the time to ensure that the identity of the person they captured matched the one they were legally allowed to seize.
Once kidnapped, it was nearly impossible for a person to regain his freedom. Kidnappers often destroyed freedom papers. In the rare instance that a case made it to court with papers intact, judges could dismiss them as forged. Also, the kidnapped person’s family or friends could rarely testify on their behalf, as most courts did not allow the testimony of African Americans and white witnesses would refuse to testify altogether to avoid retribution from their neighbors. In fact, many whites did not pay much attention to the problem at all because although they would never own slaves themselves, they still carried racist attitudes toward people of color.
White abolitionists witnessed the problem and worked to address it. In 1811, Elisha Tyson met with Representative Alexander McKim (R-MD), to explain the kidnapping problem. Tyson was a Quaker from Maryland who was well known in Baltimore for his efforts to protect free African Americans and to end slavery. Tyson followed up with this letter, which provides the details on several kidnapping cases that were known to Tyson. He hoped to convince McKim that federal legislation was necessary to address the problem. Congress did not act and kidnappings, like that of Solomon Northup, continued.
As your students read the letter (or the transcript), ask them to gather information about the facts of these cases and the scope of the problem. How were these people abducted? Is there a pattern? How were they able to regain their freedom? What factors make it difficult to trace kidnapped people?
The letter does not explain who the writer is, or who he was writing to. Ask your students to identify information that can help them create a hypothesis about the purpose of the letter. Before your students watch Twelve Years a Slave, ask them to watch for anything in the movie that aligns with or contradicts Tyson’s illustrations of kidnapping.
Understanding the historical context of kidnappings of free African Americans before the Civil War will help your students better understand the movie, and will make Solomon Northup a character to remember.