A proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States to provide for the equality of sexes under the law. The central language of the amendment states: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The ERA would have made unconstitutional any laws that grant one sex different rights than the other.
In 1916 Alice Paul, a leader in the suffragist movement, founded the National Woman's Party (NWP), a political party dedicated to establishing equal rights for women. Paul viewed equality under the law as the foundation essential to full equality for women. Along with her colleagues, Paul began to work on constitutional amendments recognizing equal rights for women at both state and federal levels. In 1921 various groups, which two years before had been close allies of the NWP, fiercely opposed the NWP's proposed language banning “political, civil or legal disabilities or inequalities on account of sex, or on account of marriage unless applying alike to both sexes.” Labor organizers and others fighting for women's economic welfare believed this push for legal equality threatened legislation that had been passed to protect exploited women working in factories. While Paul was not opposed to improving oppressive conditions in industry, she and other like-minded women argued that the laws designed to protect women could be used to restrict their employment opportunities.