Descriptive inventory for the E.R.A. Central (Chicago, Ill.) records, 1970-1976

E.R.A. Central (Chicago, Ill.) records

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Descriptive inventory for the E.R.A. Central (Chicago, Ill.) records, 1970-1976

By Mary E. Janzen, May 1982; revised by Jennifer Asimakopoulos, August 2005.
Please address questions to:
Chicago History Museum, Research Center
1601 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614-6038
Instructions for accessing this collection

Collection Overview +/-

Title: E.R.A. Central (Chicago, Ill.) records, 1970-1976 (inclusive)
Creators: ERA Central (organization)
Housewives for E.R.A.
Men for E.R.A.
Dates: 1970-1976 (inclusive)
Accession number: 1980.0020
Bib number: 00065345
Call numbers: MSS Lot E
Size:9.5 linear feet (22 boxes)
39 sound cassettes (in 1 box)
Language of material:Collection is written in English.

Provenance statement:

The E.R.A. Central records were a gift of former E.R.A. Central co-director Carolyn Parmer in June 1980 (accession Number 1980.0020).


For listening purposes, it is necessary to use a copy, not the original (and to have a listening copy made if one is not available).

Please cite this collection as:

E.R.A. Central (Chicago, Ill.) records (Chicago History Museum) plus a detailed description, date, and box/folder number of a specific item.

Additional Materials +/-

Separated material:

Separated materials at the Chicago History Museum, Research Center, include the E.R.A. Central photograph collection (1980.0273)

Collection Summary +/-

The E.R.A. Central records consist of staff correspondence, incoming letters (for and against the E.R.A.), minutes, memoranda, reports, news clippings and background materials, mailing lists, some pamphlets, and stray issues of newsletters. These materials accumulated by E.R.A. Central headquarters in Chicago during the seven years of its operation consist of files of its administrators, routine office files, reference information, and miscellaneous women’s movement publications and documents. Most of these materials pertain to the efforts of E.R.A. Central (and other groups) to secure ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment by the Illinois legislature, including lobbying activities, workshops, and the Speakers Bureau, as well as the activities of E.R.A. Central’s membership organizations and support groups, such as Housewives for E.R.A. and Men for E.R.A.

Recurring topics of discussion are analyses of the opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment and strategies to build political support for the amendment in the Illinois legislature. Other subjects frequently discussed include the potential social and legal consequences of the E.R.A., such as subjecting women to the military draft, negating the duty of husbands to provide financial support for their wives, allowing homosexual marriages, and invalidating laws that deal with sex-related crimes (rape). Criticism of E.R.A. Central, bearing on both organizational and political issues, are expressed in files entitled “Merger Discussions/Negotiations between E.R.A. Central and the Illinois E.R.A. Coalition” (Box 17).

The files are arranged alphabetically by topic (according to their original folder titles). This alphabetical filing system intermingles topics related to the operations of the E.R.A. Central headquarters (bylaws, correspondence, contributions, and so forth) with subjects related to the ratification campaign (legislators, merger negotiations, roll calls) as well as with the names of associated persons on organizations. Incomplete sets of the minutes of the general, executive, and other committees of E.R.A. Central are filed under the heading “E.R.A. Central.”

News clippings about the E.R.A. (filed under the heading “E.R.A. News clippings”) are arranged chronologically by month and provide an excellent time frame for the political struggles over the E.R.A. in Illinois from 1971 to 1976.

A miscellaneous folder of memorabilia located at the end of the collection contains Governor Daniel Walker’s E.R.A. Week proclamation of April 1974 and other items.

This collection also includes thirty-nine audio cassettes: twenty of E.R.A. Central meetings and workshops in Chicago and in downstate Peoria, Urbana, and Collinsville, and nineteen of public programs including debate, speeches, and radio and television programs.

Biographical/Historical Note +/-

E.R.A. Central was a Chicago-based coalition of women’s groups and liberal political organizations which formed on May 20, 1972, in order to secure Illinois’ ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (E.R.A.) to the U.S. constitution. Ann Poag of Business and Professional Women was a principal founder of E.R.A. Central, serving as a co-director and providing free office space and supplies. The other co-director, Carolyn Parmer, served as state chair of the Speakers Bureau, one of E.R.A. Central’s most successful programs. The first full time executive director was Sonia McCallum. Patricia Polos of the American Civil Liberties Union was the organization’s Springfield lobbyist. The legal advisor and president of the board of directors was Mary Stasciotto of Federally Employed Women.

Constitutional amendments prohibiting discrimination against women had been introduced in every U. S. Congress since 1923. Not until March 22, 1972, however, did an amendment providing that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of Sex” receive congressional approval to be submitted to the states for ratification. Approval by 38 state legislatures was required for the equal rights amendment (E.R.A) to be enacted.

The progress of the E.R.A.. through the state legislatures was uneven, with some state legislatures ratifying the amendment and then later voting to rescind their ratifications, though the legality of such recessions was open to challenge. By January 1975, 33 states had ratified the E. R. A. Illinois was one of the few northern, industrial states where the amendment remained unratified.

Illinois remained “unratified” in part because a 3/5 majority rather than a simple majority vote in both the House and the Senate was necessary in order to pass constitutional amendments. This requirement derived from the new state constitution adopted in 1970, which, ironically, contained a stronger equal rights section than the proposed federal E.R.A. A second obstacle to E. R. A. was that Illinois was the home state of Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative Republican activist, whose Stop ERA organizations became the major national E.R.A. lobbying group and exercised considerable influence in the Illinois legislature.

As originally organized, E.R.A. Central was loosely structured and staffed by volunteers. The initiators of the coalition were N.O.W. (the National Organization for Women) and B.P.W. (Business and Professional Women’s Clubs). Within a week, six other organizations joined E.R.A. Central: the American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, the Young Women’s Christian Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Illinois Women’s Political Caucus, and the Illinois Nurses Association.

At first the coalition foresaw no difficulties in securing passage of the amendment in Illinois because the 3/5 rule had been waived by House and Senate leadership for the 1972 session. In June of 1972, however, the Democratic Party in Illinois was split by a dispute over the chairmanship of its delegation to the Democratic national convention, and the defeat of the E.R.A. in the House was an unintended byproduct of the split. E.R.A. Central regarded this setback as a temporary aberration which required intensified lobbying and public speaking efforts in preparation for the 1973 legislative session, but which did not require a fundamental change of tactics. By August 1972, the coalition included 12 member organizations and the decision was made to continue to operate out of Chicago rather than to move the E.R.A offices to Springfield.

In April 1973, the E.R.A. once again did not receive a 3/5 majority in the House; moreover, the Senate Executive Committee failed to discharge the bill from committee. E.R.A. Central, by this time consisting of 65 organizational members and possessing a mailing list of thousands of sympathizers, was shocked by the defeat. Its leadership decided to reorganize by appointing coordinators for each of Illinois’ 59 legislative districts, and in August 1973, E.R.A. Central filed incorporation papers as a not-for-profit organization.

The E.R.A. Central coalition continued to grow in strength during 1974, reaching a total of 80 member organizations plus 5000 individual members. However, the 1974 State legislature adjourned without ratifying the E.R.A. After this third failure in three years several major backers withdrew from active support of E.R.A. Central. N.O.W. (which had previously set up its own legislative office in Springfield), the B.P.W. (whose national organization had provided significant funding), the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, and other individuals and organizations dissatisfied with the E.R.A. Central’s leadership. Major criticism (all of which E.R.A. Central denied) were that E.R.A. Central was too Chicago-oriented, politically unsophisticated, and had failed to supply adequate training and guidance to its district coordinators or to issue regular financial statements.

The Illinois E.R.A. Coalition, a new organization established by E. R. A. Central’s critics in December 1974, set up an office in Springfield and hired a coordinator and a parliamentarian. Peg Blaser, who had represented the League of Women Voters in E.R.A. Central, was chairperson of the new coalition. Meanwhile, E.R.A. Central continued to conduct workshops and letter-writing campaigns, to work with its district coordinators and member organizations, and to maintain a single lobbyist, Pat Polos, in Springfield. In 1975, two E.R.A. bills were submitted to the Illinois legislature, one originating in the House and the other in the Senate, but neither came to a vote.

The importance of a unified, centrally coordinated, pro-E.R.A. organization for Illinois was recognized by all parties, and merger talks began in the fall of 1975. These culminated in arbitration which merged E.R.A. Central with the Illinois E.R.A. Coalition on April 21, 1976, to form E.R.A Illinois. E.R.A. Central closed its offices in the third week of May 1976.

Catalog Subject Headings +/-

Equal rights amendments -- Illinois -- 20th century
Equal rights amendments -- United States -- 20th century
Feminism -- United States -- 20th century
Gay men -- United States -- 20th century
Lesbians -- United States -- 20th century
Lobbying -- Illinois -- 20th century -- 20th century
Rape -- United States -- 20th century
Sex and law -- United States -- 20th century
Sex discrimination against women -- Law and legislation -- United States
Support (Domestic relations) -- United States
Women -- Illinois -- Chicago -- Societies and clubs
Women -- United States -- Societies and clubs
Women and the military -- United States -- 20th century
Women's rights -- Illinois -- Chicago -- Societies, etc.
Women's rights -- United States -- Societies, etc.
E.R.A. Central (Organization) -- Archives
Housewives for E.R.A.
Illinois. General Assembly
Men for E.R.A.
United States. Joint Resolution Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of the United States Relative to Equal Rights for Men and Women.
Membership lists
Newspaper clippings
Illinois -- Politics and government -- 1951
United States -- Armed Forces -- Women
United States -- Politics and government -- 1945-1989

Organization and Arrangement of Collection +/-

The collection is arranged as two series, with the second series divided into two subseries.

Click on heading to view series description.

Series 1. Paper records, 1970-1976 (Boxes 1-22)
Series 2. Audio recordings, 1973-1976 (Box 23, OMM.131)
Subseries 1. E.R.A. Central Meetings and Workshops, 1973-1976
Subseries 2. Public programs, 1974-1975

About This Finding Aid +/-

Creation: Finding aid encoded by Hope Shinn and Julie Wroblewski using Oxygen XML Editor, 2017.
Language: Finding aid is written in English.
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