In 1776, Abigail Adams wrote her husband, telling him to “Remember the Ladies.” John Adams, then a delegate to the Continental Congress that would soon declare independence, responded by teasing his wife.“Rather than be subjected to the “despotism of the petticoat,” he wrote back, “I hope that General Washington, and all our brave heroes would fight.”
Abigail was not a 20th-century suffragette or a 21st-century feminist. She did not call for a fundamental change in men’s and women’s roles. By the 1970s, however, there was strong support for full constitutional equality for women. The House passed the ERA in 1970 and the Senate in 1972. A year later, thirty states had ratified the amendment.
Then the tide turned. Opponents of the amendment argued it would undercut traditional protections the laws afforded women. They argued, for example, that if the ERA passed women could be drafted, laws against sexual assault of women could be deemed unconstitutional, and men wouldn’t be obligated to support their children. The deadline for states to ratify the amendment has expired, but the amendment is regularly reintroduced in Congress.