Document 14: "Citizens' Rights: The Right to Vote," 1955, Folder: Publications National Broadsides, Box 48, League of Women Voters of Iowa papers, Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa.
The following is an excerpt from the National League of Women Voters 1955 program. Though the League had largely abandoned its efforts to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) by 1955, it still appeared on their national agenda for that year. By 1955, the League was targeting specific instances of sexual discrimination and was no longer as interested in debating the merits of the ERA with the National Women's Party as it had once been. Under the heading "Equal Status in Federal Measures," in the 1955 program, the League outlined a brief history of its activity concerning women's rights, showing a record of support for women's democratic freedoms and equal opportunity.
IV. CITIZENS' RIGHTS
THE RIGHT TO VOTE
PRINCIPLE 7: "Legal protection of citizens in their right to vote."
Since voting laws are the responsibility of the states there is no national work under this principle.
Abolition of the Poll Tax.
State League in four southern states have worked to abolish the poll tax as a prerequisite to voting. Georgia abolished the tax in 1945 and Tennessee in 1951. Virginia and Alabama, where the League has also opposed the poll tax, still have it.
State Leagues have worked on requirements for absentee voting.
RIGHTS OF MINORITIES
PRINCIPLE 9: "Protection of minority groups against discrimination."
NATIONAL AND STATE WORK
Fair Employment Practices.
The League of Women Voters has not taken action on federal proposals to enact fair employment practices laws. It has consistently taken the position that if such laws are necessary they should be enacted by the states. Several state Leagues have worked for state fair employment legislation, when they judged such legislation to be feasible.
RIGHTS OF WOMEN
PRINCIPLE 10: "Removal of legal and administrative discriminations against women."
During the women's rights movement, "equal rights" was a general term understood to mean that women wanted an opportunity for education, choice of work, the management of their own affairs, and the vote. With women playing an increasingly active role the question arose: "How can men and women, in some respects similar, in some respects dissimilar, be treated equally?" Society has always considered the differences between the sexes in the making and application of laws, and the League believes it must continue to do so. Differences in law are not necessarily discrimination against women; in some cases there is discrimination in their favor. The League adopted the philosophy that equality for women could best be achieved step by step through attack on specific instances of inequality.
The Equal Rights Amendment.
In 1921, the League undertook a study of the possibility of amending the Constitution to establish the equality of men and women under law. The following year the Convention concluded that such an amendment would be unwise because it would not solve the problem of discrimination and might create new problems. Each specific discrimination would have to be considered and acted upon separately even if a "blanket" amendment should be adopted. From 1923 to 1954, opposition to the so-called "Equal Rights Amendment," which has been continuously before Congress in one form or another, appeared on the League Program.
Equal Status in Federal Measures.
The League contributed to the effort to establish the Women's Bureau in the Department of Labor. The Cable Act giving independent citizenship to married women was enacted by Congress in 1922, with strong League backing. The League also supported both the provisions for equality for women in the federal Civil Service Classifications Act which were enacted in 1923, and the removal of discriminations against women in immigration and naturalization laws, as well as federal bills for equal pay for equal work.
Federal Jury Service.
In 1937 the League supported a bill permitting women to serve on federal juries even though state laws might discriminate against them.
STATE AND LOCAL WORK
Equal Status in State and Local Matters.
The League has worked to eliminate discriminations against women wherever they can be corrected by law, which is principally in the states. Achievements on behalf of the legal status of women through changes in state laws supported by state Leagues are too numerous to mention specifically. After the first two years of League work, 60 measures in 28 states had been enacted, in large part because of the work of the League. This activity continued over the years until most of the glaring inequalities were corrected. Here and there state Leagues still find it necessary to work for the abolition of a lingering legal discrimination against women.
Vice-repressive laws which would not discriminate against women were an early interest. Jury service for women, equal treatment of women offenders in the courts, legal equality in property rights, as well as removal of discriminations against women gainfully employed, married women teachers, and women in public life were subjects upon which state and local Leagues worked vigorously. Active work on jury service for women continues. Texas achieved it in 1954 and other states are still working for it.
Equal Pay for Equal Work.
The effort to establish the principle of equal pay for equal work began with the first League Program. Innumerable League studies were made over the years on the status of working women. In 1935, a study was begun of employment opportunities for women, married and single. Some of this interest stemmed from a tendency during the depression to discriminate against married women.
The national League office did useful work in this area in connection with the codes set up under the National Recovery Act in 1933. Once they were formulated, the codes were checked carefully for sections on child labor and women's wages. The League opposed a lower minimum wage for women on the basis that wages should be set according to the job to be done, not the sex of the worker.
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