Document 9: "The Status of Women; Need for a National Policy," 1 April 1947, Folder: Individual Liberties/Equal Rights, Box 45, League of Women Voters of Iowa papers, Iowa Women’s Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.

Introduction

       The National League of Women Voters often published pamphlets that covered the basic elements and rationale for the League's position on different issues. This "Brief for Action" addressed the need for a national policy on the status of women in the United States.In conjunction with House Resolution 2007 Doc. 8, this pamphlet explained what the passage of a "bill on the status of women" would achieve. The League saw HR 2007 as a desirable alternative to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and believed a presidential commission would clarify legal definitions of "sexual equality." In addition, the League supported HR 2007 as aneffective way of addressing sex discrimination at the state level.

Brief for Action

League of Women Voters
726 Jackson Place, Washington 6, D.C.

Publication No. 91                       April 1, 1947                      Price 5¢

 

THE STATUS OF WOMEN
Need for a National Policy

       What place should women occupy in our nation? Almost a century ago at Seneca Falls, New York, a small but determined group of women held a Woman's Rights Convention which proved to be the beginning of a great social movement. Lucretia Mott, a quiet-spoken Quakeress with a penetrating intelligence, her sister, Martha C. Wright, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Mary Ann McClintock called the Convention and presented, in a manner of the Declaration of Independence, a "Declaration of Sentiments."

       The Seneca Falls Convention outlined the objectives these women and those leaders who followed them wished to achieve. Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Anna Howard Shaw, and Carrie Chapman Catt were spokesmen for women who wanted an opportunity equal to that of men in education, religion, professions. They wanted laws permitting them to manage their own business affairs.They wanted equal guardianship over their children. They wanted to be citizens on an equal footing with men.

       The achievements of women in the hundred years of American history since 1848 have been great. Partly, women have improved their position through gaining improvements in laws and through gaining and exercising citizenship. Partly, they have gained new opportunity and stature as persons through a gradual increase of enlightenment.

       Women in the United States today occupy a high place. Legally and politically they have gained most of the important privileges and responsibilities men possess.They are making progress point by point against remaining discriminations. Sixteen states still do not permit women to serve on juries.A few states deny to women the right of domicile if that state is not the legal residence of her husband. Some states deny to women the guardianship of their children. In a few states husbands exercise certain controls over their wives' earnings. Such readily recognized remnants of discrimination need to be removed.

       Socially and economically women have still a long way to go to equal man's position. On the whole boys receive more education, and are accorded more vocational concern. Men still receive higher pay for similar work. The family's place of residence, and in large part the character of family living are determined by the father's objectives. It is not easy to change these social and economic habits by laws.

       In a few respects women enjoy a position superior to that of men. Widows' pensions, alimony following divorce, and various laws protecting a wife's property are examples of legal assets to women. That women are still to some extent provided for and protected by men is a social and economic fact which most women admit, although some women disagree as to its desirability.

       Most thoughtful people today believe that individuals, both men and women should be valued for their total personality, of which sex is only one, albeit an important part.

WHAT IS "EQUAL"?

       In the early years of the movement for women's rights discriminations were so obvious that the demand for "equal rights" which had been voiced at Seneca Falls was readily understood. Women wanted an opportunity for education, for choice of work, for the management of their own affairs.Gradually the problem became complicated by the interpretation of the word "equal. Since men and women are not identical (not "fungible" as the Supreme Court has said) the question arose: "What is equal?" How can men and women, in some respects similar, in some respects dissimilar be treated equally? To treat them identically is not necessarily to treat them equally.

       The problem could only be solved by treating men and women alike in whatever respects they were alike and by allowing for differences where they differed.The Nineteenth Amendment providing for national suffrage established one great fact. Women had the intelligence and the competence to be full citizens. Their concern was as great and their consent as important in a democracy as that of the men. But suffrage did not mean that laws should not allow for differences between men and women. Laws favoring women as members of a family have always been held justified by society as a whole. The husband is, for example, primarily responsible for family support.Such laws are logical as long as the role of wife and mother in our society interrupts or impedes the woman's opportunity to develop or maintain her own earning power. In physical structure, in biological and social functions, women differ from men. Society has always considered these differences in the making of laws and its application, and must continue to do so.

SPECIAL LABOR LAWS FOR WOMEN

       When women began to assume responsibilities in the business and industrial world they did not have the same bargaining power as men. As a result they have often worked for low wages, which by undercutting men's wages tended to lower the wage scale for everyone. Because of their lack of power to bargain they were forced to work under conditions which tended to undermine their health and to lower their contribution to society in general. To remedy the situation it seemed wise to pass special labor laws establishing maximum hours of work, minimum wages, and healthful conditions of work for women. Most states have such laws. Because women in our society have a role of great importance as mothers and homemakers these "protective laws" for women are in the general welfare. They are important to all of us.

NEW SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE

       What are some of the factors which have led the League of Women Voters and other organizations to believe that a re-thinking of the status of women would be valuable at this time? The studies by scientists of the growth and development of the human being have progressed rapidly in the last few decades. From such study have come more dependable measurements of the differences between men and women. For example, the scientists now confirm the common sense knowledge that the human male reaches maturity several years later than the human female. Such scientific findings provide a basis for re-evaluating our laws about age of marriage. There are also new findings by psychologists and sociologists which should be considered. The importance of the family and the role of mother-homemaker are significant factors about which our social scientists have impressive data and which should be taken into account as we consider legislation.

U.N. CHARTER

       The Charter of the United Nations, which our nation signed, declares it to be among its purposes to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all "without distinctions as to sex." It is, therefore, our duty to bring our laws and their administration into harmony with these principles. It is appropriate at this time to establish a national policy in keeping with the great aims of the U.N. Charter and to review our laws and practices, both in our federal government and in the states.

       There are not thought to be important discriminations against women in federal laws, although there are some minor ones. For example, women cannot serve on federal juries in states where state laws does not permit women to serve as jurors. While the letter of the federal law does not seem to discriminate, certain practices which produce actual discriminations need to be reviewed.

       Because the problem of discrimination against women has long been a thorny one, because of widespread current interest in the role of women in our society, and because of our commitment to the U.N. it is a fitting time to review the question of the status of women in the United States.

BILL ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN

       The proposed Bill on The Status of Women which the League of Women Voters is supporting with some forty other women's organizations would do four things.

       (1) Declare a Policy. It would declare it to be a policy of the U.S. that in law and its administration no distinctions on the basis of sex shall be made except such as are reasonably justified by difference in physical structure, biological, or social function.

       (2) Require Immediate Conformity with the Policy. So far as permitted by existing legislation, the bill would require all federal agencies to review their current practices and conform them to the new policy.

       (3) Establish a Commission on the Status of Women. It would provide a Presidentially appointed commission of nine members to: (a) study and review the economic, civil, political, and social status of women and the extent of discriminations based on sex, (b) recommend legislation necessary to bring the laws and government practices of the U.S. into conformity with the declared policy. The findings of such a Commission could become a great landmark in the history of the United States. Its work would have great effect upon the work of the U.N. Commission on Women and hence upon the progress of women throughout the world.

       The Commission would dig into the facts. It would define distinctions based on differences in sex before defining discrimination based on sex. It would trace the development of sex discrimination. (The wording of the bill allows for studying discrimination against men too!) It would describe accurately the kinds and amounts of discrimination existing in the U.S. today. The new bill proposes to point up the facts in the same way as the President's Committee on Economic Security did before the Social Security Act was written or as the White House Conference on Child Welfare did before child welfare legislation was framed.

       Such a Commission would need funds adequate to provide a staff. It would be created immediately upon passage of the bill and would report to the President by March 1, 1948. The President would, within 30 days after its receipt, transmit the Commission's Report, together with his recommendations to the Congress.

       (4) Urge the States to Declare a Policy. A good federal example would be set by the bill. Therefore, it is fitting that it should urge the states to declare a similar policy, to review their laws and practices and bring them into conformity with the policy. Laws concerning marriage and family and pertaining to property (in which most discriminations reside) are largely state laws. The same organizations which are working for the passage of the federal bill on the Status of Women will work for improved state laws.

LEGISLATIVE FACTS

       The Bill on The Status of Women was introduced in both houses of Congress on February 17, 1946. Mr. Wadsworth of New York took the initiative in the House, his bill is H.R. 2007. Other sponsors included Representative Kefauver of Tennessee, Lewis of Ohio, Rogers of Massachusetts, Douglas of California, and Norton of New Jersey. Senator Taft introduced the bill in the Senate where it is S.J. Res. 67.

WHY NOT AN EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT?

       For many years some women have urged the passage of a Constitutional amendment saying that men and women in the United States should have equal rights. The problem is not as simple as that. Saying that men and women shall be equal will not make them equal. The words "equal rights" are impressive, but no one can possibly know what they would mean in a Constitutional amendment. Only a long series of legal cases could begin to arrive at some more precise definitions of the term. We have on our law books now hundreds of laws affecting women.They are specific laws about specific problems. As has been said by Paul Freund, professor of law at Harvard University, "The basic fallacy in the proposed amendment is that it attempts to deal with complicated and highly concrete problems arising out of a diversity of human relationships in terms of a single and simple abstraction."

       The organizations supporting the bill on the status of women believe that the whole problem of discrimination needs to be reviewed and positive and specific legislative action needs to be taken point by point. Those supporting the "Equal Rights" Amendment want a Constitutional declaration of a sweeping principle. Hundreds of current laws would be thrown into question. It would open up a period of extreme confusion in constitutional law. Even if the amendment should be passed and ratified, specific legislation would be needed to put it into effect. In the process there would be great danger that the federal government would step into additional fields which have always been the responsibility of the states.

WHY A BILL ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN

       In contrast to the amendment procedure the new bill on the status of women offers clear, positive, and quick action. It immediately declares a national policy against discriminations. The Commission it creates will study the question in the light of all available information. Its findings will constitute the first official and complete body of facts ever assembled on the problem. Its recommendations based upon these facts will carry great weight with the President, Congress, and the respective states. In short, it provides a reasonable method for accomplishing an end which all enlightened citizens desire. Your senators and your representatives would like to know what you think about H.R. 2007, A Bill on the Status of Women. Watch TRENDS for legislative developments. League support for this measure is authorized by the Platform item.

"Specific legislation designed to insure for women equal guardianship, jury service, independent citizenship. Opposition to the equal rights amendment."

       This or some similar wording has been a part of the League's program since 1920.

Tell your friends about H.R. 2007

Pass copies of this Brief on to other people

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