August 27, 1977: Equal Rights Already!

1970s vintage ERA pinback button

While many of the movements for positive social change first witnessed in the 1960s had either crested or crashed by 1977, the American second-wave feminist movement was approaching its peak that year, motivated mainly by the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). That summer, the ERA had been ratified by 35 states, including Washington, leaving it just three states shy of officially becoming the 27th amendment to the United States Constitution as its original March 22, 1979, deadline approached. Women in Washington state were especially motivated for the achievement of that goal.

Thus, on the date in focus here — one day after the 57th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States — several thousand local supporters of the ERA gathered in downtown Seattle to march from the Federal Courthouse at Fifth Avenue and Madison Street to Victor Steinbrueck Park (then known simply as Waterfront Park) near Pike Place Market. The Saturday afternoon event was held in solidarity with similar marches — many much larger — being held across the United States that weekend.

Seattle’s hour-long march initially lacked a police escort, and Seattle police officers on patrol downtown were at first taken aback by the marchers’ presence on the streets, since they were under the impression that the march would be limited to downtown sidewalks. Thus, the march began chaotically without a clear path, but soon gained focus as organizers and police officers hastily arranged a plan to guide the march through downtown traffic without confrontation. The resulting atmosphere was festively raucous, with placards aplenty; among the more noteworthy placards carried by marchers were those that read, respectively, “Adam Was A Rough Draft” and “Eve Was Framed.”

Pro-ERA rally at Seattle’s Waterfront Park (now Victor Steinbrueck Park), August 27, 1977.
Photo credit: Don Wallen. Courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections

The rally at Waterfront Park, with a full program of speakers and local musicians, lasted four hours long. Among the speakers in that mayoral election year were mayoral candidates Phyllis Lamphere and John Miller, and a proclamation by Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman was read by a representative of the Mayor’s Office. Representing the event’s organizers, Rita Shaw, a member of the National Organization for Women and the Washington Equal Rights Amendment Coalition, proclaimed, “What we’re trying to do is dispel this ‘you’ve come a long way, baby’ idea.” (Shaw was referencing a then-ubiquitous ad slogan for a cigarette brand then being marketed towards women, a cynical ploy particularly offensive to feminists at the time.) “We have a long way to go to achieve equal rights [for women] in education, jobs, pay, and many other things.”

The final (and only male) speaker at the rally, Roger Winters, summed up the spirit of the event by proclaiming, “To be a humanist these days one must be a feminist.”

Although the 1979 deadline was later extended by Congress to June 30, 1982, the ERA eventually failed to be ratified. While hopes for the ERA’s revival lay fallow during the Reagan Revolution years, on July 21, 2009, a revised version of the ERA, House Joint Resolution 61, was introduced on the House floor by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY). As of August 27, 2010, no significant action had yet been taken on H.J.R. 61 in Congress.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: John O’Ryan, “1,500 Chanting Women March for Equal Rights,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 28, 1977, p. A1; Teresa Chebuhar, “1,000 March and Rally for E.R.A.,” The Seattle Times, August 28, 1977, p. C7; EqualRightsAmendment.org.

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About radsearem

Jeff Stevens is a Seattle native and author of the forthcoming City of Anxiety: An Alternative History of Seattle.
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