The ERA — a historical primer

The ERA — a historical primer

It could have been the “She Decade.”

But the 1970s didn’t turn out to be groovy for the Equal Rights Amendment, which received the required two-thirds votes needed in both houses of Congress — but foundered on the road to ratification, which requires three-quarters of the states to approve it.

Things initially looked promising for the movement in the decade Tom Wolfe described as beginning “in a flood of ecstasy, achieved through LSD and other psychedelics, orgy, dancing meditation, and psychic frenzy.”

“I am Woman,” by Helen Reddy was a Billboard smash hit in 1972, the same year that Congress approved the amendment. It quickly became an anthem.

Even President Nixon, who apparently hated everybody, endorsed the amendment.

Things looked even promising a year later, when Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in a Battle of the Sexes tennis match — a seminal, if only symbolic, moment which remains the most-watched contest in that sport’s history.

But in the age of bell-bottoms and Afros, not everyone thought the movement was far out.

Conservative opposition mounted, arguing the disintegration of the American family was at stake.

Rep. Emanuel Celler (D–Flatbush) the Brooklyn-born chairman of the House Judiciary Committee described the amendment as “a historic step backwards.”

“There is as much difference between a male and a female as there is between a horse chestnut, and a chestnut horse … and, as the French say, ‘Vive la difference,’ ” he said.

The rate of ratification slowed, and despite the extension of its seven-year-deadline to 1982, the amendment fell three states shy of the 38 needed.

— Gary Buiso