In a 1963 letter to Anita Pollitzer, NWP stalwart Miriam Holden, a collector and chronicler of international women's history, shared her reactions to a speech Pauli Murray had given to the National Council of Women the previous October. Pollitzer, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, was one of the South's most active NWP members and had been an avid supporter of women's rights since the days of the suffrage movement. Holden expressed concern that Murray's desire to link the Fourteenth Amendment strategy with the civil rights movement was opportunistic and damaging. She later changed her mind about Murray and her motives when Murray proved to be an effective defender of the prohibition on sex discrimination in employment in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Holden's change of heart is a good example of how the linkage of civil rights and women's rights in Title VII made it possible for formerly skeptical NWP members to embrace the new civil rights law.
February 16, 1963
In accordance with our telephone conversation of today, enclosed are excerpts from Pauli Murray's speech of October 11, 1962, referring to equal rights for women. These have been arranged in two groups, the first representing comments favorable to equal rights for women and which could be quoted as indicating her support of the Equal Rights Amendment, and the second, quoting her solution (undesirable from our standpoint) and her own refutation of that solution (by inference) in the paragraph stating that "the United States Supreme Court has refused to rule on sex-based discriminatory practices and that the courts have generally refused to recognize that discriminatory treatment on the basis of sex alone is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."
As a result of our conversation and a further study of her paper, I realize that Miss Murray's preoccupation is with the Negro problem, and her primary purpose seems largely to be an attempt to hitch that wagon to our Equal Rights Amendment star. If she were to succeed, it might spell disaster for our hopes. The Southern states are sure to look with disfavor on any Constitutional legislation that is linked with the Negro problem, and I think it would be most unfortunate if this important but separate issue were allowed to becloud our stand for the Equal Rights Amendment.
It seems to me that the NAACP or related groups may very well have taken the position that our movement is one that they could infiltrate and use to further their own ends, regardless of how that might damage our situation. In fact, as long as equal rights for women remains a problem, they can use it to highlight their own, and thus it is entirely possible that they would rather see our struggle prolonged rather than ended, so that they could continue to make use of it as a springboard for their own propaganda.
I think that we should, at all costs, avoid comparisons of our position with the position of the American Negro if we expect to get a Constitutional Amendment passed. I feel that emphasis in that direction could more effectively be lent to Miss Murray's own reference to the position of women in the new, underdeveloped countries, which is often far more favorable than that of the American woman. This kind of comparison would be far more appealing to the American national ego than the tie-in with the Negro picture in the United States, In any event, her speech contains many comments that could be used to show that she favors us; and should she deny it, we have her own statement showing that the stand she has taken would be ineffectual when tried before the Supreme Court.
copies: Miss Paul
In Miss Pauli Murray's speech at the All-Women Conference sponsored by the National Council of Women of the United States at the Waldorf-Astoria (New York, Thursday, October 11, 1962), the impression is created that she understands the position of those who back the Equal Rights Amendment, and supports it. Analysis of the speech, however, reveals that 12 of the 15 pages are devoted to the Negro's status and the Fourteenth Amendment, not rights for women. Also, analysis shows that her support of rights for women is more apparent than real. In the next to last paragraph of her speech, Miss Murray gives her solution to the problem of equal rights for women as follows:
In the light of our expanding knowledge, the available statistical data showing the changing role of women in our society and the increasing public interest, a reinterpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment as applied to women is clearly indicated.
In refutation of her position, it should be noted that examination of the wording of the Fourteenth Amendment reveals that discrimination on the basis of sex is neither referred to nor prohibited.
Furthermore, in an earlier paragraph in her speech, she effectively refutes her own position ((that women's equal rights (and the Negro problem) depend for their solution on a reinterpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment)) as follows:
The United States Supreme Court has refused to rule on a decision upholding the exclusion of women from the state-supported Texas A & M College, and a Massachusetts decision that a woman defendant was not denied equal protection of the law although Massachusetts at the time excluded woman from Jury service still stands. The courts have generally refused to recognize that discriminatory treatment on the basis of sex alone is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Woman's attributes as a human being and a citizen are still obscured by Victorian notions of sex which are wholly irrelevant.
In discussing Miss Murray's position, therefore, it seems fair to quote her own arguments, in the above paragraph, as reinforcing the position of those who are convinced that only an amendment to the Constitution specifically prohibiting discrimination based on sex will properly solve the problem.
Excerpts from Address by Miss Pauli Murray, Tutor of Law, Yale University Law School, at the All-Women Conference Sponsored by the National Council of Women of the United States at the Waldorf-Astoria, New York, N.Y., Thursday, October 11, 1962.
"Yet today, restrictive laws with reference to property, custody of earnings and children still remain on the books against women in a number of the states. Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina still expressly exclude women from jury service. The United States Supreme Court has refused to rule on a decision upholding the exclusion of women from the state-supported Texas A & M College, and a Massachusetts decision that a woman defendant was not denied equal protection of the law although Massachusetts at the time excluded women from jury service still stands. The courte have generally refused to recognize that discriminatory treatment on the basis of sex alone is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Woman's attributes as a human being and a citizen are still obscured by Victorian notions of sex which are wholly irrelevant.
"Although women now constitute a numerical majority of the nation, they are woefully under-represented in the power structure where the vital decisions affecting them are made. We have only 20 women in the national Congress (2 Senators and 18 Representatives); there are only 324 women in the state legislatures (290 in the assemblies and 34 in the state senates); 7 women hold the position of secretary of state; five states have never had women legislators. Of more than 6,000 women lawyers, in 1960 there were 590 women judges.
"In the professions, men still represent between 95 and 97 per cent of our lawyers, architects, natural scientists and engineers, and 95 per cent of our doctors.
"What are the implications of these figures? It seems to me that there is an urgent need to reexamine the role of women in mid-Twentieth Century society. The two great challenges mentioned at the outset of this discussion — tehcnological proficiency and the expansion of human rights — demand the fullest and most efficient use of our human resources in a rapidly changing world. We can no longer afford the myth of sex inferiority any more than we can of racial inferiority. In comparison with many of the newer countries, we are underdeveloped in the recognition of woman and the use of our womanpower.
"As to legal status, so much doubt has been cast upon the constitutional position of woman that many have come to believe their only guarantee of equality before the law lies in the adoption of an Equal Rights Amendment. Such a proposal has been pending before Congress since 1923. It has produced heated controversy, particularly from women's groups and labor organizations which believe that an Equal Rights Amendment will threaten the protective labor and social legislation for women enacted over the years.
"Women of conscience are convinced that the proper role of women today is that of partnership with men — in the home, in the community and in government. Partners are not identical; they complement each other. We reject both the pedestal and the gutter. We see the realignment of our practices with our professed ideals in the area of sex as the next great social reform. To accomplish this task we need intelligence, imagination, the inspiration derived from pioneers of both the past and the present and consummate grace under pressure. This is the challenge of this conference and to women for decades to come."
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