Rights Feminists to Reconfigure the Campaign for the ERA in the
1940s and 50s?
Bachrach Studio, ca. 1927-1935,
olv20005765, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
This document project focuses on a campaign by the Connecticut Committee for the Equal Rights Amendment (CCERA), 1943-1956, to expand support for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Led by Florence Kitchelt, the campaign argued that the federal constitutional amendment would not undo beneficial legislation for women. Kitchelt, a prominent figure in organizations that led the opposition to the ERA between 1923 and 1943, sought to end the twenty-year deadlock between the Amendment's social-feminist opponents and equal-rights feminist proponents. That deadlock developed over the Amendment's predicted effect on beneficial legislation for women, especially state labor laws. These documents show how Kitchelt broke that deadlock and created a new template for supporters of the ERA in the years immediately following World War II. The documents also show how difficult her task was. They highlight Kitchelt's substantial political talents and chart the changing political universe in which she sought to find new ways to promote gender equality.
Initially proposed by the National Woman's Party (NWP) in 1923, the ERA stated: "Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction." Polarization between women's groups increased in the decades after 1923, as most women's organizations believed that by calling for identical treatment of women and men, the Amendment would undo beneficial legislation for women. NWP members contributed to this polarization by insisting that the ERA would indeed end state labor laws for women. Twenty years into that debate, Kitchelt mobilized support for the view that the ERA was compatible with women's labor legislation. Her effort to bridge the gap between social feminists and equal rights feminists places her in the vanguard of the search for a new basis for American feminism in the second half of the twentieth century.
During the decades between 1923, when the Amendment was first proposed by the NWP, and 1972, when it was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification, Kitchelt's intervention became the single most important effort to forge a compromise between ERA proponents and opponents. As one historian put it, "Kitchelt offered a genuine alternative, a separate organization with altogether different attitudes and approaches to support of the amendment." This document project explores that alternative and some of the documents it generated.
When the ERA failed to be ratified by the necessary number of states in 1982, it had become one of the longest political battles in American history, extending across six decades and two generations. Kitchelt's campaign helps us understand the difficulties that ERA advocates faced during the transition decades of the 1940s and 50s, when the battle passed out of the hands of the original antagonists of the 1920s and compromise between the opposing sides became more plausible. Her story reveals the deep divisions within women's political culture that help us understand why support for the ERA remained limited until the new feminist movement emerged in the 1960s.
The timing of Kitchelt's effort was propitious. In 1935 the National Association of Woman Lawyers became the first additional organization to endorse the ERA after it was proposed by the NWP in 1923. In 1937 the much larger and more influential National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs endorsed the Amendment. In May 1943 a wider opening for change seemed to develop when the Amendment was rewritten in response to critics who questioned its original call for men and women to "have equal rights throughout the United States." Critics thought that phrasing might require identical legislation by all states. Alice Paul offered a new version that stated: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or by any State, on account of sex." These words paralleled the text of the women's suffrage amendment, ratified in 1920, which affirmed: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." The new wording seemed successful when the hugely influential General Federation of Women's Clubs, which had previously opposed the Amendment, voted to endorse it in April 1944.
By that time Florence Kitchelt's campaign was in full swing. With so much momentum behind the Amendment, the main question seemed to be: could Kitchelt's campaign recruit support from the mainstream women's organizations that still opposed the ERA, especially the League of Women Voters? Formed in 1920 as the successor organization to the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the league inherited the mantle of women's political activism and sought to channel that activism into the social agenda that the suffrage movement had supported before 1920. That agenda included many goals consistent with support for the ERA, including the right of women to serve on juries and to run for office. Other aspects of that agenda were unaffected by the ERA, such as opposition to the power of political bosses in American cities or opposition to child labor. But support for protective labor legislation for wage-earning women--a central plank in the suffrage movement's political platform--had long been viewed as antithetical to the Equal Rights Amendment. Florence Kitchelt sought to change that perception.
Who was Florence Kitchelt and how did she become a pivotal figure in the history of the Equal Rights Amendment?
Born in Rochester in 1874, Florence Cross graduated from Wells College in 1897, and joined the hundreds of young women of her generation who sought meaningful work in social settlements. Combining social reform and social work, she began her career as a resident and volunteer at a school for delinquent children. Between 1900 and 1907 she worked at the College Settlement on Rivington Street on Manhattan's Lower East Side, and at other settlements, including Little Italy House in Brooklyn. This encounter with Italians prompted her to spend several months in Italy to learn more about the social conditions that led people to emigrate to the United States. As a settlement worker in Rochester in 1910, she served ably as Secretary of the Bureau of Information and Protection for Foreigners. There her political skills became evident as she mediated a labor dispute involving Italian workers. That success brought her to the attention of reformers in New York City, where the leading liberal newspaper said that she disclaimed "the title of leader of the striking Italian laborers," but the workers looked up to her "as their guardian angel." (See Document 1) Having become a socialist, Florence Cross met fellow socialist, artist and union activist, Richard Kitchelt at an event for Emmeline Pankhurst, the well-known British suffragist. She married Kitchelt, a lithographer by trade, in 1911 in a settlement house ceremony witnessed by friends, family, and Italian neighborhood residents.
After her wedding, Florence Kitchelt shifted her political talents from the settlement movement to the woman suffrage movement. As a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), she participated in publicity-seeking parades between New York and Washington D.C. In May, 1914 she spent ten days in Washington planning and participating in the historic suffrage parade led by Alice Paul. In 1918 she became the legislative secretary of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association (CWSA), a paid staff position from which she directed "the general field work necessary to insure favorable sentiment in the legislature for whatever suffrage bill may come up." (See Document 2) After the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 and women gained the right to vote in every state, the League of Women Voters was formed to carry the suffrage movement's social agenda forward. Local state leagues emerged quickly and in 1920 Kitchelt became the Connecticut LWV's first citizenship director, organizing "Citizenship Schools" throughout the state and emerging as a force in Connecticut politics.
Kitchelt developed techniques for encouraging women to vote. Her 1920 pamphlet, "The Mechanism of Law-Making in Connecticut," reprinted in 1927, graphically depicted the various paths by which bills traveled through the Connecticut legislature to become laws. (See Document 3) She successfully forged a third non-partisan path for women independent of the Republican and Democratic Parties. A 1921 article in Good Housekeeping praised her success with citizenship schools, saying that her "ability, tact, and fearlessness, accompanied by an unsuspected spark of wickedness, have made her handling of the delicate non-partisan campaign meetings a real art." Described as "a small person with a wealth of dark hair and demure eyes that give her face a Madonna-like look," Kitchelt was an appealing speaker who effectively dispelled the mysteries of male-dominated politics. The article said that one seasoned politician was speechless when scheduled to speak after her: "He cast a sort of pleading glance back at the men on the platform behind him, and said, 'Boys she's laid us bare!'" (See Document 4)
In 1924 Kitchelt's career took another turn as she moved from woman suffrage to international governance and world peace. For almost twenty years she worked as secretary and director of the Connecticut League of Nations Association (CLNA). In that capacity she fulfilled the potential of woman suffrage, working closely with women and men to advance an agenda that was independent of the two political parties. By canvassing the state to promote peace education and build support for the League of Nations and World Court, and by organizing local disarmament conferences and model assemblies for high school students, Kitchelt put Connecticut ahead of other states in its awareness of international issues. In 1925 she traveled to Geneva to attend the League of Nations Assembly. Meanwhile, she remained active in women's organizations, including the Connecticut League of Women Voters (CLWV), the American Association of University Women (AAUW), and the YWCA. She strongly supported the women's peace movement that bought together representatives of nine national women's organizations in 1924 to create the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War, and created a coalition of women's groups to promote disarmament. (See Document 6) As the clouds of war gathered in the late 1930s, she supported the Emergency Peace Campaign, an outgrowth of the American Friends Service Committee.
During these years Kitchelt witnessed the increasingly problematic struggle by the League of Women Voters to defend its national policies in international venues. Gendered distinctions in labor and social legislation in the United States were anchored in the difficulty of achieving such laws on the class basis that informed their enactment in Great Britain and Europe. Although the absence of a labor party in the United States made organized labor relatively weak politically, the strength of the woman suffrage movement created an alternative means for the advancement of legislation to protect working women and children. Beginning in the 1870s and continuing through the 1920s and 30s, protective labor legislation for women served as an opening wedge for protections for men as well as women. For example, state minimum wage legislation for women enacted between 1912 and 1923 became the model for minimum wage provisions for men and women in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Because this "wedge" strategy justified legislation for women on the basis of their gendered difference from men, it was incompatible with the NWP's view of women's rights as identical to those of men.
Yet while the LWV's policy of supporting gendered labor legislation in the United States continued the suffrage movement's cross-class alliances with working women and made sense domestically, it became difficult to defend internationally in the 1920s and 30s, when the National Woman's Party successfully promoted abroad its strategy of "equal rights for women and men." Between 1928 and 1939, the NWP consistently and steadily embarrassed the LWV by gaining international adherents to its equal rights platform. That story shaped the background of Kitchelt's decision to endorse the ERA in 1943.
Initially the NWP failed to gain international support for "equal rights." At the International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship in 1926, the LWV and other groups in the suffragist mainstream thwarted the NWP's efforts, partly by threatening to withdraw American financial support of the IAW. Moreover Margery Corbett Ashby, British president of the IAW and a prominent member of the Liberal Party, was sympathetic to social feminism and did not accept the NWP's view that women's rights were best advanced as rights that were the same as men's. But the NWP found a friendlier venue at the Inter-American Commission of Women of the Pan-American Conference in 1930, where they successfully internationalized the American debate over the ERA in terms that favored their perspective. In 1933 at the Seventh Pan-American Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, the NWP gained support for a treaty that called for women's equal nationality and an end to the practice in which women's nationality followed that of their husband.
The defects of the LWV's opposition to the ERA became evident at Montevideo, when, thanks to league lobbying, the United States delegation voiced the only opposition to the women's equal nationality treaty. Tactics that made sense in the United States as necessary for the support of women's social rights and social justice generally appeared oddly contradictory in this international setting. Seeking to control the publicity damage, a member of the league's "legal status" committee explained to the press in New York City that the treaty was a "very nice expression of principle but means absolutely nothing" and that the league was "opposed to all blanket legislation in any form." She acknowledged that the league had actively opposed the treaty and "expressed its view to the State Department. . . in conferences and by means of briefs," but she also insisted that the league, "far from being opposed to the equality of nationality, was the first women's organization in the United States to work for it." Soon after Doris Stevens of the NWP returned in 1939 from the last meeting of the Pan-American Conference before World War II, the League of Women Voters eliminated the need for such contradictory explanations. They successfully encouraged President Roosevelt to summarily (and probably illegally) replace Stevens as the United States representative on the Inter-American Commission of Women with LWV ally Mary Winslow.
Although World War II temporarily extinguished this international struggle between the LWV and the NWP, in April 1943, leading women in the Democratic Party began flexing their muscles for future battles with their domestic opponents. At a symposium on the question, "What Kind of a World Do We Want?" leading social feminists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Kenyon, Frieda Miller and Florence Harriman, strongly endorsed the United Nations and the International Labor Organization and "the necessity for social security at home." Women business leaders expressed the contrary view that "the increasing assumption of control by government was robbing the people of their initiative and individuality." Occupying a middle ground, anthropologist Margaret Mead, author Pearl Buck and educator Virginia Gildersleeve insisted "on the need for educating women to the world in which they lived," and encouraging their greater understanding of it.
A week before this symposium Florence Kitchelt decided to forge a new political path. Inspired by the international consciousness of that moment, seeking to avoid the tangles into which the LWV had become ensnared, and above all, hoping to reinvigorate the political activism of American women, she launched a campaign to change the terms on which the equal rights amendment was promoted. Her first step was to join the National Woman's Party.
In a letter to the National Woman's Party, Kitchelt described her conversion from an opponent to a proponent of the ERA, saying that she hoped that the equal rights it promised would "stimulate [women] to a better use of their vote and to political activity." She stated her acceptance of the NWP's fundamental doctrine "that 'no amount of special benefit to woman is good enough to offset the basic damage done to human equality,'" but she obscured some of her motives, saying that "life itself" had prompted her conversion. (See Document 7)
Kitchelt's motives soon became clear. She wanted to create an organization that would promote the ERA independently of the NWP. In July 1943, when Kitchelt convened a group to create the Connecticut branch of the NWP, Anita Pollitzer, a leading NWP member, reported to Alice Paul her alarm that Kitchelt "wanted to leave out the name of the National Woman's Party," insisting that this "would win many friends and members from those who would be antagonistic to joining the National Woman's Party." Pollitzer hoped Paul would resolve the dispute. (See Document 8)
At that founding meeting Kitchelt might have sought independence from the NWP to avoid the organizational issues that arose from Alice Paul's domineering leadership. In addition, she was almost certainly anticipating her 1944 challenge to the NWP's belief that the ERA was inconsistent with labor legislation for women. In a pamphlet on "The Equal Rights Amendment and Protective Legislation," distributed first in the 1920s, the NWP had declared that the ERA "would not interfere" with mother's pensions and would not affect the Sheppard-Towner Act, which promoted "the welfare and hygiene of maternity and infancy." But, the pamphlet insisted, the Amendment would require "that all industrial laws be based upon the nature of the work and not upon the sex of the worker." (See Document 5) The NWP position in the mid-1940s had not changed.
Concluding that the NWP's opposition to such "industrial laws" was counterproductive, Kitchelt began using her Connecticut organization to offer a new view in November 1944. Her organization's letterhead--the Connecticut Committee for the Equal Rights Amendment--omitted any reference to the National Woman's Party and instead contained a list of prominent supporters who were not active in the NWP. In a letter to Alice Paul she boldly stated two ideas that broke with Paul's leadership. First, she predicted that the ERA would not overturn labor legislation for women. Second, she insisted "that the words 'equal' and 'identical' cannot be used as synonymous." Equality, she insisted, "should mean that women, LIKE MEN, have the right to any special legislation they want." She urged Paul to adopt this view of the ERA because it would undercut the Amendment's opponents. (See Document 11) Around the same time she wrote in a similar vein to another NWP leader, forecasting that the first five years of the ERA might produce a beneficial ruling "as to the difference between 'discrimination' and ‘protection,'" and offered "the USSR Constitution" as an example of positive provisions for women. (See Document 12)
Kitchelt conducted much of the committee work through a comprehensive letter campaign, writing newspapers and magazines as well as prominent persons. In a letter to the editor of the Hartford Courant, she urged him to "contrive another of your fine editorials." The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would not protect women, she explained, as Susan B. Anthony proved when she voted in the 1872 presidential election and was arrested by a federal deputy two weeks later. (At her trial Anthony argued that the recently adopted Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States" gave women the right to vote in federal elections. She was convicted of illegal voting and fined.) Kitchelt pointed out that African Americans were successfully "winning cases in federal courts for equal pay with white teachers, under the 14th Am[endment,]" and predicted that the ERA would bring women similar gains. (See Document 10)
As the Amendment moved forward in Congress, NWP Executive Secretary Caroline Lexow Babcock responded to Kitchelt in January 1945, that the party preferred to ignore their opponents and they remained unalterably committed to the proposition that labor law "must be applied to the job and the industry and not the sex of the worker." She described as "The height of absurdity" a situation in which laws for women were used to create protections for men. (See Document 16) Another NWP leader assured Kitchelt that the ERA "will do away with protective legislation for women only." She suggested "we must meet with the CIO and convince them, by the women in their own movement, that they are wrong. They are ostensibly working for humanitarian reasons against the amendment because it will nullify protective legislation for women, but in reality they fear a loss of jobs for men." (See Document 17)
Other more forceful critics of Kitchelt's work urged her to stop. One prominent NWP member denounced her practice of "interjecting disruptive campaign material at this time in lobbying with Congressmen." (See Document 20) Another complained: "The amendment now has a definite meaning to proponents and opponents alike, but if you keep quoting 'authorities' to prove it means something else you could eventually give it a tendency in that new direction." (See Document 19) This came from Ella Sherwin, a proofreader and linotype operator and member of the International Typographical Union, who had a good understanding of the hostile union environment women workers faced in industry. Like professional women, women in skilled occupations, such as printers, did not benefit from gendered labor legislation because, unlike women in most unskilled occupations, their workplace was not sex-segregated and they worked alongside and competed directly with men. In that context laws regulating women's work limited their access to jobs. So the conundrum that Kitchelt was trying to undo was one in which different groups of women benefited from different rights strategies. Her first step was to deny the NWP's authority to shape those strategies for all women.
During these years Kitchelt also approached the League of Women Voters, who also deflected her plan for a new approach to the ERA. In July 1943, the president of the Connecticut League of Women Voters wrote her that the 1943 rewriting of the text of the ERA did not make any difference. The national league had recently renewed its opposition to the ERA, which she quoted at length. (See Document 9)
In June 1944, Kitchelt described to the president of the Connecticut Federation of Democratic Women's Clubs, Chase Going Woodhouse, the meager returns of her efforts to create a third way independent of the National Woman's Party or the League of Women Voters. She wished "we might get women in industry discussing this whole question" of the Equal Rights Amendment. She was confident that the amendment would be compatible with the protection of working women, for "When the pattern of society changes, legislation meets the change." (See Document 11)
Kitchelt's way forward with the League of Women Voters was still blocked. In January 1945, in an exchange of letters with Rachael Nason at the League's Washington, D.C. headquarters, Nason suggested that Kitchelt shift her energies to promoting the United Nations. The founding meeting of the U.N. was scheduled to occur in San Francisco in April 1945 and the League strongly supported it along with the Committee on the Participation of Women in Post War Planning, which had promoted women's involvement in the Dumbarton Oaks conference that set up the San Francisco meeting. (In mid-February 1945, the league's efforts were rewarded with the appointment of Virginia Gildersleeve to the U.S. delegation for San Francisco.) Nason thought that Kitchelt should suspend work on the Equal Rights Amendment, and organize research on "a code of legislation which meets women's problems." (See Documents 14 and 15)
Kitchelt's most important potential social-feminist convert, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, also refused her appeal, writing Kitchelt in February, 1945, "I still believe the amendment is unnecessary." (See Document 18) Two months later, Franklin Roosevelt died and Eleanor Roosevelt left the White House to pursue a career path in which she promoted the United Nations and human rights. In 1946 she would represent the United States at the United Nations, and in 1948 she served on the UN's Commission on Human Rights and co-authored its Declaration of Human Rights. These experiences doubtlessly informed her decision to end her opposition to the ERA in 1952. (See Document 37) However, during her international human rights activity between 1946 and 1950, she consistently opposed efforts by the National Woman's Party and its international arm, the World Party for Equal Rights.
After the war had ended in Europe and was drawing to a close in Asia, Kitchelt took . advantage of that post-war moment to promote her new approach to the ERA more publicly. In July 1945, in an article in the New York Herald Tribune, she defended her views by criticizing "the pamphlet writers of the National Women's party, who insist that laws for men and women be not equal but identical and that any and all laws passed for the sole benefit of women are outmoded today." The NWP's stance obscured the benefits of the ERA and accounted for much of the opposition to it, she said, quoting the "mother of Katharine Hepburn," Mrs. Thomas N. Hepburn: "To say that we want to throw 'protective legislation' overboard is very stupid." Other quotes included that of Professor E. Wight Bakke of Yale University, who said that "Equal rights for male citizens. . . do not preclude special rights for particular groups of male citizens." (See Document 22)
Kitchelt's tone with Alice Paul grew more firm. Her letter of 17 July 1945, insisted, "Equality of rights is a status of full citizenship. It gives women the legal power that men now have. But it does not follow that women must use that power in identical ways with men." (See Document 23) Paul unhelpfully replied that she agreed that if the Constitution were "to prohibit all discrimination in the law against women, it is plain that it will also prohibit all discrimination in their favor." (See Document 24)
Kitchelt's first potential convert came from the social feminist camp. Alice Hamilton, the first woman faculty member of Harvard Medical School, an inventor of occupational medicine and Jane Addams's personal physician, was born and raised in Connecticut and often visited her family's home in Hadlyme. In August 1945, she responded to a letter from Kitchelt to say that if her arguments in the Herald Tribune article were true, "most of my opposition to [the Amendment] would die down, for though I can see other objections to it, my real interest in the controversy is in the field of labor legislation." (See Document 25) Kitchelt hastened to consolidate Hamilton's support. Describing her efforts as a "one-man campaign," she deployed the new leverage of the 1945 Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations, which affirmed "the equal rights of men and women." (See Document 21) That language was co-authored by Virginia Gildersleeve, whose participation in the Charter meeting had been promoted by the League of Women Voters. Dean of Barnard College, founder of the International Federation of University Women (1919), and Democratic Party leader, Gildersleeve was well known to Alice Hamilton. Leaning on the Charter's leverage, Kitchelt wrote Hamilton, "Are we going to question that simple fundamental principle of human rights and ask that reservations be made to the Charter so that we can be sure that women in Bulgaria may have seats in factories?" (See Document 26) Writing a friend, Kitchelt rejoiced in Hamilton's letter, which seemed to show that her ideas were gaining traction. (See Document 27)
But Alice Paul remained an impediment. In October 1945, Kitchelt abruptly asked Paul why she questioned her "spirit of cooperation:" "Does the question come because I accept the point of view of various congressmen and legal authorities who nevertheless are staunch supporters of the Amendment? Or because I organized an all-inclusive committee in order to reach hundreds of women?" (See Document 28) That winter Kitchelt emerged as a national spokesperson for the ERA campaign with a letter printed in The New Republic. (See Document 29A) But her view of the compatibility of the ERA and state labor legislation continued to generate opposition by the NWP and their supporters. In an exchange of letters with Ella Sherwin in January 1946, Sherwin again said that she supported the ERA precisely because it would end laws that differentiated between women and men, and Kitchelt again predicted that the Amendment might not have that effect. (See Documents 30 and 31)
In the summer of 1948 Kitchelt ended her membership in the NWP. The centennial celebration of the 1848 Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention had just occurred, featuring ERA opponents and social feminists like Dorothy Kenyon and Anna Lord Strauss, who was president of the League of Women Voters and the great-granddaughter of Lucretia Mott. On July 20, a "Declaration of the Women of 1948 to the Women of 2048" signed by Susan B. Anthony II, Margaret Sanger, and Alice Hamilton, among others, pledged that we
will win for ourselves and therefore for you, our freedom as women to bear and rear our children, to share equally with out brothers, our land's productive labor in the factory, on the farm, at the desk, and on the bench. We will win our freedom to share equally with our brothers the highest offices in all organs of the body politic. We will win for you a prosperous democracy at peace with the world.
The next day Florence Kitchelt wrote the National Woman's Party saying she was not renewing her membership, concluding, "I think that the National Woman's Party has made a great mistake by functioning as a small God-given committee, instead of drawing a large membership into the Party through democratic methods." (See Document 32)
In resigning from the party, Kitchelt joined a large group of NWP leaders who had departed in a schism that split the party in January 1947. The rebels against Paul's leadership called themselves "the Constitution group" because they wanted the party to focus on the U.S. Constitution rather than the World Woman's Party, founded in 1938, to which Paul had increasingly diverted party funds. In this context Kitchelt emerged as a leader of the dissidents. Former NWP leader, Alma Lutz, urged Kichelt forward, suggesting she form a "national committee" and create "a clearing house of information" on the Amendment. (See Document 33)
As the NWP's membership dwindled, CCERA's membership marginally increased, and Kitchelt provided important regional leadership. She worked collaboratively with former NWP leaders--Anna Kelton Wiley, Caroline Babcock, Alma Lutz, Jane Grant, Jeannette Marks, and Laura Berrien. These women became active members of CCERA and were on its national board of directors. Many former NWP leaders began to work in mainstream organizations such as the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the Business and Professional Women's Clubs, and the AAUW. Key NWP dissidents allied with Kitchelt and the CCERA to form sister state organizations, including branches in Massachusetts and New York. Jeannette Marks, an early critic of Kitchelt, worked with her to form the New York State Committee for Equal Rights, with the CCERA listed as the parent organization. (See Documents 20 and 34)
Kitchelt's leadership among disaffected NWP members was confirmed in January 1950 in a letter from Anna Kelton Wiley to "the Constitution Group." Written on the stationery of Kitchelt's Connecticut committee, Wiley's letter said that the "Equal Rights Amendment may come up for a vote in the Senate within the next few days." She asked: "Do you not think that we, the members of the Constitution Group, should join forces with the Connecticut Committee for the Equal Rights Amendment, headed by Mrs. Florence L. C. Kitchelt . . . ? The Connecticut Committee has functioned successfully for a number of years and is well supported in the State of Connecticut, as well as nationally." (See Document 35) Seven years after launching her "one man campaign," Kitchelt had become the trusted recipient of funds for a national movement. Her success was partly due to the political and intellectual clarity of her goals and her organizational expertise, and partly due to the collapse of Alice Paul's leadership.
Soon Kitchelt also harvested support from social feminists. Her contact with Alice Hamilton finally bore fruit in May 1952, when the former Harvard professor endorsed Kitchelt's claims that the Amendment would not impair protections for working women. In a statement she knew Kitchelt would publicize, Hamilton declared,
My long opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment has lost much of its force during the thirty years since the movement for it started. The health of women in industry is now a matter of concern to health authorities, both State and Federal, to employers' associations, insurance companies, trade unions. I do not believe that this situation would be changed by the passage of the Amendment now. (See Document 36A)
A week later Eleanor Roosevelt declared before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights that she no longer "opposed the passage of an equal rights amendment." (See Document 37) A protégé of Hamilton, Roosevelt had encountered the nuances of legislating women's rights when she initially opposed the creation of a separate UN Commission on the Status of Women in 1946 and argued against those who held that the disabilities women faced were "so varied, subtle, and complex" that they required special consideration or risked being overlooked. Roosevelt subsequently co-authored the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, which called for "the equal rights of men and women." So Roosevelt had encountered the same questions that Kitchelt had confronted—-to what degree should women's rights be differentiated from those of men and to what degree should they resemble men's rights? At the time of her letter to Kitchelt in 1952, Roosevelt was involved in the debate about the UN Convention on the Political Rights of Women, which was adopted by the United Nations on 31 March 1953.
Two weeks after receiving Hamilton's letter, Kitchelt published it with her gloss on its meaning in a letter to the New York Herald Tribune. In the "debate in the United Nation's Commission on Human Rights concerning equal economic, social and cultural rights for women," she noted, "Equality was accepted," and the debate focused on "the best way to make it effective." Hamilton's letter was important, she said, because "Every woman's organization or men's trade union ranged in opposition to the amendment has quoted an eminent authority, Dr. Alice Hamilton." Referring to Roosevelt's recent statement, she concluded, "These two distinguished women prove the turn of the tide." (See Document 38)
In 1953 Kitchelt spoke for the fragile coalition between social feminists and equal rights feminists that she had created when she protested against the U.S. State Department's refusal to sign the UN's Convention on Political Rights for Women. Identifying herself as "a member of the American Association of University Women, of the League of Women Voters of the United States, and of many other groups of women who are profiting by the American guarantee of equal political rights for women," she called on the U.S. Department of State to recognize the truth of Mrs. Roosevelt's assertion that "In the United States women have the rights specified in this Convention." (See Document 39)
Kitchelt's Connecticut Committee for the Equal Rights Amendment continued to promote its message, now delivered with greater authority. An article in the Hartford Courant reflected their perspective in July 1953. Some ERA opponents were well-intended persons who feared "that passage of the amendment risked doing away with some of the legal discriminations in favor of women," it declared, and quoted Kitchelt's succinct response: "Where special legislation is necessary to protect women it should be embodied in statute law, just as is special protection for men when the conditions of their work or other factors make it desirable." (See Document 40) In the mid-1950s, dissidents who left the NWP in 1947 continued to seek Kitchelt's support for their own variations of the ERA. (See Document 41)
When Kitchelt wrote Paul in 1954, she offered a full set of strategies. "To win votes in Congress, we need the endorsements of the AFL and the CIO," she said. She also proposed a more active campaign spearheaded by "a Joint Legislative Committee" in Washington. The National Federation of Business and Professional Women should "take the leadership for the ERA," she thought, and she suggested that the "NWP devote itself to the Equal Rights Magazine." (See Document 42)
Yet for all Kitchelt's success, crucial women activists continued to oppose the ERA. Old hostilities from the earlier struggle remained visible beneath new rationales. In 1954 Dorothy Kenyon reported that the Women's Rights Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union declined to endorse the ERA "because the matters it would actually affect are becoming so minor that they should not he handled by constitutional amendment, and that the principle remaining discriminations against women are not based primarily on law but on custom and practice, which the Amendment would not touch." (See Document 43)
Sometime after March 1955, Kitchelt's committee printed a pamphlet with useful talking points about the ERA--its history, reasons why it was needed, and quotes from supporters. The historical section placed events during Kitchelt's 1943-1953 campaign in historical context. It struck a compromise on the topic of protective labor legislation, calling for laws that "protect all workers," but also noting that "Equal citizens are not identical citizens, and they do not have identical needs." In support of the ERA the pamphlet quoted Ashley Montague along with Florence Kitchelt. He said: "The best of all ways in which men can help themselves is to help women realize their potentialities to the fullest." She said: "Let it be pointed out that women's first qualification is the same as men's--their humanity. As with men, sex, skill, creed and color are secondary qualities." (See Document 44)
Florence Kitchelt brought equal rights feminists and social feminists together to reconfigure the campaign for the ERA in the 1950s. She created a venue in which former enemies began to speak to one another. Yet her victory was incomplete and at the time of her death in 1961 old hostilities blocked a consolidated advance of women's rights. Nevertheless, Kitchelt's legacy lived on, reemerging in 1995, when the National Organization for Women offered a new version of the ERA. Renamed the Constitutional Equality Amendment, it "incorporated all of the concerns that have arisen out of a two year study of the ERA which reviewed the history of the amendment from 1923 until the present." Section 3 of the proposed Amendment prohibits pregnancy discrimination, and Section 4 "prohibits discrimination through the use of any facially neutral criteria which have a disparate impact based on membership in a class protected under this article." Thus the new version of the ERA recognizes gender difference and the inability of gender-neutral legislation alone to provide women with full equality. Future scholars will need to explore the effects of Kichelt's efforts on the new coalitions that emerged between 1960 and 1990 and consider how her version of the ERA prevailed among American feminists.