Document 19: Ella Sherwin to Florence L. C. Kitchelt, 7 February 1945, Florence Ledyard Cross Kitchelt Papers, 1885-1961, A-61, Box 9, Folder 245, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


   The Industrial Women's League for Equality (IWLE) was formed with the assistance of the NWP in 1944. Funded by the NWP, the IWLE served as the NWP's labor arm and tried to counter the view that working women opposed the ERA. As its president, Ella Sherwin worked closely with regional supporters of the ERA in New York and Connecticut, but gained little support among wage-earning women. Sherwin said she was "shocked and horrified" by Kitchelt's arguments about the compatibility of the ERA and women's labor legislation.

Text of a letter sent to Mrs. Florence Kichelt on the letterhead of

220 West 42 St., New York 18, N.Y.

February 7, 1945

Mrs. Florence L. C. Kitchelt
38 Mansfield St.
New Haven, Connecticut

Dear Mrs. Kitchelt:

   I have been in Washington for a couple of days trying to do a lot of work in a short time. I went into the office of one of the very friendly members of Congress to ask him to do something we wanted done. As soon as I told him who I was he immediately told me that he had a message from you saying that the Amendment does not mean what we have always thought it meant and what he had always thought it meant. He said you sent him an opinion of Professor Borchard claiming that under the Equal Rights Amendment there could still be special labor laws for women that would not apply to their male competitors.

   I was shocked and horrified to find this situation. Why do you persist in trying to destroy the intent that has been built up over all these years for women like myself who particularly need equality in industry?

   The Amendment, or any other legislation, is interpreted to a considerable degree in the light of what the proponents of the measure meant it to do. By raising questions as to exactly what the Amendment will do and making statements contrary to what has been built up over the years you are utterly destroying what has been established, and you are producing great confusion here in Congress. 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.

   The Equal Rights Amendment means identical hours laws for men and women--one law regulating hours of all adults in given lines of employment; identical minimum wage laws--one law for all adults, etc.

   Not the backers of the Equal Rights Amendment but the opponents cause the discussion on labor laws. They have finally given up for the most part on other points because they have been argued down. The sob stuff about women in industry is sort of a last stand for them and is certainly their best bet because so many people find it so much simpler to use their hearts than their heads.

   It is pretty well agreed in Congress that the Amendment as it now stands will pass the present Congress[A] and it will be passed with the understanding that its meaning is the one we have built up for it. There is no possible reason now for raising this question.

[Ella Sherwin]


A. Of course, the ERA did not pass in Congress for another 27 years, despite Sherwin's optimism, and then it was never ratified by the requisite number of states.
Back to Text

back to top