Date of Award

1-1-2011

Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Department

History

Sub-Department

Public History

First Advisor

Marjorie J Spruill

Abstract

South Carolina did not ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) when the women's movement was at its peak in the 1970s and early 1980s. This may not be particularly surprising based on the state's conservative record on women's rights. Historians have not thoroughly studied this state's involvement with the modern women's movement in their analysis of why the amendment did not pass in the United States. But South Carolina did have a strong ratification movement that consisted of optimistic and motivated activists who created a coalition of supportive organizations in the state. The ERA campaign in South Carolina was strong due of the hard work of this coalition, in which the state contingents of the League of Women Voters and the National Organization for Women took the lead. These supporters lobbied the legislature as wives and mothers, distancing themselves from radical stereotypes, to persuade legislators that the ERA would not harm women or take away their privileges, but would instead enhance their lives. The ERA's defeat in South Carolina was not always a given; in fact, there was a decade-long struggle over the issue that thrived both inside and outside of the state legislature. By the end of the 1970s, ERA supporters became frustrated with the growing body of opposition to the amendment and formed a new coalition that demanded equal rights much more directly. Anti-democratic conservative forces in the state legislature, however, were successful in stalling the ERA repeatedly until time ran out for ratification. This thesis traces the pro-ratification movement in South Carolina and its evolution through the years 1972 to 1982. Through focusing on supporters' tactics and strategies, it argues that there was a strong ratification movement in South Carolina and that its participants remained optimistic of its chances for ratification over the course of the decade. The ERA failed in South Carolina, but it was not due to a lack of effort on the part of supporters; rather, the conservative forces that dominated the legislature once again proved their skill in defeating progressive legislation in the Palmetto State.

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