Declaring Equality: Then and Now

By: Una Corbett, Research Intern

On November 11th, 1922—just two years after the passage of the 19th Amendment—the National Woman’s Party adopted the Declaration of Principles. This statement consisted of 28 objectives that outlined the NWP’s vision for the expansion of women’s rights and laid the foundation for the group’s post-suffrage work. Wishing to continue the momentum of the women’s movement after winning the fight for the vote, the leaders of the NWP published the Declaration of Principles to show their commitment to continuing to push for the expansion of gender equality in America. The NWP remained an outspoken political force throughout the 20th century, and contributed key legislative research, lobbying efforts, and activist strategies to the fight for equal rights.

The NWP viewed the Declaration of Principles as a new incarnation of the Declaration of Sentiments, a groundbreaking women’s rights manifesto adopted at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. The author of the Declaration of Sentiments, early women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, modeled the document after the Declaration of Independence. She wanted to make the point that women should be included in and protected by America’s founding documents.

Despite the document’s historical roots, nearly every objective in the Declaration of Principles remains relevant to the 21st-century feminist movement. Only two years after American women were enfranchised, Alice Paul and her cohort envisioned equal pay for equal work, expanded employment opportunities for women, full participation of women in government, and complete political and social autonomy for women. At the forefront of their gender equality program was the Equal Rights Amendment: a constitutional tenet that would ensure fair treatment under the law regardless of gender.

Thanks to the efforts of generations of activists, we’re now closer to achieving the goals that the NWP laid out almost a century ago. But there is still work to be done. This blog series, “Declaring Equality,” identifies some of the key principles set forth by the Declaration, outlines efforts made by the NWP and like-minded groups to make these goals a reality, and provides updates on the current status of these feminist fights.

PRINCIPLE: THAT women shall no longer be the governed half of society, but shall participate equally with men in the direction of life.

Then:

After adopting the Declaration of Principles, NWP members got to work convincing legislators to introduce the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1923 Congressional session. But once their efforts were greeted with tepid enthusiasm from male lawmakers, NWP members knew that they were missing a crucial element in their vision of political equality: feminist women in government. In 1924, the NWP launched its “Women for Congress” campaign, recruiting, training, and organizing for female Congressional candidates from both parties, and succeeded in getting Mary P. Norton elected in New Jersey.[1] Although no NWP-backed candidates were elected in 1926, the NWP continued supporting feminist political candidates throughout much of the 20th century.

Now:

According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, women currently hold 20% of the seats in U.S. Congress, 25.4% of state Congressional seats, and 20% of mayoral positions nationwide. Although we haven’t yet reached the NWP’s goal of equal political participation for women, there has been a surge in the number of women running for office in the wake of the 2016 election—in February, NPR reported that twice as many American women have declared candidacy for state and national races in 2018 as did in 2016.[2]

21st-century feminist groups continue to make supporting women candidates a central plank of their platforms. Organizations like She Should Run, the Women’s Campaign Fund, Ignite, and Running Start carry on the NWP’s legacy by training, funding, and promoting feminist female candidates on a nonpartisan basis.

Full text of the Declaration of Principles:

WHEREAS, Women today, although enfranchised, are still in every way subordinate to men before the law, in government, in educational opportunities, in the professions, in the church, in industry, and in the home.

BE IT RESOLVED, That as a part of our campaign to remove all forms of the subjection of women, we shall work for the following immediate objects:

THAT women shall no longer be regarded and shall no longer regard themselves as inferior to men, but the equality of the sexes shall be recognized.

THAT women shall no longer be the governed half of society, but shall participate equally with men in the direction of life.

THAT women shall no longer be denied equal educational opportunities with men, but the same opportunities shall be given to both sexes in all schools, colleges and universities which are supported in any way by public funds.

THAT women shall no longer be barred from any occupation, but every occupation open to men shall be open to women, and restrictions upon the hours, conditions, and remuneration of labor shall apply alike to both sexes.

THAT women shall no longer be discriminated against in the legal, the medical, the teaching, or any other profession, but the same opportunities shall be given to women as to men in training for professions and in the practice of these professions.

THAT women shall no longer be discriminated against in civil and government service, but shall have the same right as men to authority, appointment, advancement and pay in the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of the government service.

THAT women shall no longer be discriminated against in the foreign trade, consular and diplomatic service, but women as well as men shall represent our country in foreign lands.

THAT women shall no longer receive less pay than men for the same work, but shall receive equal compensation for equal work in public and private employment.

THAT women shall no longer be barred from the priesthood or ministry, or any position of authority in the church, but equally with men shall participate in ecclesiastical offices and dignities.

THAT a double moral standard shall no longer exist, but one code shall obtain for both men and women.

THAT exploitation of the sex of women shall no longer exist, but women shall have the same right to the control of their persons as have men.

THAT women shall no longer be discriminated against in treatment of sex diseases and in punishment of sex offenses, but men and women shall be treated in the same way for sex diseases and sex offenses.

THAT women shall no longer be deprived of the right of trial by a jury of their peers, but jury service shall be open to women as to men.

THAT women shall no longer be discriminated against in inheritance laws, but men and women shall have the same right to inherit property.

THAT the identity of the wife shall no longer be merged in that of her husband, but the wife shall retain her separate identity after marriage and be able to contract with her husband concerning the marriage relationship.

THAT a woman shall no longer be required by law or custom to assume the name of her husband upon marriage, but shall have the same right as a man to retain her own name after marriage.

THAT the wife shall no longer be considered as supported by the husband, but their mutual contribution to the family maintenance shall be recognized.

THAT the headship of the family shall no longer be in the husband alone, but shall be equally in the husband and wife.

THAT the husband shall no longer own his wife’s services, but these shall belong to her alone as in the case of any free person.

THAT the husband shall no longer own his wife’s earnings, but these shall belong to her alone.

THAT the husband shall no longer own or control his wife’s property, but it shall belong to her and be controlled by her alone.

THAT the husband shall no longer control the joint property of his wife and himself, but the husband and wife shall have equal control of their joint property.

THAT the husband shall no longer obtain divorce more easily than the wife, but the wife shall have the right to obtain divorce on the same grounds as the husband.

THAT the husband shall no longer have a greater right to make contracts than the wife, but a wife shall have equal right with her husband to make contracts.

THAT married women shall no longer be denied the right to choose their own citizenship, but shall have the same independent choice of citizenship as is possessed by their husbands.

THAT women shall no longer be discriminated against in the economic world because of marriage, but shall have the same treatment in the economic world after marriage as have men.

THAT the father shall no longer have the paramount right to the care, custody, and control of the child, to determine its education and religion, to the guardianship of its estate, and to the control of its services and earnings, but these rights shall be shared equally by the father and mother in the case of all children, whether born within or without the marriage ceremony.

THAT no form of the Common Law or Civil Law disabilities of women shall longer exist, but women shall be equal with men before the law.

IN SHORT—THAT WOMAN SHALL NO LONGER BE IN ANY FORM OF SUBJECTION TO MAN IN LAW OR IN CUSTOM, BUT SHALL IN EVERY WAY BE ON AN EQUAL PLANE IN RIGHTS, AS SHE HAS ALWAYS BEEN AND WILL CONTINUE TO BE, IN RESPONSIBILITIES AND OBLIGATIONS.

[1] http://nationalwomansparty.org/women-for-congress-the-nwps-campaign-to-elect-women-to-represent-womens-concerns/

[2] https://www.npr.org/2018/02/20/585542531/more-than-twice-as-many-women-are-running-for-congress-in-2018-compared-to-2016

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