Black and white image of women protesting for the Equal Rights Amendment

Champions of Equality

New York Women and the Equal Rights Amendment
Exhibition on View
Champions of Equality: New York Women and the Equal Rights Amendment
March 1 - March 29, 2024
Monday – Friday, 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Governor's Reception Room, 2nd Floor.
New York State Capitol

Black and white image of women protesting for the Equal Rights Amendment


Born out of the women’s suffrage movement, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was drafted and introduced to Congress in 1923, just three years after women gained the right to vote in the United States. Even though the amendment was introduced repeatedly, it was not until the 1960s, during the re-emergence of the Women’s Rights Movement, that groups like the National Organization for Women successfully lobbied for support across a wide spectrum of activism, including labor rights, race equality, and financial liberation, leading to bi-partisan passage of the ERA in 1972.

The road to ratifying the amendment, however, proved to be challenging.  Despite initial overwhelming public support for the ERA, opposition to the amendment gained momentum and the ERA failed to achieve ratification by a majority of states by the 1982 deadline.

The 1990s brought a new wave of activism that resurrected the ideals of the ERA accompanied by new measures designed to address its goals in areas including reproductive rights, military service, religious leadership, and affirmative action.

In commemorating the 2024 National Women’s History Month theme: “Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion,” this exhibit highlights New Yorkers who exemplify the persistence and dedication to equity and equality in their intersectional experiences and steadfast advocacy for the national Equal Rights Amendment. While the status of passing an Equal Rights Amendment remains in question in the United States, the renewed energy and activism on a national level has birthed new legislation surrounding women’s rights and gender equality. 

Gloria Steinem

(b. 1934 - )

Gloria Steinem is an activist, editor, and writer who became known in the 1960s for her sharp wit and persistent critique of male-dominated culture. A staunch supporter of the ERA, Steinem addressed Congress in 1970 in support of the amendment, fixating on the myths that perpetuate sexism and racism.

In 1972, she founded Ms. Magazine, a feminist platform that promoted female self-awareness in society and tackled controversial and political topics from a woman’s perspective.

Alongside her life’s work to level the playing fields between classes, race, and gender, Steinem has cemented her legacy as an advocate for many causes, including women’s health care, international human rights, and the LGBTQ Community.
Black and white portrait of Gloria Steinem

Crystal Eastman

(1881 - 1928)

“Now at last we can begin.”-Crystal Eastman, 1920

An early twentieth-century reformer, Crystal Eastman viewed achieving the right to vote as a stepping stone toward the greater fight for women’s rights. Alongside fellow reformer Alice Paul, Eastman co-wrote the original text for the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923. She was a life-long and outspoken advocate for women’s rights to proper reproductive healthcare and living wages.

As a lawyer, Eastman investigated labor conditions and was the first woman appointed by New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes to the State Commission on Employers’ Liability and Causes of Industrial Accidents, Unemployment and Lack of Farm Labor.

She found success as an orator, writer, and organizer. Eastman led and founded several organizations throughout her career such as the Women’s Peace Party of New York and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Black and white portrait of Crystal Eastman

Bella Abzug

(1920 - 1998)

Often referred to as “Battling Bella,” Bella Abzug was a lawyer, politician, and champion for social justice who inspired generations of women to run for public office and remain steadfast in granting equal rights to all.

In 1970, she was elected and served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. While in Congress, she was a fierce advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment. It was partly under her leadership that the amendment won the required two-thirds House votes in October 1971 to be passed onto the states.

Abzug also co-authored several other historic bills on issues such as Title IX, the Freedom of Information Act, women’s reproductive rights, improvements in child care, and the Equality Act of 1974 that provided protections for LGBTQ people.
Color portrait of Bella Abzug

Florynce Kennedy

(1916 - 2000)

“In a jockocratic society, you can turn on the TV and find out the score of some basketball game in Alaska–but you can’t find out how many states have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.”

The fight for the Equal Rights Amendment and women’s rights as a whole would have been largely impossible without broad and diverse perspectives. Black women, such as Florynce Kennedy, are at the forefront of this history.

Kennedy was trained as a lawyer but primarily worked as an activist and lecturer. Often seen as a “larger than life” personality, she was a vocal and fierce advocate against racism and sexism. She made connections to bridge people in the Black Power and feminist movements.

She co-founded organizations such as The Feminist Party in 1971, the first party to nominate Representative Shirley Chisholm for president, and the National Black Feminist Organization. It was credited to her tireless activism that New York State became the first state to legalize abortion in 1970.
Black and white portrait of Florynce Kennedy

Julie C. Suk

(b.1975 - )

Julie Chi-hye Suk wrote the first comprehensive book on the ERA and the ratification movement called "We the Women: The Unstoppable Mothers of the Equal Rights Amendment."

Born in South Korea, Suk and her family came to the United States when she was four years old and grew up in Queens, New York. Suk received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 2003 and her doctorate in politics from Oxford University. Suk is an “interdisciplinary legal scholar, focusing on women as constitution-makers at the intersection of law, history, sociology, and politics.”

Suk envisions a future national Equal Rights Amendment that:

“must speak to both the unrealized 1970s vision of the ERA as a legislative catalyst and to the gender inequality issues that are more explicitly at the forefront of the twenty-first century public attention.”
Color portrait of Julie C. Suk

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

(1933 - 2020)

From her early education to the peak of her career serving as associate justice on the United States Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s work centered on elevating women’s rights and the equality and equity she believed they deserved.

For decades before her Supreme Court appointment, Ginsburg worked within the courts to challenge existing discriminatory laws. Between 1972 and 1978, when the amendment was stalled, Ginsburg argued six cases before the Supreme Court, four of which directly challenged stereotypical notions of the roles of men and women.

Justice Ginsburg was a champion of the ERA but also believed that Congress could accomplish the principles underlying the ERA through legislation.
Official color portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Shirley Chisholm

(1924 - 2005)

In 1970, New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm took the floor to address the House of Representatives. In her speech, Chisholm clearly articulated the historical disparities between the rights of men and women in the US and called for “artificial distinctions between persons” to be “wiped out of the law.”

As the first black woman to be elected to the US Congress, she argued that the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were not enough to tamp down the ubiquitous sexism and racism that permeated so many lives, and the way forward was to amend the Constitution, which was not written with women or minorities in mind.

Chisholm believed that the Equal Rights Amendment would upend archaic rules and establish enforceable laws that guaranteed opportunities for all Americans.
Black and white portrait of Shirley Chisholm
A Future of Possibility


Since its adoption by Congress in 1972, the ERA’s path to ratification and passage has been both promising and fraught. Over the next decade, near-overwhelming support shifted dramatically in Congress and with the public, due to pressure from anti-ERA groups.

Although the passage of the amendment seemed beyond reach, the continued work of New York women, combined with advocates and groups such as N.O.W. and the National Women’s Law Center, led to the passing of historic legislation such as Title IX 
(1972), the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978), the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act (2009), and the Violence Against Women Act, Reauthorization Act (2022).

New York women have played a vital role in the history of the ERA and, in 2024, it faces a renewed spark of possibility.   Regardless of the ERA’s future, New Yorkers have always played a critical role in being leaders of social change and innovation and will continue to lead the way in advocating for equality and civil rights for all Americans.


Color image of an ERA Banner at the Women's March