A giant rainbow of balloons hovered high over the dais in the Omni Shoreham ball-room in Washington, D.C. Some
1,400 battle-weary but triumphant Stop ERA volunteers gathered to savor their victory when the proposed equal rights
amendment died at midnight on June 30, 1982.
Amid the clamor, a hotel security guard rushed toward the emcee, Representative Bob Dornan of California,
with urgent news: The hotel had received a phone call that a bomb had been planted in the ballroom. But the Stop
ERA revelers just had to laugh. No need to evacuate. We anticipated that a bomb threat would be the radical
feminists final insult, and police dogs had already sniffed out the room.
It was the last day of a ten-year David-and-Goliath struggle waged across America. A little band of women,
headquartered in the kitchen of my home on the bluffs of the Mississippi in Alton, Illinois, had defeated the big guns.
The odds against us could not have been greater. The ERA drew the support of presidents (Richard Nixon, Gerald
Ford, and Jimmy Carter), would-be presidents of all political stripes (from Ted Kennedy to George Wallace), all
members of Congress except eight in the Senate and 24 in the House, all the pushy women's organizations, a consortium of 35 women's magazines, and 99 percent of the media.
In March 1972, Congress sent ERA to the states for their legislatures to approve, and its ratification by the
necessary three-fourths of the 50 states seemed inevitable. But the unstoppable was stopped by our unflappable ladies
in red. They descended on state capitols wearing their octagonal STOP ERA buttons. They treated legislators to
home-baked bread. And they sweetly and persistently made their case that ERA was a fraud: It would actually take
away legal rights that women possessed, such as the right of an 18-year-old girl to be exempt from the military draft
and the right of a wife to be supported by her husband.
Pro-ERA advocates argued that women wanted absolute equality anyway. That line didn't sell in Middle
America. A noisy tax-funded national women's confab in November 1977 had showcased ERAs hidden agenda:
abortion funding and same-sex unions. The noose around ERA was tightening.
The war over these ideas included annual clashes in key states. But the decisive battle (i.e., what Midway
was to World War II) took place in Springfield, Illinois, on June 18, 1980. If we could win in this northern industrial
state, then we could triumph in pro-ERA territory, and other states might swing our way. President Carter rang up
Democratic legislators, luring votes for ERA with talk of new federal housing projects for their districts.
Back in 1978, Governor James Thompson phoned Republican legislators, reportedly promising "jobs, roads, and
bridges" for a yes vote. Later, Chicago pol rallied their lawmakers to ERAs side, allegedly under threat of seeing
their relatives and friends lose city patronage jobs. ERA supporters even offered cash bribes for votes. But in
1980, ERA failed once again.
After the votes were tallied, ABC's Nightline caught Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization
for Women, in the Illinois House gallery. "There is something very powerful out against us," she said. "And certainly
it isn't people." The Stop ERAers knew the source of their power: prayer and the truth.
ERA activists persisted in desperate tactics at that crucial statehouse. In May and June of 1982, an
excommunicated Mormon, Sonia Johnson, led a hunger strike in the rotunda, while upstairs other pro-ERAers chained
themselves to the door of the senate chamber. On June 25, ERA supporters went to a slaughterhouse, purchased
plastic bags of pigs blood, and used it to spell out the names of the legislators they hated most on the capitol's marble
floor. The lawmakers found these tactics, well, unpersuasive. Victory was sealed on June 30, 1982, and many
politicians paid tribute. But the day's heroes were the women who came from the 15 states that never ratified ERA and
from the five states that bravely rescinded their previous ratifications.
That evening, singers Bill and Prudence Fields sang the appropriate themes: "The Impossible Dream" and