In my reading of Nixon’s Civil Rights, Dean Kotlowski talks about Richard Nixon’s stance on the Equal Rights Amendment. Phyllis Schlafly’s concern about the amendment was that it would remove gender distinctions from the law and thus invalidate legal protections that women enjoyed—-in the workplace, in alimony, etc. I have read some feminists assert that Schlafly was merely attacking straw-people, but the information that Kotlowski presents demonstrates that the sort of concern that Schlafly had was shared by others, as far back as the 1950’s, when an amendment was added to the ERA to safeguard the protections that women enjoyed. The concern was also shared by William Renqhuist, some liberals, some conservatives, and even Richard Nixon, a lawyer, who had a record of tepid support for the ERA. But Nixon decided to support the ERA more firmly after his daughter and his wife persuaded him to do so. My impression from Kotlowski’s narrative, however, is that Nixon didn’t follow through on this, and that was a contributing factor behind the Amendment’s defeat.
While Kotlowski confirms that others held the sorts of concerns that Schlafly had, he also states that some of the arguments of ERA opponents were “moot” (page 236). Nixon was making the army all-volunteer, which meant that the fear that women would be drafted was unfounded. Kotlowski also states that “the Supreme Court could leave political issues such as the draft or alimony to Congress”. Schlafly would probably argue, however, that, if the ERA were enacted, it would take precedence over anything that Congress would decide, and thus alimony laws favoring women would be invalidated.
On the issue of protections for women, I was surprised and not surprised by what many of them were. On page 229, Kotlowski states: “Some state laws prohibited female employment in places ranging from mines to shoeshine parlors to poolrooms, while others forbade women workers from cleaning moving machinery, serving alcohol, or lifting heavy objects.” I can understand the law about lifting heavy objects. But the one against women serving alcohol? Or working in shoeshine parlors?