Texas Equal Rights Amendment

By: Sherilyn Brandenstein

Type: General Entry

Published: February 1, 1996

Updated: March 31, 2021

The amendment to the Texas constitution granting women and men equal legal rights resulted from a fifteen-year campaign spearheaded by the Texas Federation of Business and Professional Women. In 1957, the B&PW sent attorney Hermine D. Tobolowsky of Dallas to a Texas Senate committee hearing to testify for a bill authorizing married women to control property separately from their husbands. When some senators responded to her testimony with amusement, she determined to involve the B&PW in campaigning for a constitutional amendment to ensure that women gained the legal rights Texas men had, rather than seeking changes in individual laws. At its 1957 convention, the Texas federation accepted Tobolowsky's offer to document the need for the amendment and pledged to fund efforts for its passage. Between 1957 and 1959, she and several federation leaders toured the state stumping for the amendment. In 1959, they had it introduced in the Texas Senate and House as the Texas Equal Legal Rights Amendment. It did not come to a vote in either chamber. Lt. Governor Ben Ramsey argued that women in his region preferred the protection of existing Texas laws to the equality authorized by the proposed amendment. By the next legislative session the B&PW had coordinated a campaign of national media interviews, speaking engagements in Texas, and coalitions with influential women's groups. Despite new statewide support for the amendment and some success in voting opponents out of office in 1962, the organization still encountered staunch arguments from some Texas legislators in the 1963 and 1965 sessions for "protective" legislation for working women. The amendment failed to pass. The State Bar of Texas entered the controversy after 1965 by promoting a law granting women rights to own and manage property independently from their husbands and another making the spousal duty of support reciprocal. The association assumed that passage of the new Family Code, which included these and related proposals, would prevent the need for a constitutional amendment. The code passed in the 1967 session, but the women reintroduced their proposed amendment anyway (see Matrimonial Property Act of 1967). The ELRA gained passage in the Senate, but House members voted it down by a slim margin.

When the Texas Legislature met in 1969, the proposed Texas Equal Rights Amendment received ready support in the Senate. However, Gus Mutscher, the new speaker of the House, refused to let it out of committee. The next year, the introduction of the federal equal rights amendment in Congress gave the state measure greater credibility. More importantly, the B&PW hired a lobbyist, a friend of Mutscher, for the 1971 legislative session, particularly to guide the amendment through the Texas House. This strategy, along with new women legislators' assistance, paid off. The state ERA was passed first in the Senate, then in the House. The Texas B&PW campaigned before the ratification election in November 1972. Groups as varied as the Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Association of University Women endorsed ratification. Meanwhile, Congress passed the 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act and a federal equal rights amendment, the latter of which was ratified by the Texas legislature in a special session in March 1972. Texas voters endorsed the state equal rights amendment in November 1972. A few months later, women legislators employed the new amendment in preparing several laws to halt discriminatory practices. Successful bills included one prohibiting sex-based discrimination in processing loan and credit applications and another disallowing husbands from abandoning and selling homesteads without their wives' consent. In 1974, Texas attorney general John Hill cited the Texas ERA when he struck down laws restricting the hours women could work, except in instances where they consented to such restrictions, since this benefit was denied male employees. During the 1975 legislative session, a statewide coalition of women's organizations returned to lobby the legislature when ERA opposition groups tried to have the Texas ERA rescinded. Pro-ERA legislators prevented the anti-ERA resolution from being introduced.

In 1983, the Texas Women's Political Caucus reported that the Legislative Council had evaluated and revised Texas laws concerning human resources, natural resources, penal procedures, probate and tax policies, and some aspects of family relations to meet federal and state requirements, including the Texas ERA. The caucus stated that the Texas legislature had eliminated or was preparing to change most sex-specific language in Texas statutes, but that many state agency regulations had not yet been reviewed. Efforts to alter sex-based inequities in insurance regulations and wages continued at a slow pace during the economic recession of the 1990s.

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Judie Gammage, Quest for Equality: An Historical Overview of Women's Rights Activism in Texas, 1890–1975 (Ph.D. dissertation, North Texas State University, 1982). Rodric B. Schoen, "The Texas ERA after the First Decade: Judicial Developments, 1978–1982," Houston Law Review 20 (October 1983). Texas Women's Political Times, Spring 1983.

  • Women
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Sherilyn Brandenstein, “Texas Equal Rights Amendment,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-equal-rights-amendment.

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February 1, 1996
March 31, 2021

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