The ERA in South Carolina
The following information is based on research from Keller Barron, Eunice Holland, Anne Mellen, Nancy P Moore, Marjorie J Spruill, Janet Wedlock, and Lena Lee, Research Librarian, Legislative Council of the SC General Assembly.
South Carolina first considered ratification of the ERA on March 22, 1972 — the same day Congress sent the amendment to the states. The SC ERA (H.3092) was introduced as a Joint Resolution into the SC House of Representatives by Mrs. Caroline Frederick, a Republican from Greenville. On that day it passed the first and second readings, 83-0, and was ordered to a third reading. The third reading was held and passed on March 30, 1972, and the Joint Resolution was forwarded to the Senate.
The amendment was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Marion Gressette of Calhoun County, a staunch conservative and known segregationist was its’ Chair. The committee was referred to as “Gressette’s Graveyard,” where many a bill went to die, and Gressette was known to be hostile to the ERA. Unfortunately, he didn’t have to look far to garner support.
In early 1972, Phyllis Schlafly, a veteran political activist from the Republican Party’s right wing began organizing against the amendment. She published The Phyllis Schlafly Report and founded STOP ERA, where her conservative and religious fundamentalist followers could organize. She wrote and gave speeches throughout the country in opposition to the ERA. In Oklahoma, STOP ERA was successful in getting their legislators to postpone a vote and hold hearings. The bill was defeated. That success spread to other chapters across the country who put pressure on their legislatures to defeat similar bills (in 1975, STOP ERA became the Eagle Forum).
Schlafly and STOP ERA had many supporters in South Carolina, women and men primarily active in conservative political organizations and churches. Among them was Theresa Hicks who won Schlafly’s praise for filing a class action lawsuit against the South Carolina Commission on Women, claiming it inappropriately used taxpayers money to promote the ERA. Another was Irene Neuffer, head of the SC state chapter of STOP ERA, who believed in states rights and that the ERA was federal overreach. That opinion echoed Senator Gressette’s segregationist views, and he successfully stalled the ERA in committee for years.
House Democratic Representative Jean Hoefer Toal — who later become SC’s first female State Supreme Court Justice and Chief — reintroduced ERA resolutions in 1977, 1978, and 1982. In 1982, as Senator Gressette’s health was failing, the bill finally made it out of his Judiciary Committee only to die on the Senate floor.
But on December 12, 2018, ERA resolution H.3391 was filed by Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter, the longest serving legislator in the South Carolina House. On the same day, Representatives Peter McCoy and Leon Stravrinakis filed H.3340. Since the resolutions are identical, in January 2019 it was determined that H.3391 would be the resolution going forward.
And one year later, December 11, 2019, Senator Tom Davis in coordination with Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter pre-filed resolution S.901 in the SC Senate. On that day as well, the four women of the Senate — Margie Bright Matthews, Mia S. McLeod, Katrina Frye Shealy and Sandy Senn — filed S.918. Both resolutions have bipartisan support.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 interrupted any momentum we had, and the legislative session closed without any further progress (see April 2020 blog).
And yet, we persist. New ERA resolutions for the 2021-2022 legislative session have been filed in both chambers. To bring you up to date, go to Take Action.
For additional information …
South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times, Volume 3, 2013, by Barbara A. Woods, coedited by Marjorie Julian Spruill, Valinda W. Littlefield and Joan Marie Johnson
Divided We Stand, 2017, by Marjorie J. Spruill
Strom Thurmond & the ERA