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June 4: Equal Rights Amendment

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Leading up to the June 11 primary, we're celebrating democracy in action from North Dakota history, large and small.

In 1972, fifty-one years after it was first introduced, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment. In order to be added to the U.S. Constitution, three quarters of the states needed to ratify the amendment in their own legislatures. By 1974, thirty-three of the thirty-eight states had ratified the amendment.

The first attempt in North Dakota failed. The E-R-A as it was called stoked strong opinions about whether or not women needed a specific amendment banning discrimination by sex. Those strong opinions were expressed in towns across North Dakota.

Even after the legislature ratified the amendment, some representatives met to discuss their disapproval. At an informal community meeting, Representative Ralph Dotzenrod from Wyndmere stated his opposition, saying it should be called “The Equal Obligation Amendment.”

A high school student in Bismarck was following the debate and went with a group of friends to watch the North Dakota House vote. He recalls the day it passed:

“There was, you know, normal discussions for and against, and then one legislator stood up and said, ‘I just want to let this body know that in the Soviet Union, they have men and women as equals,’ and sat back down. And he was one of the one pushing the no vote. And then a couple of speeches happened, and then this person that we all thought was going to vote no stood up and said, ‘I cannot vote against this, because it's the right thing to do.’”

Dave Thompson went on to become news director at Prairie Public, and he credits that memorable experience of watching democracy in action for tickling his interest in political journalism.

“Well, I found it extremely interesting the way the debates were conducted, the seriousness of the debate, and then how people actually got their emotions going. Were you already thinking about becoming a political journalist at the time? Not at all.

“I wanted to go into radio. That was my whole thing, that I wanted to go on the air and play Beatles records. But when I got to college, remembering back to watching the legislature, then I kind of slowly went into radio journalism.”

The Equal Rights Amendment failed to get the three-quarter majority to become part of the U.S. Constitution. And in 2021 the North Dakota legislature rescinded its previous approval.

Dakota Datebook by Ann Alquist

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.