Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Gary Fink

Second Advisor

John Matthews



The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), after a ten-year struggle, went down to defeat in 1982. ERA fell just three states short of the thirty-eight needed for ratification, and the fifteen nonratifying states contained a distinctive southern bloc (see Figure 1). Georgia, like its neighbors, proved inhospitable to ERA proponents.

ERA's failure has been explained in various ways. In 1979, three years before ultimate ERA defeat, Janet K. Boles published The Politics of the Equal Rights Amendment. Boles writes about the ERA debate in the states of Georgia, Illinois, and Texas in her examination of political conflict. In her study, Georgia is poorly characterized by the interest group model of well organized groups, the use of traditional lobbying techniques, and an upper middle-class bias. Instead, Georgia exemplified the community conflict model, typified by high community participation, the formation of ad hoc organizations, and an intense and ideological controversy. Mary Frances Berry's Why ERA Failed (1986) attributes ERA's demise to an intentionally difficult amendment process, regionalism, Supreme Court activism, proponent loss of focus, failure to demonstrate ERA's necessity, opponent misinformation, and a lack of national support despite overwhelming congressional approval. Donald G. Mathews and Jane Sherron de Hart, in Sex, Gender. and the Politics of ERA (1990), use North Carolina to investigate the disparate meanings of ERA. To opponents, ERA failed to conform to what U.S. Senator Sam Ervin believed were "physiological and functional differences." Alternatively, ERA proponents supported the more abstract principles of "equality, justice, liberty, [and] individual rights.”

Perhaps Numan Bartley provides the most compelling explanation for Georgia’s failure to ratify the ERA in The Creation of Modern Georgia (1983). Bartley correlates Georgia’s cultural traditions with its economic and political evolution. According to Bartley, Georgia’s antebellum plantation economy and its attendant paternalistic and hierarchical foundation remailed dominant well into the early twentieth century, and small-town elites filled the paternalistic roles of the plantation predecessors. When manufacturing expanded in Georgia, it did so within the prevailing social order. That social order, dominated by the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s, created the climate in which the male-dominated legislature rejected ERA.

The hypothesis examined in this study is that traditional explanations for the failure of ERA give inadequate attention to the culture in which southern legislatures defeated ERA. Many of Georgia's deep-South legislators opposed gender equity or relinquishing political power to a federal government which had imposed desegregation and busing. Other lawmakers considered ERA an expendable issue and used it as barter in Georgia's old boy political network. Another group, grounded in southern gentility, cited assertive or "unladylike" tactics by ERA proponents to justify their opposition.

Proponent groups also operated within the constraints imposed by southern culture. Disagreement over tactics by some of Georgia's feminists reflected their concern with the perception of "unladylike" behavior or national feminist speakers. With virtually no women in the Georgia legislature, ERA proponents further suffered as ERA frequently endured unenthusiastic male sponsorship. Many lawmakers gave advice, but few men in the legislature willingly expended political capital for a controversial cause.


File Upload Confirmation