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STATEMENT OF RUSSELL SMITH, LEGISLATIVE SECRETARY, NATIONAL FARMERS
UNION, TO THE HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE, REGARDING WOMEN'S STATUS BILL AND EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT, MARCH 16, 1948
There is no doubt that there is need for some form of action to give women their full place in our society. It is true that many of the olů disabilities they sustained under the common law have been discarded by changes, mainly in State laws, over a period of years, but there are still discriminations, both in law and its administration, which have no justification in this day and age. For example, in some States women still do not have equal guardianship rights with men over their children; in several States they are not free to conduct their own business without consent of their husbands. The committee will recognize the absurdity of such legal codes in the face of the fact that almost 17,000,000 women, are nongainfully employed, and that great numbers of them contribute to the support of others. There remain other grave inequities in the pay that women receive for their work, and remedial legislation is needed there.
In another field, that of civil and political status, women continue to be discriminated against in completely unjustifiable ways. In 13 States they are still unable to serve on State juries, and their right to serve on Federal juries in those same States is, under the present Federal practice, limited by their disability under State laws. Legislation to remedy this situation, as far as Federal juries are concerned, is now being proposed in both Houses of Congress, but there are still members of Congress who oppose allowing women to exercise this responsibility of citizenship. Again, our immigration laws permit special privileges to men that are not permitted to women. Men citizens may bring in their alien wives on a nonquota basis, irrespective of the date of marriage, and thus establish homes and families in the best American tradition, but an American woman who marries a foreigner must wait, sometimes years, before she can bring him into her country because he cannot come in on a nonquota basis unless the marriage took place prior to July 1932. We know that such cases are not isolated but run into several thousands, and these American women, many of them with children, are left to fend for themselves and are denied the protection and support of their husbands. Why? Because our immigration laws still retain antiquated provisions with their roots in sex discriminations.
Unfair discriminations against women exist in the Federal law and its administration and in State law. How to get rid of them is the question. What is the best way of doing it?
Progress has been hampered because of differences among women themselves. Militant groups have convinced themselves that a constitutional amendment is the answer—that it would automatically eliminate all legal distinctions between the sexes and then women would "live happily ever after." The National Farmers Union is opposed to the equal rights amendment because, in the first place, there are now many distinctions in law which take into account the fundamental differences between the sexes, that should be retained because, by their very lack of identity of treatment, they promote rather than prevent a truer equality between the sexes. Consider state minimum wage and maximum hour laws, which protect the function of motherhood through the guaranty of sufficient wages to maintain women in health and which prevent them from becoming overly fatigued through excessively long hours of work in factories and other paid employment. Consider the provisions for dependency allowances for widows with young children which also falls in the category of legislation that has a positive social value. But it does not establish identity of treatment as between men and women. Passage of an equal rights amendment would, in the judgment of eminent legal authorities, wipe out these and similar laws and thus actually burden women with disadvantages of which legislation has already relieved them. The clock of social progress would be set back.
An amendment would not automatically establish many of the "equalities" that its proponents suggest that it would. New laws would still need to be passed to clarify many situations. In effect, in relation to certain types of legislation, the same procedures would be necessary to bring about desired changes as are necessary now. In the meantime hopeless confusion in the courts would result from litigation arising out of the amendment as to continuing validity of existing legal codes. For example, in most States the legal age for marriage of women is lower than that for men. If the equal-rights amendments were passed, and if it actually "abolished" distinctive legislation based on sex, would the legal age of marriage for men by the automatic standard? Presumably it would, under the philosophy of the proponents of the amendment, because they are de
manding for women “the same treatment as for men." This would result in a positive disadvantage to women, and would be unsound on both a biological and social basis. There is no dispute as to the fact that women mature earlier than men and social practice for centuries has recognized this by establishing a younger legal marriage age for them. Are we now, in the name of "identity" going to create a social absurdity by setting a woman's marriageable age the same as a man's? Such a situation would actually postpone a woman's choice of a husband to a considerably later age, and indeed would create greater limitation on her freedom than she now has. This is even more absurd when we consider that many thousands of young women begin to earn their own living as early as 16 or 17 years of age. Surely we do not want to establish more disabilities for women than they now labor under. This is but one example, but it serves to illustrate the fallacy of an indiscriminate approach to a very complex problem,
The alternative to the amendment process, in H. R. 2007 and other identical bills in the House and Senate, contains, the National Farmers Union believes, the only solution to the problem that is vexing us. First of all, it recognizes in its statement of policy in section 1 that there are fundamental differences between men and women "in physical structure, biological and social function" and that there are reasonable differentiations that should be made in law recognizing this fact. The policy statement protects women, however, against any distinctions based on sex other than those that can be "reasonably justified." This would permit the continuation of such sound legislation as labor laws for women, and laws placing upon the father the primary obligation for the support of his children, while it would throw into the discard whatever excuses now are offered for keeping women out of jury service or for other civil disabilities unrelated to fundamental differences between the sexes. In other words, the policy as stated permits the exercise of discretion and judgment in the evaluation of present laws and their administration, rather than a blunderbus approach which would result in wrecking the good as well as the bad legal distinctions between the sexes.
The soundness of the proposals in H. R. 2007 is further demonstrated by its provision for a Commission, to be appointed by the President, to make a thoroughgoing study and review of the status of women in the United States in all its many and complex ramifications with a view to making recommendations for action that will actually establish practical equality between the sexes. Much information has already been collected and documented by various private organizations and by Government agencies, including notable studies by the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor, on the differences in present law between the status of men and women. The thorny question as to which of these differences constitute "discriminations" and which are desirable to retain in order to create a true equity for women is the real problem. It is this evaluation job that we consider the principal contribution the Commission would make. It would be composed of persons representing various points of view in this field, equipped with an appropriate technical staff, and authorized to call upon and use the facilities and resources of other Government and private agencies, with their consent, in making its investigations. In other words, this Commission will have full opportunity to learn the whole story on sex discriminations. When it completes its task, we should know, once and for all, the extent and nature of these discriminations.
Out of this knowledge and the experience of the Commission members in working together we should also get some measure of agreement and a dispassionate evaluation as to what laws and practices it is most important to change, and the relative urgency of the desirable changes. There is no real difference among women as to the ultimate objective of the kind of legislation we are discussing. All want a genuine equality with men in our civic and economic life. It is not a case of some "wanting to push women ahead” and others "wanting to keep women down.” We all want women to function as first-class citizens and to make their full contribution to our society. What we need is a meeting of minds on how this "genuine equality" is to be best and most speedily achieved. By discussion, review, and evaluation, the outstanding citizens who will undoubtedly compose the Commisison can untangle the emotional and frictional knots that are now actually preventing progress and can point the way toward changes that will produce the desired gains, and at the same time prevent us from getting involved in new absurdities that might grow out of the notion that to be treated "equally," men and women must be treated "identically."
Some immediate action can be taken in the area of Federal law, even before the Commission completes its work. Indeed, the bill requires that Federal departments and agencies make a prompt review of their regulations and practices in the light of the policy of the act and modify or repeal all such regulations or practices not in conformity with the declared policy. Prompt action in this area will reassure women as to the good faith of the Federal Government and will bring them immediate benefits within the framework of existing law.
The second most immediate action can be taken by the Congress itself in response to recommendations of the Commission as to Federal laws which need to be changed to conform with the policy of the act. Such action might include amendment of the Immigration Act, juror qualifications for Federal courts, as well as others which the Commission would discover and recommend for revision.
Moreover, section 5 urges upon the States and their subdivisions a similar review of their legal codes and practices and a similar declaration of policy. Remedy for many existing situations lies within the jurisdiction of the States and they are the appropriate units of government to provide those remedies. Some States have far fewer unfair discriminations against women than others. In those States the legislative problem would be simpler.
Finally, the National Farmers Union feels more hopeful about the possible elarification and wise and prompt adjustments in women's legal status under the proposals made in H. R. 2007 than about any program or policy yet suggested in this field. Under the realistic policy it sets up as a guide, the provision for expert and objective study, evaluation, and recommendation will result, within a comparatively short period of time, in changes that will give American women full dignity as citizens and the genuine and practical equality with men that to which they aspire. They will then be able to concentrate their energies on the discharge of their responsibilities as citizens and workers in such a way that remaining psychological prejudices against them, that are outside the reach of legal remedy, will dissolve in the warm light of true partnership with men in creating a better and more self-respecting life for all in these United States of America.
STATEMENT BY THE CONGRESS OF WOMEN'S AUXILIARIES OF THE CIO ON WOMEN'S
The Congress of Women's Auxiliaries of the CIO, one of the sponsors of this measure, declares its support for the women's status bill which is now before both Houses of Congress. The bill on the status of women is needed because it will establish a legal policy regarding equal opportunities and equal responsibilities for both sexes. We feel there is a need for a discriminating approach to the solution of the problems connected with the legal status of women. The women's status bill declares it to be the policy of the United States to make "no distinctions on the basis of sex
except such as are reasonably justified by differences in physical structure, biological or social function, or similar reasonable justification in fact.”
The misnamed equal-rights amendment would nullify the hard-won gains which protect workingwomen. It would do away with all protective legislation which covers the needs of widows and rights of wives. It is quite clear that women generally, and workingwomen particularly, need special consideration under the law to protect them against abuses.
The women's status bill would end confusion over "equal rights." It would get immediate action to clean up legal discriminations and disabilities. The bill will avoid ambiguities and abstract formulas by dealing with a highly complex problem in a systematical, realistic manner.
We wish to add our voice to the many other national women's labor and civic organizations to urge the enactment of the bill on the status of women.
President. HELEN BLANCHARD, Director of Organization.
UNITED OFFICE AND PROFESSIONAL WORKERS OF AMERICA,
New York 23, N. Y., February 14, 1948. Representative JOHN M. ROBSION,
House Judiciary Committee, Washington 25, D. C. DEAR SIR: Enclosed is a statement which our union would like to submit for the record on the women's status bill (H. R. 2007). Since it will not be possible for us to send a representative to your hearings February 18, we hope the statement will be included in the hearing records. Sincerely yours,
Secretary, UOPWA Women's Committee. STATEMENT SUBMITTED BY UNITED OFFICE AND PROFESSIONAL WORKERS OF
AMERICA, CIO, ON WOMEN'S STATUS BILL (H. R. 2007) The United Office and Professional Workers of America, CIO, represents 75,000 office and professional workers in insurance, banking, social service, screen, publishing and advertising firms, technical and commercial offices. For our members, nearly one-half of whom are women, as well as for the millions of unorganized white-collar women workers, we want to speak in support of H. R. 2007.
The UOPWA together with the CIO has always opposed the so-called equalrights amendment, which, in the name of equality for women, would actually deprive women workers of the special protections they now enjoy through legislation governing hours of work, minimum wage, working conditions, etc.
Consequently we welcome and support the joint resolution of the status of women which states it to be the legislative policy of the United States Government not to discriminate between the sexes "except on the basis of women's physical structure, biological or social function" and provides for the appointment of a Presidential commission which will recommend legislation to spell out for American women genuine equal rights as guaranteed to all Americans under our Constitution.
The fields we represent-general office work, social service, finance and insurance, publishing, radio, motion picture, advertising, and other white-collar fields in private industry-have traditionally employed large numbers of women. The majority of the administrative staffs in business of all kinds-clerks, stenographers, typists, secretaries, bookkeepers-are women. Women increasingly fill a larger number of skilled positions as research, editorial and publicity workers, as trained social-service workers, as bank tellers and statisticians, as laboratory technicians and scientific workers.
Through our union, we have consistently sought and will continue to fight to improve the condition of women in the white collar and professional fields and to correct the discrimination existing against them. Under our union agreements we have won for them equal pay for equal work, equal opportunities for employment and promotion to posts of responsibility formerly barred to them, adequate maternity leave and other improved conditions designed to protect their rights.
However, there are many additional discriminations against women as citizens which exist in every sphere of American life and are even embodied in law. These discriminations, which are only the social and legal counterparts of the economic discrimination which exists throughout business and industry, are contrary to the total interests of the American people.
Many women today, in addition to being responsible for the care of the home and the children, are of necessity heads of families and carry responsibility for a large share of the family's support. Many unmarried women not only must earn their own living, but also provide for parents, and other dependents. Anything which places legal, social, or economic handicaps upon women in meeting these problems lowers the standard of living of the entire community and threatens the security and welfare of men, women, and children.
Many economists now predict that an economic recession is inevitable within the next year or so. In times of economir stress, discrimination is accentuated; women are usually the first to be fired, to be downgraded, or forced to take on additional responsibility for the same pay. Today, when women play such a large part in the economic life of the country, the extent of the protection accorded to them against social and economic discrimination will play no inconsiderable part in the extent of the economic crisis and the swiftness of recovery.
The sole benefit of the "equal-rights amendment" is to women of property and large means who do not face the double burden of earning a living and providing for the care of children and a home. It is our opinion that discriminatory laws
now existing against women of property can be wiped out without at the same time depriving women of the middle- and lower-income groups of the gains which they have won with such difficulty in the past.
The rights of all women in our society must be guaranteed by law. We believe the joint resolution on the status of women is a positive step in this direction.
STATEMENT SUBMITTED FEBRUARY 18, 1948, BY Miss RUTH YOUNG FOR THE UNITED
ELECTRICAL, RADIO, AND MACHINE WORKERS OF AMERICA, CIO, TO A SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE ON H. R. 2007 (WOMAN'S STATUS BILL) AND THE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT
Two pieces of legislation are before this committee today—the so-called equal rights amendment to the Constitution, which would meet pressing human problems with a nebulous abstraction; and the women's status bill which meets these same problems practically and realistically. The United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of American, CIO, is opposed to the equal rights amendment and supports instead the women's status bill.
We are opposed to the equal rights amendment for the following reasons:
The amendment states: *Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the Untied States or any State on account of sex.” But this seemingly desirable statement conceals danger to the working women of the country. It will jeopardize every protective labor law for women now in force. Under this amendment employers will be quick to challenge any law which singles out women for special legislation, since such legislation is admittedly based on sex. Indeed, this danger is plain in the very words of the majority report of the House Judiciary Committee recommending the amendment. The majority report stated that such protective laws "under the guise of protecting the safety and welfare of the female sex have in fact discriminated against such sex.” If this has occurred to any significant extent, it reflects bad administration of good and necessary legislation. As a matter of fact, such protective laws not only recognized the special physical needs of women workers, but helped bring about welfare legislation of benefit to both sexes.
Others may describe to you the legal chaos which this amendment will produce in such fields as marriage laws, alimony and family-support legislation, laws on widows' pensions, to name just a few. As a labor union of 600,000 workers, onethird of them women, we are concerned most with the effect of this amendment on protective labor legislation for women-so hard won and so greatly prized by every woman who works for a living. It took major disasters like the Triangle shirt factory fire in New York City in 1911 to force recognition of the need for protective legislation for women in factories. Yet this amendment could be used as a pretext to wipe out all the gains made in the last three decades.
As the minority report of the Judiciary Committee points out, the amendment "would destroy State wage-and-hours laws for women and bring back sweatshop employment standards for thousands of unorganized women who cannot secure better standards without the protection of these laws. It would destroy essential health legislation which safeguards the health of women and prevents strains and injuries harmful to mothers and pregnant women.” Such positive achievements as laws regulating women's employment on dangerous jobs or in occupations of unusual strain, lunch and rest periods, requirements for seats in work places, for rest rooms and minimum standards of sanitation might be swept off the books. States might hesitate to enact, for example, laws regulating night work for women, since such laws could be in violation of the principle of equality.
Our union has always recognized the need for protecting women workers against discrimination, both on the job and within the union itself. Women officials in our union number in the hundreds, elected to office by the democratic vote of the membership. Our union constitution states that we unite "all workers in our industry on an industrial basis
regardless of craft, age, sex, nationality, race, creed, or political beliefs.” One of our minimum contract requirements states:
"Every contract should provide that women should not be discriminated against because of sex with respect to job opportunities, wages, hours, or other conditions of employment."
We have succeeded in incorporating such clauses, as of September 1947, in contracts which cover 583 plants having 354,000 workers in our industry.