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A Simple Matter of Justice (1978)
Keller Barron
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  • Highlights
    Actress Jean Stapleton reviews the latest episode of All in the Family with the cast and crew
    Stapleton's co-star, Carroll O'Connor
    Actress Sally Struthers
    The women's movement begins with the fight for suffrage
    Keller Bumgardner, a delegate from South Carolina
    Carole Sheahan, parliamentarian of the Florida delegation
    Roberta Johnson, a delegate from Illinois
    Laura "Tibbie" Roberts, leader of the group representing the United Methodists Church and a delegate from North Carolina
    Jill Ruckelshaus, a member of the 1976 IWY Commission, leads an opening pledge
    Bella Abzug, a former congresswoman and the presiding officer of the 1977 IWY Commission
    Exhibits on display in the neighboring Albert Thomas Convention Center. In addition to official proceedings, the conference also organized programming that was free and open to the public. Dubbed Seneca Falls South in honor of the first women's conference, the program included 200 exhibits, 26 skills clinics and workshops, and the "Briefings from the Top" lecture series featuring prominent women in government.
    The struggle for equal pay
    The conversation turns to the Equal Rights Amendment
    Congresswoman Barbara Jordan delivers the keynote address
    Jordan shakes hands with First Lady Rosalynn Carter and former First Ladies Betty Ford and Lady Bird Johnson before receiving an embrace from Coretta Scott King
    Rosalynn Carter expresses her support for the ERA at the Equal Rights Amendment Ratification Assembly, a pre-conference organized by ERAmerica. To the left of Carter is Liz Carpenter, former press secretary to First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. Carpenter was a charter member of the National Women's Political Caucus and national co-chair of ERAmerica. 
    Betty Friedan
    Opponents to the Equal Rights Amendment, including Phylllis Schlafly
    Ruckelshaus underlines the simple guarantee of the ERA
    Members of the conservative IWY Citizen's Review Committee turned out en masse to state and territorial meetings, hoping to influence recommendations and win inclusion among delegations. After securing only 20 percent of the delegate seats, the opposition decided to host the Pro-Life, Pro-Family Rally in Houston on the same weekend as the National Women's Conference. Similar to the conference's National Plan of Action, the rally prepared a Request to the President and Congress with resolutions against reproductive freedom, the ERA, and LGBTQ rights. 
    Delegates debate the ERA on the conference floor
    Susan B. Anthony, grandniece of the suffragette, shares her support for the ERA resolution
    Commissioner Mary Anne Krupsak, the lieutenant governor of New York, presides over the enthusiastic vote to adopt the resolution. Delegates adopted the resolution by a standing vote of approximately five to one, prompting singing and dancing to break out in the aisles.
    Stapleton reflects on her experience with her roommate, Bernice Baer, a delegate-at-large from Washington, DC
  • Transcript
    TV PRODUCER: All right. Quiet down. Quiet in the control room. We're rolling for playback.
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): Our cast and crew end their work week on Friday night, viewing the tape of the show we just finished.
    On the weekend of November 18, 1977, I had more than All in the Family on my mind. As a national commissioner appointed by the President of the United States, I was going to Houston, Texas, for the National Women's Conference. There, there would be no script, and we wouldn't know the outcome beforehand. As I left the studio in Hollywood I felt apprehensive and excited. There had never been a National Women's Conference. For the first time in our history, thousands of women would meet together to debate the issues that could change our lives. I just had time to catch the last night flight to Houston for Saturday morning's rehearsal—a reading of the declaration of American women. This would open the first working session of the conference.
    JEAN STAPLETON: For the first time in the more than 200 years of our democracy, we are gathered in a National Women's Conference ... We pledge with all the strengths of our dedication to form a more perfect union.
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): Relay teams carried this torch 2600 miles from Seneca Falls, New York. There, in 1848, the first women's rights convention was held. This torch is a symbol of the struggle for women's rights. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe I'd be part of history, but there I was. What a wonderful feeling.
    The women's rights movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for the most part fought for the right to vote. Women marched, demonstrated, and many even went to jail. In 1920, the suffrage amendment was finally passed, and we got the right to vote. Some thought the struggle was over, but it was only the first step in the fight for equality.
    On November 18, 1977, more than 14,000 people came to Houston for the National Women's Conference. This conference was mandated in 1975 by a presidential order to deal with the inequities women face in American society. These delegates were elected in each of the 50 states and six US territories. They represent all women—white, black, Hispanic American, Native American, and Asian American. Their job, vote on a National Plan of Action to present to the President and Congress in 1978.
    At the conference I met four very special women. Keller Bumgardner from South Carolina is with the League of Women Voters. She's a homemaker, and has four teenage children.
    KELLER BUMGARDNER: My children are very independent. And one time I thought, "I really can't go to that meeting," and my daughter said, "Why don't you go? We do what we want to do. Why don't you do what you want to do?"
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): Carole Sheahan is the parliamentarian of the Florida delegation. She became involved in the women's movement through her work as a union organizer for the Communications Workers for America.
    CAROLE SHEAHAN: I guess you can say my whole life's been just like a social worker, where you help people. I mean, labor isn't just getting the company to follow a contract, to get into all the personal problems—which includes abortion, divorces, their husbands baiting them, they need money. Just every problem in the world is in the labor movement.
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): Roberta Johnson is from Illinois. She has two children in college, and is the treasurer of Housewives for ERA.
    ROBERTA JOHNSON: Homemakers need equal rights. We're not asking that we have our husband's wages, we're only asking that we be given partnership in the marriage, so that we're given credit for the non-monetary contributions which we make to the family.
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): Tibbie Roberts, a leader of the United Methodist Church women, lives in North Carolina. One of her prime concerns: human rights.
    TIBBIE ROBERTS: Well, I'm 63 years old. The grandmother of 10 grandchildren, five boys and five girls. I feel that it's very important that everybody has opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential. And I feel with this inequality, men and women have both been blocked from fulfilling that potential.
    JILL RUCKELSHAUS: Will you follow me? We are here, America. At last. To move history forward for women. With love, we will listen. With wisdom, we will decide. Will vision and courage, we will seek equality and justice for all. And this time, America, we will not be denied.
    BELLA ABZUG: Let the sun of freedom shine in on our deliberations. And let us celebrate womanhood. And let us celebrate democracy. And let us celebrate women power. And let us make this conference the beginning of a stage in our quest for making democracy the thing it should be, and it should have been 200 years ago. We have that charge, we will make that charge work. This is the time that we will make sure women and men share equally in the greatness of America. Thank you very, very much.
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): On the convention floor, the essential business was voting on the National Plan of Action.
    MARY ANN KRUPSAK: The chair will make a further announcement while the delegates are taking their chairs. We are prepared to move this Plan of Action forward. Please, will the delegates,establish some order in the house.
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): But there was more to the weekend in Houston. In another building across the street, volunteers from 50 states and six US territories had worked all through the night to install booths, which showed what women from Hawaii to New Jersey to Alaska are doing about social and economic issues. There was much to see and do. We couldn't be everywhere, but we had help. Reporting every event was the feminist newspaper, Breakthrough . The paper usually comes out once a month, but the conference was a special time, and editor Janice Blue geared up for the occasion.
    JANICE BLUE: With the Women's Conference coming to Houston, we printed 30,000 copies daily. We raised all our advertising revenue to pay for the paper so that we could distribute it free of cost to the delegates. Really the responsibility the women's press to go into, in depth, the issues that are really neglected or ignored by the major media.
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): Women stood in line to register for the more than 50 workshops and informal discussion groups where they talk to each other on a wide range of topics.
    DELEGATE 1: This particular workshop was about learning a little bit more assertive, communicating your thoughts and what you want to get over other people.
    DELEGATE 2: In New York, we have a shelter for battered women, and it's called a sensitive elimination of violence in the family. Our knowledge of the need arise when the many women on our staff tell us about their home situation.
    DELEGATE 3: I want to share with you that men shake hands—I learned from other men—to salute each other, to recognize their accomplishments. And whenever someone gets a promotion, they immediately do that. Yeah. I think that helps women to know why men do some of the things they do, if we'll ever learn.
    DELEGATE 4: What we're doing is we're representing women who are in traditionally male job roles.  That they know what it's like to do men's jobs. 
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): Women do know how it feels to work both the jobs that have been ours by tradition and ones which haven't. Then, like now, women worked because of economic necessity. World War I brought both men and women into the armed forces. Because most of the men were overseas, the women left at home had to do what tradition called "men's work." As time went by with more awareness gained on the job, demands for equal pay for equal work were heard. The movement had many historic turning points, but for most—like Tibbie Roberts—a personal moment led to action.
    TIBBIE ROBERTS: I was married in 1933, and I went to the bank and said, "You know, with the cost of living, if I want to work, I'm going to have to have more money. Or else I'm gonna have to do something else." And so, they were not too pleased or interested in it, and so I resigned. And a young boy took my place in the bank, who had just graduated from college, had no banking experience, and they paid him 25 percent more than I was getting. And that really hits you.
    CAROLE SHEAHAN: And I remember when I was a little kid—tell you, read a book. And Bill, fix the motor. And then Jane tripped and fell, you know. And I realized, all this kind of hit home, and I thought, "Oh my God, I should be a part of this."
    KELLER BUMGARDNER: And I said to him, I said, "You know, I cook dinner, and I wash the dishes. You cook dinner, and I wash the dishes." You know, I mean you've really got to figure that out.
    ROBERTA JOHNSON: Then my dad died. And my mother had to pay inheritance tax. She says, "That's not fair." I thought, "It isn't fair." And I began to wonder a little bit.
    JEAN STAPLETON: See it brings up a point that this movement and this conference is about all women. It's about woman, and we we experience all these roles in our lives, so we're not just a bunch of—
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): At breakfast, my four new friends and I talked about our lives, our families, and our work.
    KELLER BUMGARDNER: Do you have children?
    JEAN STAPLETON: Yes, I have two. They're teenagers now. And I spend a lot of time at home. Actresses are often out of work, so I combined it very nicely—homemaking and my career.
    KELLER BUMGARDNER: I think even pushing our husbands into being fathers as well as career men is important. You know they say to a woman, "Well how can you work and be a mother?" And they never say to a man, "How can you work and be a father?"
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): Our conversation then turned to a very important part of our lives: the Equal Rights Amendment.
    TIBBIE ROBERTS: The amendment has nothing to do with personal relationships. It's just a law. And if you want to be submissive or subject to your husband, bow down and put him on a pedestal, feed him breakfast in bed, whatever you want to do, that's a personal privilege. And so really there's just no conflict. So, as far as your religious faith, if you feel this is a part of your biblical and theological faith, then that's fine. That's no reason not to support the Equal Rights Amendment.
    ROBERTA JOHNSON: The same argument from people from other states, who write to Housewives for ERA, and they say, "Oh, well our state's already ratified it." We say, "Yes, but we need your support so we can have someone from every state, because if we don't ratify, you're going down the drain too."
    CAROLE SHEAHAN: Problems, Lord. Everybody's been— We had the march in 1974, and then we kind of slacked off a little bit, you know, we didn't want to try to be too militant about it. And I think that's a mistake.
    KELLER BUMGARDER: Because women are ready, just like women everywhere, to be in the Constitution, to be a part of the Constitution, and to say that we should not be discriminated against or have anything different about us just because of our sex.
    BARBARA JORDAN: American history is peppered with efforts by women to be recognized as human beings and as citizens and to be included in the whole of our national life. This conference is one more effort on the part of women for total recognition and total inclusion. So success or failure of this conference is our responsibility. The cause of people and human rights will reap what is sown November 18 through November 21, 1977. What will you reap? What will you sow?
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): Barbara Jordan's keynote address made me proud to be a woman in America today. The thousands of women here—along with Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, and Coretta King—were working within the political system to gain something we all believe in: equality for women in our society.
    PROTESTER: The men are basically designed to lead. The women are designed as a help to the man.
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): Outside the convention hall, people demonstrated against the Equal Rights Amendment. ERA was one of the most emotional and hotly debated issues we faced. Here, in the meeting sponsored by ERAmerica, we heard from those in favor of it, including First Lady Rosalynn Carter.
    ROSALYNN CARTER: In my view, our message from Houston to the women of our country must be short and simple. We should say to those who are wavering, to those who are ill informed, to those who are confused because of shrill voices, we should say to them that when you think of the Equal Rights Amendment, think about yourself. Equal legal protection, equal legal opportunities are the basis of our democracy and of our quality of life. These rights are long overdue. Thank you very much.
    BETTY FRIEDAN: Today, my daughter said to me this summer, "I'm not a feminist. I'm a person." And I said, "Well, good." But then I thought about it, and I felt some pain and I felt some worry. And in these 16 cities, I've been talking to daughters like that in the law schools getting the MBAs, in the medical school, that's where my daughter is. And I said, "Look, you're here because of your exceptional ability. You think you're here because of the largess of IBM, or of the medical school. You are here because we fought 15 years for equality. And now it's time for you to pay your dues. Pay your dues!"
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): ERA goes back to the early part of this century. The National Women's Party, under the leadership of Alice Paul, introduced it in Congress in 1923. There was opposition then and there's opposition now. One of the most vocal opponents of the seventies is Phyllis Schlafly.
    PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: I do see in ERA a takeaway of the homemakers' right, because under the Equal Rights Amendment you could no longer have any law which says the husband must support his wife. And there are today 40 million wives who are being supported by their husbands.
    REPORTER: Do you think [unintelligible] would walk out if it's passed?
    PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: Most of them wouldn't, but I'll tell you what it does mean. I think it would mean that when those homemakers realize that they no longer have the right to be supported, that they will food into the workforce at a tremendous rate. And what if only a fourth, or a third, or a half of those 40 million homemakers go into the job force? We have the highest unemployment now that we've had in many years. Where are all those jobs? I really think that the people in the workforce out to thank me every day of the year for encouraging those 40 million wives to stay in the homes.
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): Jill Ruckelshaus disagrees.
    JILL RUCKELSHAUS: Let's try to keep it as simple as we can. The Equal Rights Amendment is a very short and simple and easily understood statement. It says, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or by any state, on account of sex." That's so simple. It will not force women out of their homes into the job market. I don't believe that men are going to leave their families because of the Equal Rights Amendment. Those things have never happened in the states that have already passed a statewide ERA. Women are still staying at home, if they choose to, or going to work, if they choose to. The ERA has no impact on that. It's important not to let the Equal Rights Amendment and it's very simple guarantee of equality of rights under law get mixed up with all the other issues. The people who are against the ERA like to entwine it with abortion rights and homosexual rights and unisex toilets. ERA has nothing at all to do with those questions. Those are separate issues that have to be dealt with in some separate time, but they have nothing to do with the Equal Rights Amendment.
    PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: Now the resolutions that they will pass are obvious. They're all in their National Plan of Action. They've been passed by most of the state legislatures, and their main goals are ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment; abortion on demand and funded by the government; federal childcare, bringing the federal government in a major way into the handling of child care; lesbian privileges, to allow lesbians and homosexuals to adopt children, to teach in the school; reverse discrimination, to get women in the jobs in place of men who are better qualified; and so on. And we think that these goals do not represent what the American women want.
    DELEGATE 5: Do I look like I will be a lesbian, or that I would be a home wrecker? I'm a widow. I've been a widow for 22 years. I'm an accountant I have my own office, and I've had to make my way. I'm here because women deserve their rights, and we've been disregarded under the Constitution 200 years too long.
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): ERA was talked about everywhere. To become part of the Constitution, it must be ratified by 38 states by March of '79. At conference time, it was three states short. Part of the argument, states rights.
    DELEGATE 6: Anything that is wrong could certainly be taken to the states. When these laws were made, I'm sure these wonderful husbands and brothers and fathers made them for the benefit of women, not to hurt them. And if we are more free today, we could certainly change them through our states. We don't have to have a federal government to do this.
    CAROLE SHEAHAN: Those laws are just temporary, but they could be voted off the books tomorrow morning. With a permanent constitutional law, such as ERA, there would be no need for those laws.
    DELEGATE 7: I think it will make it easy for the women to get out and work and not take care of the family. Sure, that would be fine if I had someone to take care of my kids. I could just go drop them off, but I think the kids need more than that to grow up in a society.
    ROBERTA JOHNSON: Everyone says the housewife is important, well of course she has status, and of course, she's doing an important job, and motherhood is important. Except when you come right down to the realities of economic security. The housewife really doesn't have. Someone who sells Avon and has quarters of Social Security has a much better pension plan or disability than a housewife. A housewife cannot be covered for disability.
    DELEGATE 8: I feel like that God put man as the head of his family. And I don't feel like it's my place to take that right away from him.
    KELLER BUMGARDNER: When we drove in from the airport this morning, our bus driver was a woman. This is marvelous! You know, she's handling the baggage, doing the whole bit. But this didn't happen because of the Equal Rights Amendment. But that many things have happened because of a great sensitivity and because of the agitation for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. But when we finally get it, we may realize we don't need it. But we may not need it on a statutory base, but we'll always need it as a constitutional guarantee. That's, whereas before, that's really the bottom line. And I want to be in the conversation.
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): Those opposed to ERA held a number of press conferences and meetings. When the ERA resolution came up for a vote on the conference floor, they again voiced their opposition.
    DELEGATE 9: I wish to make a substitute amendment. Whereas existing federal laws guarantee equality of opportunity in all areas, such as employment, education, and credit, and whereas a strict constitutional amendment requiring equality between the sexes at all times does not respect the differences between male and female, whereas the proposed Equal Rights Amendment will transfer enormous new powers from the states to the federal government, therefore be it resolved that we oppose the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): A descendent and namesake of one of the founders of the women's movement spoke.
    SUSAN B. ANTHONY: My name is Susan B. Anthony, and I feel and I felt that this magnificent conference, that her benign spirit was hovering over this great convention, and that this Equal Rights Amendment is the fulfillment of her lifetime's work. And that we will go on to ratification, approving it here and approving it in the last three states, knowing that failure is impossible.
    CLAIRE RANDALL: Madam Chairperson, I move the adoption of the following resolution: the Equal Rights Amendment should be ratified.
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): After much debate, the vote was called.
    MARY ANNE KRUPSAK: The question arises on the adoption of resolution. All those in favor, will you please rise?
    JEAN STAPLETON (VOICE OVER): The resolution was overwhelmingly passed. But for ERA to be in the Constitution, it must be ratified by state legislatures. There is still much work to be done.
    Bernice Behar was my roommate in Houston. On our last night there, we reflected and wound down from our extraordinary experience.
    JEAN STAPLETON: Bernice, you want something to eat or drink before you go to bed?
    BERNICE BEHAR: I would absolutely love it, Jean.
    JEAN STAPLETON: Wait a minute. I can't hear you when the water's running. Bernice, you know what I was thinking today. I was thinking how Eleanor Roosevelt would have loved to have been here at this conference. Boy, you know, she did say once, "I know that someday women will get together and talk like sisters." She said, "I won't live to say it, but I know it will come." And that day did come.