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in the welfare of children, interested in women to the utmost, all women, whether they be working women or homemakers, may I urge your committee because of the ethics involved in this, and because it can in no way jeopardize the condition of any of us who need protection, that you report this bill out promptly so that it can be presented to the House and can be presented to the Senate.
Speaking for New Jersey, which has recently adopted a constitution declaring the equality of women, adopted just this fall, I am sure that we will be happy to be one of the first States to ratify the amendment. May we request that we have that privilege?
Mr. CHADWICK. Judge, could you favor us with a copy of the section of the provision of your State constitution which achieves this end?
Mrs. Sachar. I shall be glad to furnish it.
Mr. CHADWICK. I asked for a copy of that provision that would accomplish this purpose.
Mrs. MILLER. It is here. Mr. CHADWICK. Is it short? Can it be read into the record ? Mrs. MILLER (reading): Whenever in this constitution the term “person, persons, people," or any personal pronoun is used, the same shall be taken to include both sexes.
Mrs. SACHAR. Mr. Chairman, if I may interrupt at this point, we have had no decision with regard to this constitution as yet. Those of us who were instrumental in putting it through, and I may say that I was one of those, feel that it does not go far enough to solve the problem of women in our national life because the cases of the Supreme Court which have stated that women are not persons under the Federal Constitution may carry us back to the common law, and for that reason we are not quite sure that this particular provision put into law in the Federal Government would have the same effect.
Mr. CHADWICK. Thank you. Mrs. Miller. We will now hear from another distinguished lawyer, Mrs. Burnita Shelton Matthews, chairman of the committee on the legal status of women of the National Association of Women Lawyers; member of the District of Columbia bar and the Mississippi bar and of the bar of the Supreme Court.
STATEMENT OF BURNITA SHELTON MATTHEWS, ATTORNEY AT
LAW; CHAIRMAN, COMMITTEE ON THE LEGAL STATUS OF WOMEN OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF WOMEN LAWYERS, WASHINGTON, D. C.
Mrs. MATTHEWs. May it please the committee, the National Association of Women Lawyers favors the proposed amendment to the United States Constitution declaring that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.
The association approved the amendment at the annual meeting in Los
Angeles in 1935, since the revision of the amendment, it has approved it at a subsequent annual meeting.
It is my purpose to comment on some of the arguments usually advanced against the equal rights amendment. One such argument is that the amendment does not define equality of rights. The Constitution is the charter of our liberties and necessarily deals in general language. Were that not so it would not serve the horse and buggy era and the era of the airplane equally well. There is no definition in the Constitution of general welfare nor of equal protection nor of liberty. Even in colonial times, Patrick Henry was understood and did not have to define liberty when on a momentous occasion he asked for liberty or death.
Another argument advanced against the amendment is that it would interfere with labor laws for women. For the last 20 years the National Association of Women Lawyers has consistently maintained that labor regulations should be based on the nature of the work and not the sex of the worker. The association feels that the women who blaze the trail for the mass of women to follow must not be impeded if women are eventually to obtain their places in the sun. The amendment would not prevent labor legislation but would require that it apply to workers irrespective of sex. The National Association of Women Lawyers is of the opinion that it will benefit women to be free of special restrictions on their employment. Special restrictions applying only to women's employment place women at an economic disadvantage especially in hard times. For example, we have seen Harvard University discharge her scrubwomen after years of faithful service and get men to scrub the floors in their places because the men could and did work for less than the minimum wage set for women. Now, suppose you gentlemen had taken up scrubbing for a career and you had scrubbed for 33 years, longer than the head of the university and most of the professors, and then just before Christmas you get a notice that you were losing your scrubbing job after 33 years because the university did not want to pay the minimum wage. We have seen women in Oregon canneries plead with the State welfare commission there to reduce the minimum wage set for them so as to enable them to compete with boys and men for employment. We have seen that women in New York rise to desirable positions in the printing trades only to be ousted from their well-paid jobs by the passage of a law prohibiting women from working at night and thus making it impossible for them to take night shifts and to conform to established seniority rules. And so it is that we feel that the field is fairest when labor laws apply to all workers.
Now it may be said that on account of the physical condition of women that you must have special labor laws for women. do not have the same physical constitution. There are some men who are strong and some men who are weak. And there are some women who are strong and some women who are weak.
We feel the laws regulating labor should apply to both men and women workers. There are a great many State loirs already in force pretaining to labor standards which apply to both men and women. The National Fair Labor Standards Act applies equally to men and women workers. I do not think anyone would deny that the trend is toward labor legislation applicable without discrimination to all work
ers in specified employment. The amendment would require changes where necessary to equalize standards for men and women workers.
It is also argued that under the equal-rights amendment the laws regarding the support of the family would be adversely affected. Few people realize the considerable extent to which existing laws go in placing the obligation of family support on both husband and wife. As far back as 1923 or 1924, I had occasion to look up the laws of different States that had to do with criminal nonsupport of children and I found at that time that the majority of the States make the mother as well as he father criminally liable when they desert a child that is in need of support and fail to support it, and also the trend in that direction is definitely toward imposing the support obligation upon them both.
There was a decision in Illinois a short time ago which said that the mother is equally responsible with the father for the support of children.
Of course, we all understand what the background is of support. We know that under the common law that the husband owned everything, the wife's services and her earnings belonged to him and although he said at the time of the ceremony, "With all my worldly goods I thee endow," as a matter of fact, she endowed him with everything she owned. She was left nothing but the bare, naked title to her real estate.
So it is that this support obligation was placed upon the husband. At the present time, the question of support has been taken care of in this way: That in the majority of the States the woman already has a support obligation. Many of the State laws declare something like this: Husband and wife owe each other the fidelity, support, and assist ance—many of the States specifically declare that the expenses of the family are chargeable upon the property of the husband and wife and that both may be required to pay it, whoever has it is to pay it.
In one case the Supreme Court of Iowa held that the diamond stud of the husband might be a proper expense, family expense.
One-third of the States require the wife to pay alimony. What the courts do in these cases where they have a law that calls for support being given, they consider the ability and the needs of the parties and they make an award accordingly.
In some places, in New Hampshire, for instance, they have had a law for a long time that said if a woman deserted her husband that she could get a jail sentence for it or she might be fined, and the court, if it wished to, could apply the fine to her husband's support. This is not something that women have gone around to the legislatures and gotten them to pass, but something that has been law for a long time.
This carries out the equal-rights doctrine already so far under way in this country. It has also been said that the amendment would make women liable for military duty.
Now, at the present time, the power exists to draft women for service in wartime. Recently, before a House subcommittee, General Eisenhower said of women: “I am convinced that in another war they will have to be drafted just like the men."
Then Secretary Forrestal stressed that preparedness required trained skeleton staffs as a basis for wartime expansion and he added, "Unless there is such a nucleus of women in the regular services there will be no springboard from which to launch a mobilization program for women.
For the past 20 years, at different times, they have had proposals before Congress to draft all the citizens in wartime. Now, despite the fact that men now are subject to draft, everybody knows that all men do not see the same service. Some of them are in combat and some of them are in other fields of the service; but they are supposed to be placed where they will do the most good, and it is the same thing of women. They would be placed where they could serve the country best.
Opponents of the equal-rights amendment tell us that the best plan is to have specific bills for specific ills and they indicate that piecemeal legislation would avoid confusion. Now, I would like to say in the first place, specific bills take an endless amount of time. We have been already asking for 100 years for specific bills for specific ills. They started this program way back in the year 1848 and this summer it will be exactly 100 years since they have started.
I, for one, have had quite a bit of experience in trying to get specific bills for specific ills and I know that it is surprising the amount of time that it does take and even when you get the bills, the specific bills, if you do get them, they are insecure. For instance, in the State of Virginia, women worked for a number of years to try to get equal guardianship of minor children and they did get it. But when they were not observing, the revision of the code was made and adopted by the legislature and revised this law out of existence.
In the State of Nevada, they passed a law at one time dealing with the community-property system that gave women a greater degree of equality in the community-property laws. Well, after that had been enforced for a little time, they repealed it and under the law of Nevada today the husband is the head and master of the community and he may dispose of the real estate of the community, the community property which is the property of both husband and wife without her consent or joinder in the deed.
There was at one time a Senator from Nevada and he gave an opera house in Nevada to the citizens of a town, and his wife who, of course, presumably under the law was supposed to be half owner of this opera house, did not wish to give it, but the court sustained his right to give away this opera house which was a part of the community. That is the property of both the husband and wife and as I say, that is an instance of the insecurity of State legislation. They get one thing at one session of the legislature and at a subsequent session may take it away.
And in the third place, specific bills do not avoid confusion. We know that when a statute is passed which is in derogation of common law, that it is to be construed strictly and you have all these inunmerable laws all over the country to interpret.
Beck, in his very good book on the Constitution of the United States, says that the admiration with which the world has always regarded the Constitution of the United States should also be given to a people who had sufficient genius for Government to create it and make it workable; that there can be no successful constitution for any people unless it has a deep and vital sense of constitutional morality, and its essence is a spirit of self-restraint which is willing to subordinate the fleeting interests and ardent passions of the living moment to certain fundamental truths which are believed to be immutable.
Now, the principle of the equal-rights amendment has seemed to me one that should commend itself to the conscience of American statesmen.
I might say that we have all read in our history books and other books about the difficulties that were encountered when we were trying to get a Constitution of the United States. There were various objections to having a Constitution. One State objected to one thing and another State objected to another, and so on. There was the greatest kind of difficulty.
But we did not consider just the little objections. We considered the broad principles, the justice of it, and so that is what it seems to me this committee should consider.
At this time justice and freedom have been blotted out in many areas of the world. In this Republic, however, the ideal of liberty and equality is still a cherished cornerstone. It is hoped that you gentlemen of the Judiciary Committee will strengthen the justice of this country by favorably reporting the amendment to the end that women may be free to live and work under the general rules governing the rest of society.
Thank you. [Applause.]
Mrs. Miller. Mrs. Matthews will be glad to answer any questions or any objections that anyone may raise.
Mrs. MATTHEWS.. I will be glad to try.
Mr. REED. Mrs. Miller, I wonder if we cannot get to an understanding here in regard to time. If necessary, the committee can remain in session until noon; and after noon we must have permission from the House in order to remain sitting:
Now, I think we can obtain that permission but I was wondering if we continued in session after 12 o'clock if we could finish by 1? Do you think that that would be possible?
Mrs. MILLER. I think we could finish at 1. I will ask the other speakers to be brief.
Mr. Reid. I do not want to shut anybody off at all. Mrs. Miller. I know we have so much good material and so much fine material; but we can finish, I assure you, by 1, and we will do that if that is what the committee wishes. Mr. REED. Thank you, Mrs. Miller.
I was wondering if I could interrupt just at this point? Another member of our committee has come here and I am sure he wants to say a word or two. He is a member of the Judiciary Committee, a distinguished gentleman from Minnesota, Congressman Devitt.
Mr. Devitt. Mr. Chairman, I would like to have the record show that I favor the equal-rights amendment and I would like to have permission from you to insert a statement in the record. Mr. REED. It will be so ordered. [Applause.] Mrs. MILLER. Mrs. Matthews mentioned the fact of women being I recall at the end of the last war that there were figures given out
men failed to pass the physical examinations, and all of the industries, you will recall, examined both women and men physi
drafted for purposes of war,