Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Grace Jemison Rohrer, March 16, 1989. Interview C-0069. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

North Carolina Women's Political Caucus's singular focus on the ERA

Rorher talks about how the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) became the singular issue for women during the 1970s. According to Rorher, the ERA brought together women of various political backgrounds. Arguing that the bipartisan North Carolina Women's Political Caucus especially coalesced around advocacy of the ERA, Rorher sees the emphasis on this single issue in both positive and negative terms. Rorher explains that the Women's Political Caucus focused so much on the ERA because they believed that with its passage, other economic, social, and political issues for women would fall into place. In retrospect, however, she believes that it gave something to the silent majority to collectively fight against and it also drew away attention from other women's issues.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Grace Jemison Rohrer, March 16, 1989. Interview C-0069. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KATHY NASSTROM:
Following up a bit on this aspect of women's issues in this administration, because again I've heard it said that Holshouser was good on women's issues, would you say that's true? How would you describe his commitment? What was accomplished in his administration?
GRACE JEMISON ROHRER:
What was accomplished mostly was the increase in the appointment of women into decision making areas. He came out in his first state of the state address urging the early passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. He became a little lukewarm on it as the tension began to build up, but he never backed off. I think he was surprised by the reaction across the state. Of course, it became quite a fight within the legislature. I'm not sure how he stood on other issues because at that point our whole focus was on the passage on the Equal Rights Amendment. It had become a single women's issue. In fact, I think that hurt us because it kept us from getting into other areas that needed to be done. All our energies and our money and everything else was focused on winning that battle.
KATHY NASSTROM:
Now when you say "we" there, who would you include in that group?
GRACE JEMISON ROHRER:
Well, mainly the Women's Political Caucus. They were behind all of the organization to get this ratified.
KATHY NASSTROM:
I'm thinking about how to formulate this question then, because it seems as though, and let me know if I'm putting too much together here, but as you describe this there was the momentum of women in politics on a number of fronts, and then you just mentioned about the ERA started taking up everybody's energy, am I characterizing that right? Did efforts stop on other fronts for women in politics or is that overstating it?
GRACE JEMISON ROHRER:
Well, there was a great deal of momentum. It's my perception that the momentum came from the fact that we had a single issue in which there was, it brought a lot of women together. Now, at that point you had the silent majority. There were a lot of women out there who were against it, were frightened by it. It was really fear that they had. But they weren't visible in '71 and '72. They did not become visible until, really visible, probably until the fight in '75, although they began to emerge in '73 as we geared up for the legislative battle. The only thing out there that was bringing women together was the Caucus. Otherwise, women were fighting within the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. But nobody was pretty much working together. The Caucus brought them together, and the thing that kept them together was the Equal Rights Amendment. But it laid the groundwork for continued cooperative effort on women's issues, and even though other women's issues didn't creep in until late '70s when our last stand failed, which was in the legislative session of '79. At least we had people working together and then we began to move out into other areas. But I would say during the '70s, the Equal Rights Amendment dominated everything. Because then we thought if that got on the books, these other things would fall into place.
KATHY NASSTROM:
Right. These other things, and then you mentioned earlier women's issues, would you take a minute to outline what those were? What issues emerged in the 1970s in North Carolina as women's issues?
GRACE JEMISON ROHRER:
Economic: equal pay for equal work. Political: in terms of women being elected to legislative and county seats. We didn't get into abortion. Pretty much we kept that under wraps, although there was movement within for reproductive rights. Even then what was beginning to emerge was daycare, the need for daycare. Child support. Health is now an issue, a big issue, but it wasn't too much then. I'd say mainly the issues were political and economic, although they expanded as we moved toward the National Women's Conference.