ERMA STUMPS TIRELESSLY FOR THE ERA.
In 1978, Erma was appointed to the President’s National Advisory Committee for Women.
The committee had originally been launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who sought input from women representing every aspect of American political, ethnic and religious life. He asked this group to act as his eyes and ears in the country, relaying to him women’s thoughts and ideas as they might impact American life.
Although Erma appreciated being asked to join the commission, she never considered herself a political activist. In fact, she’d never been particularly interested in politics. But one issue forced her into the political arena. It was the Equal Rights Amendment.
In 1972, Congress approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women. According to the Constitution, amendments, once approved by Congress, must be ratified by three-fourths of the states within seven years before becoming law. Within a year of its Senate approval, the ERA was ratified by thirty states. Polls showed that Americans favored the amendment by a large majority, but after the first burst of enthusiastic support, the ERA suddenly became the most divisive issue of the time.
It surprised a lot of people when Erma Bombeck, voice of the American housewife, came out in support of the ERA. But Erma saw no conflict. Discrimination of any kind had always angered her.
Her staunch support of the amendment did not, however, include its feminist leaders, whom she felt were on the wrong track. She sensed they were waging a war using housewives as the battleground. Erma believed in true equality, that no matter how you spend your life, you deserve recognition and acceptance and that the contribution you make to society by caring for your family should be considered equal to that made by anyone working at a job with regulated hours and pay.
Erma began an odyssey across the country under the auspices of ERA America, an organization whose only goal was to get the ERA passed. She traveled to almost every state where the battle for the ERA raged, but her political views never crept into her writing. By this time she had published six books of humor. In 1978, the paperback rights to If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? had sold for $1 million. Aunt Erma’s Cope Book had received a near-record advance printing of 700,000 hardcover copies. Her column had spread to 900 newspapers and millions of people recognized her face.
Erma’s fans were not disappointed in her. In fact, they rallied behind her and she took credit for changing some opinions. Women called her a “voice of sanity.” When they heard that Erma was behind the amendment, they asked why. Once they understood, many joined her.
When asked by a reporter why she poured so much time and effort into the ERA, Erma replied, “I’m doing it for my kids. It will be important to them. It’s also a great feeling to be a part of history. I wish that they could put this on my tombstone: She got Missouri for the ERA.” Unfortunately, despite an extension of three years, time ran out and the ERA failed. It was one of the biggest disappointments of Erma Bombeck’s life.
From the book, Erma Bombeck: Writer and Humorist by Lynn Hutner Colwell.
Used with permission of the author.