Mormon’s For Equal Rights Amendment

1979 – Maida was a founding member of the national organization, Mormon’s for ERA (MERA), established in Northern Virgina that worked with other national feminist and religious organizations for more than five years for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment – a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal rights for women.  The Founding Mothers of Mormon’s for ERA (MERA) included:  Hazel Rigby, Manager of the Alexandria, Virginia Office; Sonia Johnson, President and Manager of the Sterling, Virginia Office; Maida Withers, Manager of the Arlington, Virginia Office;  Teddie Wood, Manager of the McLean, Virginia Office. MERA was begun in Virginia by these four women who were born and raised in Utah but were living in Virginia at a time when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints initiated programs to defeat the Equal Rights Amendments as the Amendment was considered in all states. (December 28, 1979)

The Washington, DC chapter was joined by many other Mormons and non-Mormons.  The organization was well known in the Church by articles written in Utah Holiday magazine and in the Desert and Tribute Newspapers in Utah.  MERA was known for inventive ways to bring attention to other Mormons regarding the issues.  For example, airplanes were hired to fly messages over LDS Conferences with messages such as:  Mother in Heaven Loves Mormons for ERA; The South will Rise and Ratify, etc.

As a farewell to what Maida felt was a hopeless situation, expecting the passage of the equal rights amendment, she created the evening length work, Woman See (1980.) As Mormon women spoke openly about issues of women and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in terms of the importance of equality under the law.  One of the original members, Sonia Johnson, was excommunicated for her open defiance within the organization of MERA.  The activities of  MERA was one of the issues that led to the excommunication of Sonja Johnson in Sterling, Virginia.  Maida Withers was the first person to testify at her trial.  Maida stood against the excommunication of a member of the Church for activities to protect and preserve the equal rights of women (see documents).

ERA _ Wikipedia:  “The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal rights for women. The ERA was originally written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman. In 1923, it was introduced in the Congress for the first time. In 1972, it passed both houses of Congress and went to the state legislatures for ratification.  The resolution in Congress that proposed the amendment set a ratification deadline of March 22, 1979. Through 1977, the amendment received 35 of the necessary 38 state ratifications. Five states later rescinded their ratifications before the 1979 deadline, though the validity of these rescissions is disputed. In 1978, a joint resolution of Congress extended the ratification deadline to June 30, 1982, but no further states ratified the amendment before the passing of the second deadline. Several feminist organizations, disputing the validity and/or the permanence of the ratification deadline, and also disputing the validity of the five rescissions, continue to work at the federal and state levels for the adoption of the ERA.”

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