Mary P. Haney and the Decade for Women

The beginning of April means that Women’s History Month has come to a close and International Women’s Day has passed, but the WLA works all year round to bring to light the contributions of women that help their communities and impact the world!

In today’s blog post, I am excited to highlight a collection that shows how one woman’s unique experiences led to a career advocating for women through international collaboration. The materials donated by Mary P. Haney document the roles she played in different stages of her life, including her participation in the international women’s movements taking place during what the United Nations called the “Decade for Women.”

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Collections Highlight: Homemakers’ Equal Rights Association

HERA began in 1973 as an Illinois organization comprised of homemakers in support of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a constitutional amendment originally proposed in 1923 that would give women equal protection under the law. Reintroduced and passed by Congress in 1972, the amendment then went on to the states for ratification. The name of the organization, originally Housewives for the Equal Rights Amendment, was consciously chosen as a reaction against the argument made by some that the ERA threatened homemakers. Advocating for the measure both within their communities and on the state level, HERA soon grew to a national organization with chapters across the country.

Although all HERA members self-identified as homemakers, participants had a range of backgrounds and educational, volunteer, and professional experiences. The majority belonged to other national or community organizations where they held positions as secretaries, presidents, and vice-presidents.

In the early years of the organization, much of HERA’s literature emphasized that the ERA would encourage the restructuring of marriage into a full and equal partnership, where each partner shared the rights, responsibilities, joys, and burdens of raising a family. In a Housewives for ERA newsletter written in the spring of 1978, the writer emphasizes that the pro-ERA movement is “decidedly pro-family, and we are tired of being told otherwise.”

HERA bumper sticker in support of the ERA

HERA bumper sticker in support of the ERA

In 1979 HERA change its name from Homemakers for Equal Rights Amendment to the Homemakers’ Equal Rights Association and the organization shifted its focus beyond the Equal Rights Amendment and began advocating for the legal rights and full recognition of homemakers.

HERA members with IL Governor James Thompson, May 1982.

HERA members with IL Governor James Thompson, May 1982.

HERA coordinators and members often faced a great deal of criticism from those who derogatorily considered it a feminist organization. A hot topic at the time, the designation as feminist was accepted by some members and strongly rejected by others. Regardless of whether they considered themselves feminists or not, however, members understood their efforts as contributing to a national movement.

Following the defeat of the ERA in 1982, there was vocal concern about the future of HERA and if the organization still had a purpose. HERA began to recast itself as a professional organization for homemakers, an association with goals to lobby in the interest of homemakers and their families. Acknowledging the changing purpose and goals of the organization, in 1984 the name changed once again—though the acronym HERA was retained—to Home, Equality, Rights, and Access.  Ultimately, however, HERA was not able to survive of defeat of the ERA and the organization dissolved several years later.

Graphic from a publication “Women Vote: Citizen Action Kit for People of Faith,” 1984

Graphic from a publication “Women Vote: Citizen Action Kit for People of Faith,” 1984

The Homemaker’s Equal Rights Association Records at the Women and Leadership Archives consist of 2.75 linear feet of materials spanning the years 1971-1987.  Also see the Beth Brinkman Cianci Papers. Cianci served as a national board member for HERA from 1979-1983.

Laura is a 2014 graduate of the MA in Public History Program at Loyola University Chicago and a former WLA Graduate Assistant.

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