The decision that let federal female employees go by “Ms.”

The decision that let federal female employees go by “Ms.”

CIA’s CREST archive holds throwback tidbits from the ongoing fight for equal female rights

Written by
Edited by JPat Brown

It’s been almost a century in a world without the Equal Rights Amendment. The proposed change to the United State Constitution was first suggested in the early 1920s and would have explicitly prohibited sex-based discrimination in the application of equal rights under American law. But after repeated introductions to Congress, including a push to get ratification from a majority of states ahead of a 1979 - then extended 1982 - deadline, the measure failed to receive enough support, and it remains an unchecked box on a wishlist of women’s issues and empowerment efforts.

A cruise through CREST offers snapshots from the federal government’s evolving relationship with its female workforce.

One interesting standout was the 1975 finding by the Comptroller General that a working may, for payroll purposes, use her maiden name, if she chooses.

The clarification was a response to an August 1939 decision that women were expected to use their married names …

given that, from the department’s vantage, “it can hardly be imagined of husbands, wives, and children composing the same family bearing different names.”

However, the Acting Comptroller General R.F. Keller recognized that the outdatedness of the government’s discretion to address women by their husbands names if it so chose.

He also recognized the right of female employees to use the prefix “Ms.”

CREST also contains pieces on such events as President Jimmy Carter’s October 1979 “Salute to ERA” gathering …

and his emphasis on the ERA in his 1980 State of the Union Address.

More materials about the ERA during the Carter years can also be found at the Library of Congress, which hosts its own massive collection of materials.

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