By Ann Kennedy
Twenty years ago, Dallas lawyer
Hermine Tobolowsky appealed to
the Texas Legislature to change
the law so that women could
control property they had owned
In her encounter with the Legislature, several senators "spoke so
disparagingly of women" that
Tobolowsky determined to campaign for full legal rights for women.
The next year, she enlisted the
support and aid of the Texas
Business and Professional Women's Clubs and targeted 25 major
areas in which Texas laws discriminated against women, including employment and working
conditions, community property,
homesteads, credit and checking
accounts, and crime.
Rights Amendment to the Texas
State Constitution was introduced
in six sessions of the Legislature.
Each time it was defeated in either
the House or the Senate.
In January, 1971, Sen. Don Ken-
nard of Fort Worth introduced
before the 62nd Session a resolution to place the Equal Legal
Rights Amendment on the general election ballot in November,
1972. The Senate passed it 30-0 in
February. The House passed it two
months later by a vote of 199-25
after lengthy debate.
Congress passed the federal
Equal Rights Amendment on
March 22,1972, leaving it to three-
quarters, or 38, of the 50 state
legislatures to ratify the amendment into law. The Texas Legislature, meeting in special session,
hustled to be one of the first to
ratify. Texas ratification, the eighth
in the nation, took only three
Until 1972, Article 1220 of the Penal Code provided
that it was justifiable homicide if a husband killed his
wife's paramour when taking her in adultery. It was
murder if the wife killed the husband's mistress under
A Vietnam serviceman's wife
could not purchase a home because she could not use the family
credit. Any Texas husband was
permitted by law to prevent his
wife from cashing checks on her
own separate account by notifying the bank. Texas codes provided that the husband was the
natural guardian of minor children and that the husband's executor could manage all community property, including the
wife's half, to the exclusion of the
By the time the 56th Session of
the Legislature convened in 1959,
thousands of women were calling
for an equal legal rights amendment to the Texas Constitution.
A proposed amendment to the
State Constitution must be passed
by the Legislature, then approved
by the voters. The Equal Legal
Texas' ratification of the ERA is a
classic example of how quickly a
piece of legislation can move
through the complex and ordinarily laborious process. Supporters
of the state Equal Legal Rights
Amendment had been touring the
state for years, most intensively
during the preceding year, to inform Texans about the inequities
it addressed. Texans had been
flooded with talk shows, press
conferences, interviews, rallies,
literature. As a result of that 13-
year campaign, the merits of the
amendment were no longer a
controversial subject among the
voters of Texas.
In November, Texas voters ratified both the state and the federal
amendments. More than 20 Texas
laws which discriminated against
women were automatically repealed. The Equal Legal Rights
Amendment was attached to the
Texas Bill of Rights, a part of the
state Constitution which is inviolate.
But within months, the press
reflected rumblings from various
parts of the state about reexamining the Amendment, recalling it,
and even rescinding it.
As legislators geared up for the
64th session in 1975, the single
issue generating the most mail
and phone calls was by far the
Republican Rep. Larry Vick of
Houston led the fight for repeal.
He was strongly supported by
such groups as Women Who Want
to be Women (WWWW), Fascinating Womanhood, the Texas
Parent-Teacher Association (PTA),
the Church of Christ and Mary
Kay Cosmetics. Many of these
groups are still involved in efforts
to rescind or to halt ratification in
In February, the press reported
that Vick had taken two out-of-
state trips to work against adoption of the ERA in North Dakota
and Illinois. Vick had excused
himself from the Legislature "for
"I wasn't lobbying against the
ERA," Vick squirmed. "I was
testifying in favor of resolutions to
study the effect the ERA would
have on the right of states to enact
laws in such areas as family and
Rep. Bill Hilliard of Fort Worth
introduced a resolution February
18 that the Legislature rescind
ratification of the federal ERA. The
resolution was referred to the
Constitutional Revision Committee, chaired by Rep. Ray Hutchison of Dallas. Hutchison, pointing
to his committee's heavy agenda,
indicated that a hearing could not
be scheduled for Hilliard's resolution until mid-April.
Shortly thereafter, Rep. George
Preston of Paris introduced a bill
calling for a nonbinding referendum on whether the Legislature
should rescind its ratification.
Preston contended that the voters
who had approved the measure
by a 4-1 margin three months
earlier had since had a change of
opinion. They were wary of
interpretations of the amendment
by the Congress and the courts,
and were concerned about a "loss
of traditional morality." His bill
ended up in a subcommittee of
the State Affairs Committee.
The House Constitutional Revision Committee set a hearing on
Hilliard's resolution to rescind ratification of the ERA for April 14.
At that point, legislators had received nearly 500,000 letters on
the subject and had been inundated by waves of emotional lobbyists. ERA supporters wore red,
white and blue sashes — opponents wore pink and brought
cakes to the lawmakers.
More than 2,000 persons came
to watch or testify. Some arrived
the night before and kept vigil on
the capitol grounds. Hundreds
The hearing lasted ten hours.
House employees cleared and refilled the spectator galleries every
hour and piped the sound out to
those waiting in the hall.
Lawyers and professors propounded conflicting theories on
the legality of rescission. "What
the Legislature giveth, it also can
take away," a legislator visiting
from Tennessee declared.
ERA opponents bemoaned the
specters of ruined families, abandoned religion, mothers in combat, rampant abortion, homosexual marriage and unisex bathrooms.
And Hermine Tobolowsky testified that the ERA was necessary,
pointing out that "the Texas
Legislature showed no interest in
repealing discriminatory laws until the ERA was in the state Constitution. And Congress showed no
interest until it was apparent the
federal ERA would pass."
In an expected anti-climax,
Hutchison sent the bill to a subcommittee.
Three days later, three senators,
including Houston Republican
Walter "Mad Dog" Mengden, announced they would sponsor the
resolution in the Senate if it
passed the House.
One month after the hearing,
the subcommittee reported to the
full committee a recommendation that Texas recall rather than
rescind ratification of the federal
ERA for reexamination.
But by the time Rep. Ben Bynum
made a motion that the Constitutional Revisions Committee approve the subcommittee report, a
majority was no longer present. A
majority is required to get a bill
out of committee and onto the
Hutchison sent staff to search
for the suddenly missing members, but the search was unsuccessful. After holding the vote
open for half an hour, Hutchison
adjourned. He did not bnng up
the resolution for consideration
Efforts to kill the ERA were dead
— at least for the 64th session.
Women back Whitmire
By Linda Niederhofer
By a strange coincidence, Leo-
nel Castillo chose to announce his
resignation at noon on Monday,
March 2, at the same time that 12
representatives of area women's
groups called a press conference-
to publicly announce their support of Kathryn Whitmire's candidacy for the comptroller's post.
They held the conference outside City Hall, on the steps, to
symbolize the fact that women
have been kept outside of city
The news of the support for
Whitmire was overshadowed by
the Castillo resignation and the
word that Council was meeting in
emergency session at 2 p.m. to
appoint an interim comptroller.
Speakers and reporters went
straight from the press conference
to Council chambers to await the
The list of people who wished to
be considered for the position
had grown to 12, although Council remained with the predicted
choices — Councilman-architect
Homer Ford and accountant Steve
Jones. Later that afternoon, to end
the deadlock, City Treasurer Henry Kriegel was named to the post.
He said that he would not run for
that position in November.
The speakers emphasized that
Kathy Whitmire is the only candidate who is both qualified and
has not been rejected by the voters for that position (Steve Jones
lost to Castillo in a previous election). Whitmire is a Houston certified public accountant who has
held senior auditing positions
with prestigious firms here in the
city. She currently teaches accounting at the University of Houston Downtown College.
PAM PITT, SHARON MACHA, HELEN CASSIDY
KAREY BRESENHAN. BARBARA SHOOK, PAT LANE
Pamela Pitt, a member of the tails
Women's Equity Action League,
pointed out that no women have
ever been elected to city government in Houston. She cited the
reason that men in government
often give for not appointing
women — the lack of qualified
women — and then listed Whitmire's qualifications for the office.
Texas Women's Political Caucus
speaker Sharon Macha seriously
questioned why such an important position should be decided by
the "toss of a coin," as the Houston Post headlined it one morning. "Particularly," said Macha
"when heads is an architect and
is a previously defeated
candidate for the office," speaking of Homer Ford and Steve
Pat Lane, from the 15th Democratic Senatorial District Women's Caucus, and Helen Cassidy,
national board member of NOW,
noted that women make up over
half of the electorate and have
been grossly overlooked in political appointments.
"No wonder men find it difficult to find qualified women
when the only recommendations
they seem to value come from
other men," Lane told members of
The speakers addressed them
selves to the issue of patronage, which allows men who are
already in power to pass on power
to other men.
Dr. Susan A. MacManus, U.H.
professor of political science,
spoke of the concern that council
j appeared to be expressing about
| the political advantages of whom
< they choose rather than the
? professional advantages of their
5 appointee. She asked, "Is being a
<3J political cohort enough training
to handle disbursement and auditing of millions of taxpayers'
Director of the Women's Commission for LULAC, Olga Soliz,
summed up the feelings of the
women present when she stated,
"It is our hope that our elected city
officials give top priority to the
appointment of women in positions of importance, policy and
Kathy Whitmire plans to run in
the November election. If you
would like to work to help her and
other qualified women run for
office, contact Carolyn Nichols at
528-3919 or 627-0700, X2051.
HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH • MAY 1977 • PAGE 3