Classroom Activities

1. When Shirley Chisholm spoke of sexism, she described it as “the most subtle, most pervasive, and most institutionalized form of prejudice that exists. Discrimination against women, solely on the basis of their sex, is so widespread that is seems to many persons normal, natural and right.” Discuss: Do you think this is still true today?  If so, in what ways? What other groups beside women do you think are targets of subtle, pervasive, institutionalized forms of prejudice?

2. Early in the speech to Congress, Chisholm agrees with opponents that “Of course laws will not eliminate prejudice from the hearts of human beings.” However later in the speech she seems to suggest that changing the law will have important social and psychological effects. Discuss: Do you think changing the law is an effective way to eliminate prejudice and discrimination?

3. Chisholm proudly identified herself as a feminist. Discuss: What are your perceptions of feminism? What does it mean to be a feminist? Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

4. Chisholm frequently stated that she faced far more discrimination because of her gender than because of her race. Discuss: Do you think this would still be true for her today? In general, do you think our society has made more progress toward eliminating racial prejudice or gender prejudice? To what degree is there still work to do in confronting both racism and sexism?

5. To what extent do you think the debates surrounding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 impacted the arguments for Chisholm’s speech? To what extent are the arguments from woman’s suffrage still visible in Chisholm’s congressional address?

Student Research

1. What is the state of equality for women today? Research one of the following social contexts discussed by Chisholm to determine the state of gender equity: higher education, the workforce, the military, the political system. In a series of in-class presentations or small group presentations, share your research with the class. Using the information presented in class, facilitate a class discuss on whether or not you and your classmates believe there was (and still is) a need for the ERA.

2. Chisholm was the first Black American woman elected to Congress and she is considered a trailblazer for subsequent women and particularly women of color. Building on her legacy, as of the 110th Congress, a total of 25 Black women have served in Congress (one in the Senate and 24 in the House). Seven Latinas and four Asian American women have served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Select one of these women and research her background, her path to Congress, and her legislative priorities and accomplishments.

3. Research the ensuing debate regarding the Equal Rights Amendment as supporters and opponents clashed during the state ratification process. What were the primary arguments for and against the amendment? Given the arguments, why do you think ratification of the ERA ultimately failed?

4. Chisholm’s political slogan was “Fighting Shirley Chisholm—Unbought and Unbossed.” Discuss possible campaign slogans for more contemporary campaigns for women who are more outspoken who have entered or who are trying to enter the U.S. Congress. How will you get her elected? What are the local and national issues on which she might campaign?

5. Write a research paper where you either: a) compare the natural rights arguments from woman suffragists like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or Ida B. Wells to those that Chisholm articulated in 1970; or b) compare the arguments offered by civil rights leaders like Caesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, or John Lewis to those offered by Chisholm in her equal rights speech. Be sure to acknowledge both the similarities and differences in these arguments.

Citizenship Resources

1. The text of the Equal Rights Amendment, as proposed in 1972 by the 92nd Congress, and as published in Volume 86 of U.S. Statutes at Large (Pages 1523-1524), reads as follows:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Efforts are still underway to pass the amendment. Do you think there are any aspects of society in which men or women are at a disadvantage simply because of their gender? State your rationale. If so, to what extent, if at all, might the ERA address these disadvantages?

2. To what extent do you think that shifts in traditional gender roles have impacted America socially, economically, and politically? What are some possible benefits and drawbacks of these shifts for women, men, and children?

3. Women, although more than half the U.S. population, have never made up more than approximately 20 percent of the U.S. Congress. Why do you suppose this is? To what degree should we be encouraging women to seek political leadership in this country? How might we increase women’s representation in our political system?

4. Shirley Chisholm ran for the U.S. Presidency in 1972. Although many nations have had women serve as president or prime minister, the United States has yet to elect its first female president. Why do you think a woman has never been elected president of the United States? What are the obstacles that women face when running for the highest executive office? Do you think the nation is ready and willing to elect a woman president? Why or why not?

5. You are a 21st Century congressperson giving a five-minute speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives urging Congress to the pass the ERA. What are your arguments for passing the amendment? What opposing arguments will you need to anticipate and how will you refute them? Draft a speech and deliver it to your class.

Last updated March 23, 2016