Roberta "Robbie" Madden and volunteers are canvasing members of the North Carolina General Assembly to determine their positions on the North Carolina Equal Rights Amendment. Madden has made the Equal Rights Amendment ratification a focus of her life for the past 44 years.
“It has been a 93-year struggle to get equal rights for women added to the Constitution, and we aren’t there yet,” the 78-year-old Madden said. “I will never, never, never give up on this. It has been my life’s work, and I hope to live to see the amendment ratified.”
Alice Paul, a Republican, wrote the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923. Paul earned doctoral degrees in economics and civil law and perceived that only a constitutional amendment could guarantee that the government could not override women’s economic, political, social and civil rights. Republicans added the ERA to their party platform in 1940 and Democrats followed in 1944. It was not until 1972 that a bipartisan Congress achieved the two thirds approval needed to send the ERA to the states for ratification.
“Congress tacked on a seven-year time limit and later extended it to 10 years on the states,” Madden said. "It was assumed that the ERA expired in 1982, leaving ratification three states shy of victory. Again we came close but didn’t make it. A decade later, legal analyses concluded that the ERA remained legally viable. A constitutional amendment will send a clear message that discrimination will not be tolerated.”
For the first time since 1982, the ERA was introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly in 2015. One third of the House members signed as cosponsors. Committees failed to hold hearings, and the legislation died. Supporters of the ERA Amendment expect ERA legislation to be introduced in the General Assembly in 2017.
Madden is co-director of Ratifiy ERA-NC, which she co-founded with activist Marena Groll, a Hendersonville resident. Since retirement and moving to Black Mountain in 2009, Maddenhas been working almost full time to get the ERA amendment added to the Constitution.
Robbie Madden is a true fighter for justice, Monroe Gilmour, Western North Carolina Citizens Ending Institutional Bigotry, said. "Her work on the ERA exemplifies that commitment. She has been the spark plug to get NC legislators and the public to return to the important, but unfinished, business of getting that Constitutional Amendment passed. We all owe Robbie a big thank you for what she's done and we owe her our own renewed commitment to stand with her as the ERA work continues in our state and the nation."
Madden grew up in Ames, Iowa, the eldest of four children. Her parents divorced when she was 15, and she saw firsthand what it was like for her single mother to provide for four children. She saw her mother passed over for promotion in the workplace because she was a woman. It made Madden angry and determined to change things. A wife, mother and cancer survivor, she has spent her life as a civil rights and feminist activist and ERA organizer.
Madden and her husband, writer David Madden, moved to Black Mountain at the encouragement of their son, Blake Madden, a well-known area photographer.
Robbie Madden retired after 18 years of service to the YWCA Greater Baton Rouge in Louisiana. She worked to eliminate racism and to empower women, her personal mission mirroring the YWCA’s mission. The projects she spearheaded and proposals that led to action are many.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my work with the YWCA and remember telling my son that I can’t retire and move to North Carolina because we aren’t finished here,” she said. “He pointed out that I could work for equal rights and to eliminate racism from Black Mountain as well as I had in Louisiana. He was right.”
Madden helped to organize the Louisiana ERA Coalition, which lobbied and testified for the ERA twice in recent years (the amendment was defeated twice in committee). She continued her work when she moved to Black Mountain and co-founded Ratify ERA-NC. Recently she helped form the ERA-NC Alliance, which includes many professional women. A tireless advocate for equality, she is well known in the halls of the legislative building in Raleigh. She also serves on the board of directors of the Swannanoa Valley Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Corporation.
“I realize change is scary for a lot of people,” Madden said. “I’ve been working for the ERA since 1992, and I’ve met a lot of opposition. One of the biggest challenges in this kind of work is overcoming apathy. Getting the ERA Amendment included in the Constitution is my main focus in life. I don’t want to run out of time before that happens.”