Ballad of the ERA

Ballad of the ERA sleeve

Front (left) and back of record sleeve for Carolsdatter Productions cat. no. SD 269. Single 45 rpm vinyl record. Side one: Ballad of the ERA (performed by Kristin Lems and the CU-ERA Coalition). Side two: Farmer (performed by Kristin Lems and friends). 1977. MCHS archival object 2018-026-0009.

Music can motivate as well as entertain. Illinois-born singer-songwriter Kristin Lems was a graduate student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign when she got involved in the Equal Rights Amendment ratification effort. She performed her “Ballad of the ERA” at rallies across the country.

Kristin Lems performing Ballad of the ERA

Kristin Lems (with guitar) and National Organization of Women (NOW) officer Judy Goldsmith share the microphone to sing “Ballad of the ERA” in Washington, D.C. in 1981. Left-to-right: Laurie Haag on bass, Betty Ford, Betty Friedan, and Esther Rolle. Courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Ballad of the ERA record“So no more debate because we can’t wait

We demand equality today

And it’s fight we must to make the law just

ERA — ERA — ERA!”

— Chorus lyrics for “Ballad of the ERA” by Kristin Lems.

The ERA had a long path to passage. Congress voted it down every year from 1923 until 1972. Finally both houses passed it. The amendment went to the states for ratification. But even after a deadline extension until 1982, the ratification effort fell three states short of the 38 required to amend the Constitution.

Lems’s “Ballad of the ERA” was included in the 2019 Smithsonian Folkways 4-CD compilation The Social Power of Music. Avid ERA advocate JoAnn Nabe of Edwardsville donated the original 45 rpm single to the Madison County Historical Society.

Despite the efforts of Kristin Lems, JoAnn Nabe, and others, Illinois never ratified the ERA.

Listen to Kristin Lems sing “Ballad of the ERA.”


Sources

Equal Rights Amendment. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://www.equalrightsamendment.org/

“Kristin Lems.” Veteran Feminists of America. Interviewed by Chris Riddiough at the UCI Richard J. Daley Library, Chicago IL, June 15, 2019. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://www.veteranfeministsofamerica.org/interview-kristin-lems/

“Lems, Kristin.” Oral history interview. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://www2.illinois.gov/alplm/library/collections/OralHistory/illinoisstatecraft/era/Pages/Lems,-Kristin.aspx

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