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Correspondences between Alma Lutz and Pauli Murray

Pauli Murray first came to the attention of Alma Lutz, a longtime women’s rights advocate, NWP member, and ERA supporter, when she spoke at the National Council of Women about the social and legal challenges of implementing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In this exchange of letters, Murray and Lutz, veteran activists from two generations, debated legal strategies for obtaining equal rights for women.



November 22, 1965

Dr. Pauli Murray
Yale Law School
New Haven, Connecticut

Dear Dr. Murray:

I have just read a report of your fine, spirited speech on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act given before the National Council of Women in October and I applaud it warmly. As woman to woman, I thank you.

Understanding the situation as you do, I am wondering how it is possible that you do not see the need of the Equal Rights for Women Amendment: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

I hope you will change your mind, for to me it seems so important for women’s protection from discrimination to have equal legal rights for women written into the Constitution.

Cordially yours,

Alma Lutz



Pauli Murray
245 E. 11 St., #5E
New York, N.Y. 10003
December 9, 1965

Miss Alma Lutz
22 River Street
Boston, Mass. 02108

Dear Miss Lutz:

Your kind letter of November 22 was forwarded to me at my new address, and I deeply appreciate your taking the time to write me about my speech on Title VII.

Because I have tremendous respect and admiration for the women who have fought for the Equal Rights for Women Amendment and have been aware of your views, I shall try to explain to you my position. As you know, I come out of the Negro struggle to implement the Fourteenth Amendment, and over the past twenty-five years have watched the interpretation of that amendment gradually expand to reach other minorities. I am also aware that women’s organizations are hopelessly divided upon the Equal Rights Amendment. I therefore believe that the quickest way to obtain the results the Equal Hights Amendment is intended to produce is to urge the courts to make clear that discrimination against women by the state or federal governments violates the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

You may have read of a case now pending in a three judge Federal Court in Montgomery, Alabama, in which the constitutionality of the statute excluding women from jury service has been attacked by Mr. Charles Morgan, attorney for the plaintiffs and for the American Civil Liberties Union. Judge Dorothy Kenyon and I have just written that part of the brief which attacks the statute as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The other part of the complaint attacks the systematic exclusion of Negroes from the jury of Lowdnes County, Alabama. It seems inconceivable today that a court would make a distinction between the two kinds of exclusion — race and sex — as it did in the Strauder case and as the Massachusetts court did in the Welosky case. The Supreme Court has never decided the issue — merely ducked. This time we hope to get the Supreme Court to review the question if we lose in the lower court.

I think there are enough women aroused about legal rights to bring cases through the courts; I do not believe enough of them are aroused to secure the passage of an Equal Rights Amendment. And so we differ not so much in our objectives as in our strategy. It is just possible that through court interpretation the Equal Rights Amendment will be written into the Constitution. One clear-cut decision would open the way. The jury mandatory exclusion statute just may be the opening we have been looking for.

You will be interested to read a law review article by Mary Eastwood and myself entitled “Jane Crow and the Law: Title VII and Sex Discrimination,” which will be published in the December issue (1965) of George Washington Law Review. Publication date will be around December 22nd. There we attach the validity of the doctrine of “classification by sex” and equate it with the “separate but equal” racial doctrine. We also quote from Blanche Crosier’s article published in the Boston Law Review in 1935. Is she still alive? I admire greatly the incisive thinking which went into her article, and am sure that the effort was not wasted; only delayed.

With all good wishes to you, I am

Sincerely, Pauli Murray




December 29, 1965

Dear Miss Murray:

The Christmas holidays have delayed my acknowledging your good letter. I do thank you for taking the time to tell me why you prefer to try to get a re-interpretation of the 14th Amendment rather than to press for the Equal Rights for Women Amendment.

I am of course most interested in the case pending in Alabama.

I do not believe that women’s organizations are so hopelessly divided, regarding the Amendment. This was true during the years when the League of Women Voters were insisting on protective labor legislation for women. I do, however, believe that we have been lax and shortsighted about our educational work among women regarding the Amendment. When I think of the years of educational work necessary before the adoption of the 19th Amendment, I wonder that we did not learn that lesson.

Your comments on Blanche Crozier’s article in the Boston Law Review in 1935 were especially interesting to me, as I knew Mrs. Crozier at the time this was written. She died some years ago. I look forward to reading your article in the George Washington Law Review.

I feel sure our objectives are the same. I sensed a zeal for freedom in you which is lacking in far too many women. I look forward to meeting you.

Sincerely yours,

Alma Lutz

January 16, 1966

Dear Miss Lutz:

   Just to tell you two items of immediate interest. The Department of Justice has entered the White V. Crock (Alabama Jury case) as a friend of the court asking for the invalidation of the Alabama jury statute which totally excludes women. Their brief in support of their proposed conclusion of law that the statute is null and void insofar as it excludes woman is not as sharp as I would like, but the fact that the Government asked for the same relief as we did is a tremendous step forward. There should be no difficulty in getting the jury statute declared unconstitutional, if not by the federal district court, then certainly by the United States Supreme Court.

   The second item is that the Harvard Law School Forum is sponsoring a public forum on February 18 and the topic is: WOMEN: DARE WE NOT DISCRIMINATE? Mrs. Betty Friedan, President Mary Bunting of Radcliffe and I have been asked to participate. I’m sure you will want to attend and needle me about the Equal Rights for women Amendment. Perhaps we will get an opportunity to talk for a while. There is to be a short informal reception after the forum.

   Although this information will not satisfy your dream of having the Equal Rights Amendment a part of the Constitution, you should know that there are several younger women as passionate about equal rights as I am and who are strategically placed in governmental positions. They perform the important task of educating male colleagues and trying to prevent the pro-labor-protective – legislation-for-women proponents from putting too strong a brake upon progress toward the ultimate goal. A subtle internal struggle over this issue with respect to Title VII and the sex discrimination clause has been going on since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Some of us see our task as holding the line but not allowing ourselves to get isolated from the women who are still confused about how much equality they want. This is a difficult but necessary role.

   Looking forward to seeing you on February 18th, I am


Alma Lutz
25 River Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02106

February 6, 1966

Dear Dr. Murray,

   I do appreciate your sending me the interesting clipping about you and I am returning it as you requested. The one about the case, I am keeping for reference unless you want it returned.

   I think you overemphasize the controversy over the Equal Rights Amendment. What controversy there was, was stirred up by men’s labor organizations and the League of Women

Voters in its “Do Good” era. Women have been asking for equal rights since 1848. Some day read my Susan B. Anthony, and Created Equal, my biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. They will give you the background of the movement.

   I’m very much interested in the outcome of your case and wish you well, but think the Amendment is the only right answer.

   It will be a pleasure to meet you and talk with you.

Alma Lutz


February 11, 1966

Dear Dr. Murray:

How good of you to send me the good news about White V Crook. I am delighted at the lanuage of the opinion.

Now where do you go from there?

Am I right that this is the first time the Courts have given an opinion relating women to the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment.

I am looking forward to seeing you and talking with you next week.

Sincerely yours,

Alma Lutz


February 23, 1966

Dear Dr. Murray:

I too enjoyed our evening at the Harvard Law School Forum and the opportunity to have a good talk with you. I hope you will be coming this way again.

You will find the story of the First Woman’s Rights Convention in my book, CREATED EQUAL, A BIOGRAPHY OF ELIZABETH CADY STANTON, and in Volume I of the HISTORY OF WOMAN SUFFRAGE. I am sorry my CREATED EQUAL is out of print, but you should be able to find it in the public library.

James Mott presided at the Convention, not Frederick Douglass, nor Henry Stanton. Henry Stanton did not attend the Convention.

When Mrs. Stanton found that not even Lucretia Mott approved of her offering a resolution for woman suffrage, she discussed it with Frederick Douglass, asking him what Negroes needed more than anything else. He replied, “the ballot.” She then was reassured that women too needed the ballot to raise their status. She asked him to speak for her woman suffrage resolution and he did.

Mrs. Stanton was a wonderful woman, and I think even greater than Susan B. Anthony. More young people should know about her and I am hoping that my biography of her will come out as a paperback. The John Day Company published the book when Pearl Buck and her husband were active in the firm, in 1940.

I disagree with your statement on page 36 that women are now full-fledged emancipated citizens. They won’t be until the 14th Amendment is implemented by the Equal Rights for Women Amendment. On this we may have to continue to disagree, but in any case I wish you well with your Court cases.

I am looking forward to seeing you again.

Cordially yours,

Alma Lutz

I am sending you a copy of my Susan B. Anthony thinking it will be of interest to you.

March 15, 1966

Dear Miss Lutz:

   I hope you received a copy of the White v. Crook brief which I asked ACLU to send you. Miss Elsie Hill of South Norwalk, Conn. telephoned me asking for a copy and it occurred to me that you might wish to see one too. We are not very proud of it because a significant portion is missing; was delayed in the mail; consequently, the Negro point and the woman point are run together without adequate separation of points. But, obviously, the case for women was so strong that even our confused brief did not deter the court in ruling properly on the issue.

   The enclosed Memorandum pays homage to the women who have fought for equal rights down the years. There is a movement in embryo to reconcile the various points of view within women’s groups and to give honor to the pioneers who have kept the issue before the public. This is a salutary by-product of the White v. Crook victory. I suggested your name as one of those to be invited to Washington, but the list has been reduced from 40 to about 10, so they may not select more than one representative. I do hope Miss Alice Paul will accept.

   As you may know, on March 7, 20 Republicans introduced identical bills on the jury issue, including sex as well as race. The bills are HR. 13323-13342. On March 10, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights also agreed to recommend the inclusion of “sex” in the legislation they have sponsored: S. 2923.

   I see our battle as one on many fronts: thus, no legislation dealing with civil rights in Congress should be overlooked to be sure that, where appropriate, sex is included along with other prohibited bases of discrimination. I say “where appropriate” to indicate that there are some pieces of legislation dealing with the protection of Negroes and civil rights workers from violence in which the issues of sex is not involved.

   I am also troubled by rumors that some women of the National Woman’s Party persuasion have feared that the White v. Crook decision would hurt the chances of passage of an Equal Rights Amendment. Here, let me say candidly that we are all after a specific result: equal rights without discrimination on the basis solely of sex. If we can get it by court decision, we’ll take it. If the Supreme Court should give a negative decision under the Fourteenth Amendment, then the implication is clear.

There would be a constitutional gap which would have to be filled by a constitutional amendment. Since the Supreme Court has not spoken definitively on this issue for more than 30 years, we must try to find a way of getting the issue before the Court. I feel sure that had White v. Crookbeen a Supreme Court instead of a lower Federal Court decision, even the adherents to the view that we need an Equal Rights Amendment would reflect upon the position of the women who said all along: the Fourteenth Amendment applies to women as well as all other groups, and the courts were wrong.

   What I am trying to say here is that your efforts and the efforts of the National Woman’s Party have not been wasted. But for your insistence upon an Equal Rights Amendment, the gradual erosion of discriminatory legislation would not have occurred. The only distance in view which separates us is whether we have not chipped away so many of the barriers which faced women in 1920, that we can get rid of the rest by court decision and federal legislation, or whether the remaining barriers are so formidable as to require a new Amendment. I opt for the Fourteenth which contains the all-inclusive word “person” and has a wealth of precedents upon which we can rely rather than the uphill fight to get a new Amendment which has no precedents and which the courts could twist into the same discriminatory bias as they originally did with the 14th Amendment both as to Negroes and women.

   If you and others of the National Woman’s Party could support us in this effort while pursuing your own independent goals, I believe the women of the country would be united and could win hands down. We are more powerful than many of us realize; we need only to maximize our strength. I do not believe any court today would dare rule that Negro males were in a more favored position under the Constitution than white women. I do not think any lawyer has had the audacity to put the issue to the courts in exactly this language. If I get the opportunity, I intend to pose it just that way, and let the courts fish or cut bait.

   I took your Susan B. Anthony with me to Washington and my co-author, Mary Eastwood, is reading it before mailing it back to me. I’m sure it will be a treat for me when I get back to it.

   And now, all the best. Please keep in touch. As you know, my philosophy is continuity and inclusiveness and it is an honor to be associated with women of courage and conviction and of whose efforts I am a beneficiary.


Miss Alma Lutz
22 River Street



April 21, 1966

Dear Dr. Murray:

I feel very remiss for not writing you long before this to thank you adequately for all of the interesting material you have sent me. I am sure you will forgive me when I explain that I have been simply swamped between the income tax and finishing the last chapters of my book. Now that both are out of the way, I am getting caught up.

I did see our picture in the Harvard Law Record. My cousin, a Harvard Law graduate, and now a judge in Minneapolis, saw it and sent it to me, greatly surprised to find me in it.

I am grateful for the White-Crook Brief and I congratulate you on the success of your work. I am glad to have all of these records for my woman’s collection which will eventually go to Vassar.

I know that the Civil Liberties Union does much good work and I am in sympathy with much of it, but I am not a member because of its attitude toward the Equal Rights for Women Amendment. Some years ago Pearl Buck and I protested but with no success. I realize that Dorothy Kenyon has opposed the Amendment for so many years that it would be impossible for her to change. It is part of her life. This opposition is partly bound up with differences with the Woman’s Party of long standing, dating back to suffrage days. The same is the case with Esther Peterson. I can appreciate your interest in working with these able women, and I have confidence that you do your own thinking.

To me there is but one adequate solution for women’s unjust, insecure legal status, and that is the Equal Rights for Women Amendment. It is a much less involved, more forthright solution than yours. If you good women would only put past prejudices behind you and get behind the Amendment, it would pass within the year. Mrs. Peterson could easily wipe out the fears of the President and Congressmen as regards labor opposition to the Amendment. Your position today reminds me of what went on during the suffrage campaigns when the Woman Suffrage Amendment was opposed by those who insisted on State action as much more practical and possible of achievement.

You see, I am writing you frankly of my position. I know you stand basically for equal legal rights for women, but if we choose different roads to achieve it, we can do so with good will toward each other. I am not one of those who feel that the White-Crook decision hurts the chances of the Amendment. I think it may be delaying it by persuading some to believe there is a better way, but in general I say more power to all who work for equal rights for women. I am not for the Amendment because it is sponsored by the Woman’s Party.

I believed in it the moment I heard about it forty years ago. I definitely believe it belongs in the American Constitution.

With my best wishes and looking forward to seeing you and talking with you again,

Alma lutz

P.S. I am leaving Boston for Highmeadow, Berlin, New York, 12022, on May 14, and then on May 24, I fly with a friend to the Scandinavian countries for a month. The rest of the summer, I’ll be in Berlin, New York on the edge of the Berkshires. Keep in touch, please.