Hermine Tobolowsky (right). Image from The Southwest Collection Archive within the Special Collections Library at Texas Tech.
Born: 1921 (San Antonio)
Noted For: Hermine Dalkowitz Tobolowsky was a Texas lawyer noted as a prominent champion for the Equal Rights Amendment.
If you’re at all familiar with the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), you probably tend to think of the term in connection with the unsuccessful effort to ratify what would have (then) been the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting equal legal rights to all Americans, regardless of gender. But the national campaign is only part of the ERA story in Texas, as in many other states.
Although the ERA ultimately did not receive legislative approval from the requisite 38 states, the Texas Legislature was not among the states declining to ratify, and in fact, had approved its own equal rights amendment to the Texas constitution in 1972.
From the Texas State Historical Association: “A few months [after the Texas amendment was passed], women legislators employed the new amendment in preparing several laws to halt discriminatory practices. Successful bills included one prohibiting sex-based discrimination in processing loan and credit applications and another disallowing husbands from abandoning and selling homesteads without their wives’ consent.”
The public policy victory represented by the Texas ERA’s passage was hard-won, the result of a 15-year campaign helmed by Texas lawyer Hermine Tobolowsky, who eventually became known as the “Mother of the Texas Equal Rights Amendment”.
Undoubtedly, Hermine’s energetic advocacy was heavily informed by her own experiences, since she had dealt with years of discrimination as a woman law student and then as a young attorney.
After completing a two-year period of legal research that later became the basis for the Texas amendment, Hermine gave her first testimony in support of economic protections for Texas women before the state legislature in 1957, working in close collaboration with her sister members of the Texas Federation of Business and Professional Women.
The “amused” reaction of some legislators to Hermine’s argument in favor of a law that would allow married women to control their own property only strengthened her resolve. From that point forward she began to campaign for an amendment that would grant Texas women the same legal rights that were enjoyed by Texas men.
Image from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission
For more than a decade, Hermine and her colleagues made multiple runs at the state legislature and toured Texas to drum up support for the amendment, ultimately drawing the endorsement of groups like the Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Association of University Women. Eventually, they achieved victory.
Hermine then turned her focus to the national ERA campaign, serving as a legal advisor for a number of women’s groups and as a high-profile speaker on the national circuit. Sadly, this campaign failed, but Hermine continued her efforts in equal rights legislation in the years following, consulting with organizations across the country and helping to amend laws in multiple states. She received a host of honors and accolades in her lifetime, including induction into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame and the Maura Women Helping Women Award from the Dallas Women’s Foundation (the forerunner of the Texas Women’s Foundation).
Additional Learning: VIDEO: “Texas Women in Politics: Hermine Tobolowsky & The Equal Rights Amendment”—from the Texas State Historical Association