Remarks at a White House Luncheon for the Governors' Representatives to the Fifty States Project for Women

October 7, 1981

Nancy and I are delighted to have this opportunity to meet with you today and to be able to tell you that the project that you're working on is of great importance to this administration.

You know, there's a great deal of misunderstanding, I think, that exists over some of the problems today, and it was ever thus, because back long before there was a question about discrimination, there should have been some forewarnings. And the late Will Rogers many years ago commented on this. I hope you wouldn't disapprove of what he said. He said that women were going to try and become more and more like men till pretty soon they wouldn't know any more than the men did. [Laughter]

But some critics have expressed concern that we're not addressing women's issues. So, let's set the record straight right now: That charge is a bum rap. With respect to our economic program, the well-being of women, like all Americans, depends on a healthy economy. And certainly, women won't benefit from continued inflation and unemployment.

As for appointments, as you've learned already in the meetings that you've been having so far, we've appointed women to high-level positions throughout the administration, and I've directed that we continue the effort to place qualified women in positions of responsibility. The quality of leadership and the contributions made by these women are an irreplaceable part of our effort to chart a new course for our Nation. Many of them are here today, as you well know by this time. And I'm particularly proud of one who is not -- Sandra O'Connor, who now sits on the United States Supreme Court.

Then there's the question of the ERA and, while it's true that I do not believe that it is the best way to end discrimination against women, I do believe with all my heart that such discrimination must be eliminated.

There are numerous methods of rectifying the problem of sex discrimination. In California, we achieved a measure of success, perhaps more than some people give us credit for. As Governor of California, I signed 14 pieces of legislation eliminating regulations and statutes that discriminated against women. We passed legislation prohibiting sexual discrimination in employment and business matters, established the right of a married woman to obtain credit in her own name, and revised the property and probate laws to give the wife equal rights concerning community property.

And any number of these bread-and-butter issues, ones that were important to many individuals, and particularly women, when you read the list today -- I won't read all of them, but if you did in 1981, it's hard to believe that those laws could have been on the books in the first place. And it's possible that similar discriminatory statutes and regulations may exist today in other States.

So, in my acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in 1980 I pledged that, as President, I would establish a liaison with the 50 Governors to encourage them to eliminate discrimination against women wherever it exists. And that's why you are here today. You are the result of that. The Governors responded as I knew they would. And Judy Peachee, who serves as my Special Assistant for Intergovernmental Affairs, will be my personal liaison with you and your Governors on this important undertaking.

It's my hope that through the Fifty States Project we can alter or eliminate those State laws that continue to deny equality to women. And we will be working on the same thing here at the Federal level where that is needed, as we have done on our tax program, eliminating the marriage tax penalty. And we yet have to get at the discrimination against working wives in social security and some other things. We plan to help you focus public attention on the project and assist in developing support for the initiatives taken by your Governors and your legislatures.

At the National Conference of State Legislatures meeting in Atlanta on July 1st, I talked about this initiative and, I must say, got my biggest applause. I thought at the time I should have quit speaking right there -- I couldn't top that. [Laughter] But we've received encouraging expressions of support since then, but the progress is going to depend on your efforts. When you go back to your States, I hope that you will think of yourselves not only as your Governor's representative, but also as representing the women in your States.

You'll be the key to making this project work. And the Fifty States Project is only a beginning. There's much to be done, but by inviting you here today, I want to reaffirm my commitment to the equality of all of our citizens and my commitment to this proj- ect. And I know it can be successful because it's already very apparent that the Governors made very good choices in their representatives.

Thank you all for being here again. I appreciate it.

Note: The President spoke at 1:10 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.