Martha Griffiths

Martha Griffiths

Martha Griffiths

Martha Griffiths

Martha W. Griffiths tirelessly fought to give all women equal opportunities and equal treatment during her long and celebrated career as a politician, legislator, judge, congresswoman, and the first woman lieutenant governor of Michigan. She was especially sharp-tongued and outspoken on the issue of women’s rights. Griffiths made clear in an interview with the Detroit Free Press in 1986 what it would take to keep her quiet – “Before I leave this Earth, I would like to know they have given women the same benefits and promotions as men. All I want to be is human and American and have all the same rights and I will shut up.”

Griffiths began her career speaking out on behalf of women with her participation on the Michigan State Legislature from 1949 to 1952. The next year she was appointed as the first woman judge of Detroit’s Recorder’s Court. In 1955, Michigan’s 17th District elected Griffiths to the U.S. Congress where she served for twenty years. As a Congresswoman, Griffiths used her position to further the agenda of equality espoused by the Second Women’s Movement during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1964, Griffiths made the argument that successfully added the word “sex” to the Civil Rights Act. That one word has guarded all women against the threat of unequal treatment and discrimination because of their sex. Griffiths also sponsored the Equal Rights Amendment and successfully guided its passage through the House of Representatives in 1973. The Amendment read: “Equality of right under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Conservatives rallied in opposition to the ERA and the Amendment expired three states short of ratification by the 1982 deadline. As the first woman member of the House Means and Ways Committee, Griffiths had great influence over the nation’s spending decisions. She also served on the Joint Economic Committee where she spoke out vehemently on the need for public welfare reform in order to better assist widows and those with disabilities. Griffiths continued to pursue welfare reform even after her retirement from Congress in 1975.

In 1982, after several years of private life, Griffiths returned to the political ring as Democrat Jim Blanchard’s running mate in Michigan’s gubernatorial election. She established herself as a candidate of force and wit with over 42 years of experience with government issues. That year, Griffiths was elected as the lieutenant governor of the state of Michigan, the first woman in history to be elected to the position. She was also the oldest lieutenant governor in the United States when she finished her service of two terms at the age of 82.

Martha W. Griffiths spent most of her life crusading for women’s rights in the male-dominated political arena. She used her position to fight sexual discrimination and won many important battles which have given all women a fighting chance at equality in society.

1 Martin, Antoinette. “Giving ‘Em Hell.” Detroit Free Press Magazine. Sept. 2, 1990.
Martha Griffiths, Vertical Biography File. Library of Michigan.

2 Martin, Antoinette. “Giving ‘Em Hell.” Detroit Free Press Magazine. Sept. 2, 1990.
Martha Griffiths, Vertical Biography File. Library of Michigan.