Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Griffiths, Martha

Martha Griffiths was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the 17th district of Michigan from 1955-1974. Born Martha Wright in 1912 in Pierce City, Missouri, she studied literature at the University of Missouri. She married Hicks Griffiths, and then earned a law degree in 1940 from the University of Michigan. 

Following several years in private practice, in 1948 Griffiths was elected as a Democrat to one term in the Michigan State House of Representatives. During her one term, Griffiths and her husband organized the Michigan Democratic Club to help secure the governorship of Michigan for former law partner G. Mennen Williams. After running unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, she was appointed by then governor Williams to be the Court Recorder for Detroit in 1953. She was then elected to be a judge for Detroit in November of the same year. In 1955, she began a 20 year career in the United States House of Representatives, where she was the first woman to serve on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. In congress, Griffiths pursued tax reform to provide aid to single, married, and low-income families. She was also known to be responsive to inquiries from other women on how to circumvent discrimination in the workplace 

While in Congress Griffiths was a vocal voice and advocate for women’s rights. She successfully argued for the inclusion of sex as a protected class in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and played a large role in shaping the language of the addition. Griffiths is also responsible for bringing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) the closest it has been to ratification. Using a congressional procedure known as a discharge petition she brought the amendment out of committee, where it had been stuck for years, to a floor vote. The amendment was passed by the house but defeated by the senate. In 1972 Griffiths would attempt to pass the ERA once more with more success as it passed both the House and the Senate but fell short of the number of states required to ratify the amendment by three.

Griffiths returned to Michigan in 1982 and successfully ran for Lieutenant Governor, serving two terms in James Blanchard’s administration, becoming the first woman elected to be Lieutenant Governor. During his third run for Governor Blanchard dropped Griffiths from the ticket because of her age, an act that many observers think cost Blanchard the election due to losing senior and women votes. She was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1983 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. She retired to Armada, Michigan where she died in 2003.



Martha Griffiths cutting the tape at the reopening of Boblo Island, 1983

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