Published on August 21, 2020

final women voters

Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Ratification of the 19th Amendment 

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which guarantees women the constitutional right to vote.

The passage of the amendment came after a protracted and difficult struggle that had begun more than seven decades earlier. Initially introduced to Congress in 1878, numerous attempts to pass a women’s suffrage amendment failed before passing the House of Representatives on May 21, 1919, followed by the Senate on June 4. It was then submitted to the states for ratification. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee was the last of the necessary 36 states to ratify it. The Nineteenth Amendment’s adoption was certified on August 26, 1920, and “Women’s Equality Day” is celebrated on August 26.

The ratification of the 19th Amendment is often characterized as one of the most important moments in the twentieth century, not only because of the legal rights that it guaranteed, but also because of the social and societal changes that it helped nurture and define. It was a powerful moment in the struggle for the recognition of gender equality, and woman’s suffrage corresponded with increased emphasis on social issues, such as child labor laws and women’s health issues. There are studies that suggest that resources for hospitals and charities corresponded with women’s suffrage, and that child mortality dropped significantly, while the number of children who stayed in school went up.

Perhaps this is not surprising, because across the decades of struggle that finally lead to the amendment, suffragettes were among those who were supporters of racial justice, the temperance movement to control the impact of alcohol, human rights, and the labor movement. While working together to secure the vote, women also helped define American democracy, and the meaning of citizenship.

It was not an easy journey. They organized, gathered, wrote, published, paraded, petitioned, cajoled, threatened, preached and picketed for years. They were ridiculed and dismissed. They were assaulted and jailed for seeking rights that many felt belonged strictly to men.

In the process they helped shine the light of inquiry on class inequity, racial injustice, and the plight of the poor. They did not quit. And we are a better people because of their vision and persistence.

The struggle began before the civil war, but very few of those who started the journey lived to see their cherished goals come to fruition. Their work was carried on across the generations by their nieces and daughters, by other social activists—like Frederick Douglass, and by women and men who they inspired and taught.

They are still inspiring us today, and we mark this 100th Anniversary with gratitude, with hope, and with knowledge that there is still so much that needs to be done if we are to be the inclusive democracy that they worked for and dreamed of helping to create.

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