When Congress Finally Said Women Could Rock The Vote
In two years, the United States will celebrate a 100th anniversary. It was June 4th, 1919 when Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote.
It read as follows:
Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2: Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
For a hot minute in history, it looked like we would leave women behind with voting rights. We granted all races the right to vote first, but even the right to vote wouldn’t end women’s maligned treatment. That would take some organization, like the goals established by the suffragettes.
The suffrage movement had three goals, equality of social, political, and economic status. The right vote would at least grant them one of those rights.
The rest, some would argue we’re still trying to get there. It all started with rights for all races.
Rooted in Abolitionism
The 19th century was, no doubt, a transformative century for the United States, the full effects of which we would not actualize until the next century. We fought amongst ourselves in the halls of justice and on the battlefield over fundamental civil rights.
The Civil War was the bloodiest battle in U.S. History, even today. It was that important. Then we bickered and fought about the right to vote for blacks.
In the beginning, the right for women to vote rode sidecar to black’s voting right. Abolitionist like Fredrick Douglass were originally advocates for women’s equal rights, but when push came to shove, even Douglass decided to pick his battles.
Congress passed the 15th Amendment in February of 1870, granting black men the right to vote. It said nothing of gender inclusion.
For abolitionist who betrayed their female counterparts, they argued that with their voting power they could overturn women’s rights in time, that tied together they would get nothing. They were right.
Taking a step back in time, the Women’s suffrage movement started in the 1830s, but it wasn’t until 1848 when a woman’s’ right movement made its first war cry.
It began at a convention in Seneca Falls, New York, organized by abolitionists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. These two, in particular, would not live to see women get the vote, but they were no doubt instrumental in the conversation.
The two-day long Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention, identified the goals of the movement. They called these the Declarations of Sentiments.
The demand for the vote became a centerpiece of the women’s rights movement after that event. All over, women organized similar events.
Whether it was the involvement of the Quakers in the Seneca Falls Convention or a reality of their resources, the movement started and stayed a non-violent one. The only time there was violence was when the opposition attempted to stop the Suffragettes from marching or speaking out.
Interesting related trivia:
Susan B Anthony, one of the women who took up the mantel with Stanton and Mott, incurred fines for attempting to vote on the same day the 19th Amendment passed, June 6th, only 48 years earlier (1872). She too, would not live to see women get the vote.
National Women’s Party
When the United States inaugurated Woodrow Wilson, March 3, 1913, the Suffragettes staged a huge march in Washington to coincide with that event. At the time, Wilson was not a supporter of women’s right to vote.
Event organizers were Lucy Burns, and Alice Paul, two key agitators in the Suffragette movement. The two met at a London police station after police had arrested both of them for protesting.
Paul was a badass, a relentless picketer, and along with Burns one of the founders of the National Woman’s Party (NWP). Alice Burns once went to jail for protesting, where police then beat her and tried to have her certified as insane. This was demonstrative of the sort of violence unleashed on the movement, acts which only further steeled Paul’s resolve.
The story of her treatment in prison and the treatment of other women who were there with her only called into question the U.S. position on women’s rights.
Paul and her cohorts even softened the heart of Woodrow Wilson, a man who ran on a platform against women’s right to vote in 1912. By 1918, Wilson changed his stance, advocating for women’s right to vote.
The first time the amendment came to the table was in 1918. Wilson said in the New York Times:
“I regard the extension of suffrage to women as vitally essential to the successful prosecution of the great war of humanity in which we are engaged.”
The amendment failed to pass in 1918, but in 1919, James R. Mann, a Republican and chairman of the Suffrage Committee, proposed an approval of the Amendment they called the Susan Anthony Amendment.
It passed the House, then the Senate on June 4, 1919. After that day of triumph, the 19th Amendment required 2/3 of the States to ratify it before it would go into effect in every state.
The battle was close, but on August 18, 1920, Tennessee gave the Amendment the final vote needed to ratify the 19th Amendment. Women finally had the first step towards political equality.