Today is the 100th anniversary of ratification of the 19th amendment, which guarantees the right for women to vote
Women fought long and hard for the vote – before the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which states the right to vote “shall not be denied … on account of sex.”
Beginning in the mid-19th century, several generations of woman suffrage supporters lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and practiced civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans considered a radical change to the constitution.
Few early supporters lived to see final victory in 1920.
Between 1878, when the amendment was first introduced in Congress, and August 18, 1920, when it was ratified, suffragists worked throughout the nation, but strategies for achieving their goal varied.
Some pursued a strategy of passing suffrage laws in each state – nine western states adopted woman suffrage legislation by 1912. Others challenged male-only voting laws in the courts. Some suffragists used tactics such as parades, silent vigils, and hunger strikes.
Often supporters met fierce resistance. Opponents heckled, jailed, and sometimes physically abused them.
By 1916, almost all of the major suffrage organizations were united behind the goal of a constitutional amendment. When New York adopted woman suffrage in 1917 and President Woodrow Wilson changed his position to support an amendment in 1918, the political balance began to shift.
On May 21, 1919, the House of Representatives passed the amendment.
On the 100th anniversary of the House action, Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said the historic achievement came as a result of generations of courageous women who fought to have their voices heard.
“In the 100 years since women fought for and won the right to vote, they have helped deliver remarkable progress for our nation,” Pelosi said. “Today, Congress is blessed by the leadership of more than 100 women Members, who, just like the suffragists of the past, are fighting to protect and expand the sacred right to be heard at the ballot box for all Americans.”
Following the action by the House, the Senate passed the amendment two weeks later.
When Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, the amendment passed its final hurdle of obtaining the agreement of three-fourths of the states. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification on August 26, 1920.
U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, said the suffrage movement helped women earn a voice in the electoral system, but it set out to accomplish much more – recognition of equal citizenship, dignity under the law, and the right to have a say in the policies that shape their own lives and the world.
“Achieving the right to vote opened up doors for progress in access to health care, education, and social and economic equality in ways that were denied to women since the founding of our nation,” Cardin said Tuesday.
“But even in 1920, it was understood that this victory was a stepping stone on the journey to equality for all women,” he said. “It would take years to unravel the web of policies that sought to limit progress in these areas, to take away their power and voice guaranteed under the Constitution.”
Cardin said the nation has come a long way since 1920, but the fight for equality is far from over.
“To truly honor this milestone and 100 years of women voting in this country, we must dedicate ourselves to fighting to empower women in all areas of life and closing the gender gap wherever it remains,” he said.
Cardin said the nation can’t let another hundred years pass before taking another step toward progress, passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
“Ratification of the ERA would expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing equality for women under the law,” he said.
Thirty-eight states have now ratified the ERA. The House has passed legislation eliminating the deadline for ratification.
“It’s time for the Senate to take up my bill S.Res.6 – which I introduced alongside Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) – to remove the deadline once and for all,” Cardin said.
Although concerns surrounding the pandemic has led to the canceling of most suffrage centennial public events, other suffrage inspired programming to commemorate 100 years of the 19th Amendment is being offered.
The Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission and the U.S. Senate have designated August 2020 as National Women's Suffrage Month, a month-long celebration honoring the history of women's fight for the vote. See events at www.womensvote100.org/suffragemonth.
The National Women’s History Alliance, after consulting with many organizations around the country, is encouraging the extension of the suffrage centennial through 2021.