On August 18, 1920, the United States of America celebrated the 100th years of the 19th Amendment, the words where “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged … on account of sex” were added to the US Constitution.
The day marked a century of a historical victory that led to women being able to vote in the US. The day, however, signified much more than just being able to make a political decision actively. The day was a symbol of long-awaited, much-needed institutional commitment to equality based on sex. The day was momentous in providing women the power to change and determine their future.
Although not perfect in its delivery, the 19th Amendment was a stepping stone towards equality, and although there is a long way to go, the day is worth paying tribute to thousands of women suffragists, coming from different walks of life, who made the Amendment possible through massive country-wide movements.
Journey to women suffrage
For those of us women, unaware of how the seemingly simple act of voting required years-long campaigning and activism, it is essential to sketch a picture.
Suffragists of all kind- white women, women of color, Latin women, and even men, came together to fight for one of the history’s most remarkable achievements for women and the world, their right to vote. The movement for women’s right to vote started from somewhere in 1840 from Seneca Falls, when a set of women put forward demands for women’s rights, including the right to vote. However, the movement soon expanded all over the country. Organizations like the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and the National Woman’s Party (NWP) were formed, and women like Susan B. Anthony and the NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt led the activism with nation-wide traveling and giving speeches. Inspired by the British suffrage movements but unlike them, the US suffragists, however, used a more grassroots approach to activism. The suffragists took to streets and picketing outside the White House, and used innovative ideas such as ‘Suffrage day Baseball game,’ publishing and fundraising through a cookbook, designing valentine’s day card with messages of equality, mountaineering with Votes for Women banner, and as such to demand their rights and to make women across country feel the necessity of the right.
Many women opposed suffrage movements too, arguing that voting would make women masculine, disrupt their traditional roles as wives and mothers, and destroy American society.
Moreover, although the movement collectively brought together women from diverse backgrounds, the movement itself was not free from ongoing segregation rules. Black women, in particular, were excluded from many suffrage groups, which led them to form their own groups fighting not only for voting rights but for greater equality and justice for their communities. Along with Black communities, Latinas, Asian-Americans, Indigenous Women, and Immigrants were all part of the multigenerational struggle for the vote; however, they were excluded when the 19th Amendment happened. Black communities were excluded through other policies such and Jim Crows law, which extended their fights for decades to come. Many Native Americans could not vote until 1924 when the Snyder Act made them US citizens. Chinese immigrants were similarly barred until the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943. The Voting Rights Act that came in 1965 only ensured racial equality in voting, making it another milestone in suffrage history.
The suffrage movement was never a single-issue movement, as suffragists understood that getting the right to vote was crucial to bringing all the necessary social and political changes. As such, the suffrage movement and antislavery movement went on like sibling movements. The organizations formed during these movements fought for a range of issues, including better health care, child care, education, anti-alcoholism, and rampant sexism and violence against women. Access to birth control, which was legalized only in 1972, was another major issue that women fought. Likewise, these women’s groups also pushed for more robust workplace safety measures and legal protections for women working in factories and mills, among which immigrants were the majority. As a positive result, acts like The Equal Rights Amendment, Title IX, and the Lilly Ledbetter, Fair Pay Act, were formulated as descendants of the suffrage movement. Moreover, the movement’s success led to more investment in local public health, declination of Child Mortality rate between 8 to 15 percent, increased education budget, social programs, and charities.
So, 100 years after, how is the impact of the movement?
After a century of movement that involved generations of women, the present-age women are still grappling with the issues they fought back then- political inequality, racism, sexism.
Although women have come a long way in terms of their political and social position, there still lies a huge pay gap and lack of women’s representations in all political, social, and corporate levels. Women, especially women of color, are disproportionately involved in unpaid labor and underpaid, low-wage jobs.
An entirely male congress passed the 19th Amendment after Jeannette Rankin voted out for opposing World War II. Fifty years later, there still was only one female senator and ten representatives. In 2020, there are 127 voting women in Congress, still only a quarter of the legislature.
A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center on what Americans think has changed and what has not after the 19th Amendment. The results were mixed, with 57 percent thinking a lot needs to be done toward gender equality, where 32 percent thought we had achieved it, and 10 percent though we had gone too far. Moreover, 40 percent Republican and 20 percent Democrats’ men believed that women’s advancement had come at their own expense.
The suffrage movement won women’s right to vote and representation, but without being represented. Even today, men dominate the political sphere where decisions on maternity leave, abortions, and birth control are made.
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught the world anything, it has shown that we can make dramatic changes when it is necessary.