Have you ever thought of being denied the right to vote? Many Americans consider the right to vote a fundamental to the enjoyment of full citizenship. However, in America, the land of the free, women were long denied that right. Until in 1920 when American democracy dramatically widened up when the newly ratified 19th Amendment prohibited states from denying the voting right on gender basis.
This iconic voting rights victory was facilitated by decades of suffragists’ persistence in political engagements, and yet it represented just one critical milestone in women’s battle for the vote. Even after the 19th Amendment was passed, polls were still not open to all women. Millions of women were still locked out of voting for other reasons besides gender.
As we celebrate the 101 anniversary of the 19th Amendment this year, it’s time to go through Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote, which highlights the relentless struggle of the different activists throughout the American history to secure voting rights for American women.
The U.S. Constitution as drafted in 1787 did not specify eligibility requirements for voting. Instead, that power was left to the states. Subsequent constitutional amendments and Federal laws have gradually restricted states’ power to decide who votes. But before 1920, the only constitutional restriction prohibited states from barring voters on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” States’ power to determine voter eligibility has made the struggle for women’s voting rights a piecemeal process from the earliest days of the republic through the first decades of the 21st century.
Why fight to vote?
Women fought long and hard for the right to vote for a multitude of reasons. Many suffragists argued that the right to vote should be universal and that it was unjust to bar American women from the polls. They also argued that women’s inability to vote resulted in tangible economic, political, and social harm to them, their families, and their communities. This section features a few of the countless stories from women whose lives were affected by their inability to vote. The arguments that suffragists made for women’s enfranchisement reveal their belief that it was an essential tool for protecting their well-being as well as achieving what they saw as women’s fundamental rights as citizens.
How was the fight won?
The 19th Amendment was not easily won. From the 1830s to 1920, a diverse group of activists used a multitude of strategies to win voting rights for women. Some focused on amending the U.S. Constitution. Others appealed to the states for women’s admission to the polls. The activists lobbied privately in their parlors and publicly in the halls of Congress. They wrote articles and circulated petitions, preached from soap boxes and pulpits, organized massive marches, and suffered jail terms. These efforts secured piecemeal victories that gave millions of women the vote before 1920 and made possible the triumph of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The passing of the 19th Amendment.
On September 30, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson urged the U.S. Senate to vote for a woman suffrage bill passed by the House of Representatives earlier that year. From the results, the measure fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for a constitutional amendment to be approved in each house of Congress. The following year, enough congressmen supported woman suffrage to pass the joint resolution in both legislative houses.
On June 10, 1919, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan all ratified the 19th Amendment, just six days after the measure passed Congress. New Mexican suffragists, led by Adelina Otero-Warren, fought furiously to convince their state to ratify the 19th Amendment. They later won on February 19, 1920.
The fight was not yet over.
After the ratification of the 19th Amendments, the struggle went on. Millions of women, especially women of color and poor women, were still denied the vote for reasons other than sex. The struggle went on and the discriminating election laws have since been dropping one after the other.
Over the last101 years, millions more women (and men) secured their voting rights as laws changed and discriminatory practices designed to keep certain voters from the polls were eliminated. The promise of the 19th Amendment, however, is yet to be enjoyed by all American women as election laws continue to change and many women still face barriers to voting.