Women’s Equality Day: A day to remember what we have accomplished and what we must still achieve
By Katie Galgano
“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. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
The Nineteenth Amendment is short yet strong. It encompasses over 60 years of struggles, enveloping many setbacks and hard-fought victories, by suffragettes, uniting both famous leaders, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and every day women, such as Kate Heffelfinger and Frances Harper. This year, 100 years after the passage and 99 years after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment into the U.S. Constitution, we remember and commemorate the efforts of these courageous women who fought valiantly in the face of mockery, ignoration, and even violence.
The fight for women’s suffrage began in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention. At this Convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the delegates created the Declaration of Sentiments, a document modeled after the Declaration of Independence, declaring that all men and women are created equal. Though the press mocked this declaration, it did not deter the efforts of the suffragettes. Despite the loss of momentum during the Civil War, the movement persisted. In 1869, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association, focused on amending the federal constitution to allow women to vote, and Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell formed the American Woman Suffrage Association, focused on amending state constitutions. These two organizations merged in 1890, becoming the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Within six years, four territories and states adopted amendments to their state constitutions allowing women to vote. Between 1910 and 1918, under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, the National American Woman Suffrage Association succeeded in gaining voting rights for women in seventeen additional territories and states.
During this same time, Alice Paul founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, which later became the National Woman’s Party. As chairwoman, Alice Paul planned demonstrations and led her members in picketing the White House, an act uncommon during this time but virtually unheard of for women. These demonstrations continued for five months until finally the public and the Administration reached a breaking point. Many women were arrested, charged, convicted, and jailed for obstructing traffic.
The struggle continued. President Wilson, first an opponent of women’s suffrage, became a supporter and lobbied Congress to pass the amendment in 1918. The amendment was first drafted and introduced to Congress in 1878 by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Every year between 1878 and 1919, this amendment was introduced in the Senate, but every year it failed, until finally on June 4th, 1919, the Senate passed the amendment and sent it to the states to be ratified. The amendment was ratified narrowly, with one vote breaking the tie in Tennessee to reach the required two-thirds of states on August 18th, 1920. On August 26th, 1920, U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the Nineteenth Amendment, officially amending the U.S. Constitution to allow women the right to vote. On November 2nd of 1920, over 8 million women voted in elections for the first time. Despite this hard-fought victory, it took over sixty years for the remaining states to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, with the final ratification occurring on March 22nd, 1984, in Mississippi.
In a Joint Resolution of Congress in 1971, led by Congresswoman Bella Abzug, Women’s Equality Day was established on August 26th to commemorate the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Since then, however, Women’s Equality Day has expanded to celebrate the work of organizations across the country working to provide women with equal opportunities. So, today as we look back and remember those who led the fight for women’s right to vote, let us also look forward. Just as we cannot forget these courageous women in history, we cannot forget the struggles of women today. Although more women have voted in every presidential election since 1980, women are far less represented in government than men. Despite 2018 being dubbed “The Year of the Woman”, only 20 percent of Congress is comprised of women. In terms of the percent of women in national parliaments, the United States is ranked 75th. Statewide, women constitute 25 percent of state legislators and 24 percent of executive offices, with female governors making up a mere 12 percent. So on this day of Women’s Equality, let us celebrate the achievements of the suffragettes, while also continuing their legacy and carrying on their fight for equality.
Katie Galgano is a recent Baylor graduate, receiving her B.A. in International Studies. She currently works for the Twenty First Century Group and is pursuing a career in foreign policy. She previously worked with the U.S. Department of State in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues where she helped progress U.S. policies and the advancement of women.