Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Remember the Ladies – Anniversary of the Certification of the 19th Amendment

On August 26, 1920, after a hard fought struggle for women’s suffrage, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Congress proposed the nineteenth amendment on June 4, 1919, at which point it had to be ratified by a majority of the states. The amendment became a part of the U.S. Constitution on August 18, 1920 when the Tennessee state legislature became the thirty -sixth state to ratify the amendment by a close one -vote margin. The 19th amendment states:

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 power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Campaigning for the 19th Amendment was spearheaded primarily by the National Women’s Party (formerly the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage). Suffragettes Alice Paul and Lucy Burns led this group to campaign for a voting rights amendment. The NWP were a non-political group that did not support specific candidates for the presidency, but this did not stop them from picketing in front of the White House for women’s suffrage. President Wilson tolerated their public demonstrations until the United States entered World War I, at which point the picketers were arrested for “obstructing traffic.” The women were not deterred and some, including Alice Paul, even went on hunger strikes in support of their shared cause. Alice Paul had to be force-fed in prison which no doubt embarrassed President Wilson, who was simultaneously trying to depict himself as an international leader in human rights. This may explain his support and call for a 19th amendment in support of women’s suffrage soon after.

After the 19th amendment was passed in 1920, the NWP continued to lobby to end all gender discrimination. To this end, Alice Paul drafted and lobbied for an equal rights amendment. The time limit for the ERA’s passage ended in 1982 amid controversy, but on July 21, 2009 Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney of New York introduced the ERA in the House of Representatives.

Besides the fact that it is unfathomable that women did not have the right to vote less than a hundred years ago, revisiting the suffrage movement reaffirms the sense of the urgency and dedication shared by these women. These suffragettes had a voice and wanted to be heard; they were not content to resign themselves only to the cult of domesticity. To make this happen, they used grass roots initiatives and common sense reasoning to agitate until they achieved the right that all to many of us take for granted, the right to vote and actively participate in our democracy. I think the best way to pay tribute to these women is to take advantage of the right that they were too long denied, to participate in our democracy no matter what one’s gender, race, religion or political affiliation.

To find out more on how you can register to vote click here:

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[Image via Library of Congress, Fit 4 All, and Fading Ad Blog.

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