On August 26th our nation pauses to acknowledge the day in 1920 when the 19th Amendment to our country’s Constitution, giving women the right to vote, became law in the United States. The struggle to secure the right to vote for women in America began in in the late 1800s when groups of women called “suffragists” demanded that women should have the same rights as men.
In 1848, large numbers of women convened at the very first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Male activists such as Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist, were present and urged the women to protest and fight for their rights.
One of the organizations that emerged from the Seneca Falls Convention was the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Under the leadership of Susan B. Anthony, it organized marches and protest demonstrations throughout the country. Its leaders took their cause all the way to the United States Supreme Court which refused in 1875 to rule that women had a constitutional right to vote.
In the early 1900’s groups of women joined picket lines at the White House, and even went to prison after they were charged with breaking the law by voting, although they were barred from doing so. In prison some women went on hunger strikes and continued to support the national women’s group formed after the Seneca Falls convention, which by then had formed chapters in numerous states across the country.
In addition to voting rights, women also fought for equal treatment in divorce settlements, disputes over property and wages. Women’s groups continued to pressure federal and state officials for equality. At the time, the only female member of the Congress was Representative Jeanette Rankin from Montana.
Public opinion began to support the efforts of women to secure equal rights. The 19th amendment was introduced in Congress in 1918. Two years later it was ratified by the states. It reads, “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.”
The ratification of the 19th amendment brought radical changes in American politics. Women became actively engaged in elections after years of civil disobedience, protest marches and political involvement. Slowly, the number of women elected to political office began to climb. This would not have occurred but for the passage of the 19th amendment.
I am certain that the women who began the fight for equal rights more than one hundred years ago would be delighted that in today’s Congress there are 84 women in the House, and 20 in the Senate. They would also be pleased to see that women serve in the some of the most important positions in our federal government and in our states, and that there have been a number of women who have run for the presidency.
I believe that the passage of the 19th amendment has led to great progress in our country. It enabled a class of people that had been excluded from the voting process to exercise the right to vote, one of the most basic and fundamental rights that we have as Americans.
I will continue to fight for the rights of all women in our country because many have yet to experience the full benefits of the American dream.