The Roaring 20s. The Jazz Age. Whatever you call it, it was a decade of change. Many Americans owned cars and telephones for the first time. Football became a professional sport, and Amelia Earhart took her first flight across the Atlantic. The era of Prohibition began.
And American women were guaranteed the right to vote.
This August, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Ratified in August 1920, it prohibits states and the federal government from denying citizens of the United States the right to vote based on sex.
Not That Long Ago
It may seem like an eternity, but 1920 is not that long ago. 100 years is just three to four generations – and it’s likely that your grandparents or your great grandparents were alive to see women fight for their right to vote.
The first women’s rights convention in the United States was held just 80 years prior, in Seneca Falls, New York. There, the women’s suffrage movement was launched.
Some states passed legislation that allowed women to vote if they owned land, or only in certain types of elections (such as school or municipal). Other territories granted women the right to vote and then took it away again.
In New Jersey, some women could vote as early as 1776, but that right was taken away in 1807 when the state legislature restricted suffrage to white, tax-paying male citizens.
According to the National Archives, the first amendment to guarantee women the right to vote was introduced in Congress in 1878. On May 21, 1919, the House of Representatives passed the amendment, and two weeks later it was passed by Senate. It wasn’t until August 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, that it was adopted.
A Long and Thorny Path
The movement to secure the vote for women was not an easy one. The path, even today, is dotted with disappointments, factional disagreements, prioritization of the rights of the white and wealthy, and (on occasion) scandal.
Though the amendment stopped states from barring citizens from the polls based on sex alone, they had plenty of other tools to keep people away. But activism for women and minority voting rights didn’t end there.
According to Rutgers University,
“In 1924, the Snyder Act granted Native Americans citizenship rights, including the right to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented racial minorities, especially Black voters in the South, from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed under the 15th and 19th Amendments to the Constitution. The 1975 extension of the Voting Rights Act ended discrimination against ‘language minorities,’ including those who speak Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native, and Spanish languages, by requiring certain jurisdictions to provide translation materials for voter registration information and ballots.”
While the 19th amendment was a landmark in history, it was still decades before all women (particularly those of color) could exercise their right to vote.
Today, many Americans take that right for granted. But as we continue to battle a global pandemic, as well as racial unrest on our own soil, voting has never been more important.
This November 3rd, get out there and exercise the right that so many women before you fought to secure!