Celebrating the 100th Year Anniversary of the 19th Amendment
This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the nineteenth amendment. On August 18, 1920, women attained the legal right to vote in the United States of America. One hundred years later, no woman has achieved the highest office of the land: President of the United States. However, with the nomination of Senator Kamala Harris, the first African-American and South Asian woman to be nominated as Vice President for a major political party, we can confidently look towards the future, but we cannot forget the past.
The fight for women’s rights has a long and tortured history. On July 19 and 20, 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott held the first Women’s Rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. On the final day of the convention, Stanton read aloud twelve points from the “Declaration of Sentiments.” The big highlights included declaring:
- that men and women are equal and granted “unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” as stated in the Declaration of Independence;
- that women can participate in government; and
- that women can own property.
Three years later, Stanton would meet Susan B. Anthony, the poster child for women’s suffrage rights, and together would form the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). Not everyone agreed with Stanton and Anthony’s ideas, and another faction of women’s suffragists would form the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). While NWSA worked to secure women’s rights through a constitutional amendment, AWSA worked to pass women’s suffrage rights state by state. In 1890, both organizations would join forces to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
Although many Western states, including Nevada, had granted women a right to vote before the 19th Amendment, there was still no federal law protecting or granting women this right. In 1872, Susan B. Anthony illegally registered and voted in New York. She was arrested, put on trial, and fined $100. In 1875, Mrs. Virginia Minor sued the state of Missouri for the right to vote in the national elections. The case was eventually heard by the Supreme Court in Minor v. Happersett. The Supreme Court unanimously stated that the right to vote was not an inherent right of citizenship for women.
After forty years of arguments, the 19th Amendment eventually came up for a vote and was passed by the House of Representatives on May 12, 1919. Two weeks later, the Senate also passed it. However, to be ratified, 36 out of 48 states had to ratify the amendment as well. 35 states voted to ratify the 19th Amendment, 8 states rejected it, 3 abstained, and 2 states were undecided: Tennessee and North Carolina. Both supporters and dissenters descended on Tennessee with fervor. The opposition argued that passage of the 19th Amendment would cause a disruption in family harmony, cause a rise in divorce rates, and destroy the institution of marriage.
However, on August 19, 1920, a Tennessee freshman representative, Harry T. Burn, would be the deciding vote. He was persuaded by a letter from his mother, Febb Burn, which urged him to vote for women’s suffrage. She stated, “Hurrah and vote for suffrage, and don’t keep them in doubt.” He was worried about getting re-elected, but the words of his mother convinced him to vote in favor of women’s suffrage rights. That November, he won re-election narrowly – most likely due to all the new female voters.
Although women won the constitutional right to vote on August 18, 1920, many others still had a long fight against marginalization such as African-American women, Asians, and Native Americans. As we celebrate this centennial anniversary, let’s stop to reflect on the battle for women’s suffrage and continue to promote laws that ensure that all men and women are able to fully exercise their rights to vote and participate in our democracy this November. Let us also take time to learn about all the women running in our local elections and support them with our time, talents, and votes.
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