This blog post is written by Emma Weil, Programs and Services Co-op from Drexel University
August 18th, 1920 is when the 19th amendment was ratified, granting all women who were United States citizens the right to vote. The amendment was passed on June 4th, and was officially ratified after Tennessee ratified it on the 18th.
The fight for women’s suffrage had been happening for about a century, with most organizations and activists coming to light in the early 1800s. Some of the first highly organized conventions would begin in 1848, starting with the Seneca Falls Convention held in Seneca Falls, New York. Organized by activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, hundreds of people, both women and men, attended to hear talks of civil liberties for women. It was at this convention where the “Declaration of Sentiments” would be written; a document written by Stanton meant to take after the Constitution, but focusing on the liberties women wished to be granted, including the right to vote.
The American Civil War would be a time where activism from the women’s movement would die down due to war efforts, but suffragists would come back full force afterwards. During this time, influential organizations National Women's Suffrage Association (NWSA) and American Women's Suffrage Association (AWSA), formed by Susan. B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone respectively, would be formed, and they would take the fight to local and state level. Hope was also revitalized after the passing of inclusive amendments that would give former slaves citizenship, as well as giving black men the right to vote in the 1860s. Suffragists tried to use these new amendments as leverage for including women, but their efforts were unsuccessful. Black women and former slaves noticed the clear injustices in these new amendments, and activists Margaretta Forten and Harriet Forten Purvis would begin the first organized efforts for suffrage for African-American women with the formation of the Philadelphia Suffrage Association.
Starting in 1890 with Wyoming, states (mostly in the west) began granting partial voting rights to women, proving the tactic of focusing on a local level to be successful. Stanton and other suffragists became more and more active in political affairs, bringing their own amendments to the Senate multiple times, despite being rejected over and over again. This era marked the NWSA and AWSA combining to form the National American Women Suffrage Association, further uniting women across the country and strengthening the organization's efforts. African-American women would take matters into their own hands by forming the National Association of Colored Women in response to decades of exclusion in the women’s rights movements.
WWI gave new opportunity for the women’s rights movements. Women were a huge contribution in the war effort, having to take over several positions in the labor force, as well as serving as nurses in the military. Suffragists would use the argument that they were a vital part of the war effort, and in fighting for America, they should be allowed to vote in American elections. The same year the war started, the amendment was once again presented to congress, but would be rejected again. As women increased their efforts via protests, police began brutalizing women at these protests more and more, arresting hundreds in the process (and in some cases, torturing them in while in prison).
28th President Woodrow Wilson would show support for the suffrage movement, sharing the sentiment that it was unfair to have women serve the country during a war, but not allow them to participate in politics. The amendment would go through several trials, but would eventually be able to pass on June 4th, 1919. Illinois would be the first to ratify it only a few days later on June 10th, and Tennessee the final on August 18th, 1920.
While the ratification was undoubtedly a huge win for the feminist movement, racial disparity still existed. Black women were discouraged from voting through various tactics, such as literacy tests or unreasonable fees. Native American, Asian, and Hispanic women would also be denied the right to vote for several years after. However, the 19th amendment, though racist in nature, would be a new form of leverage in the fight for universal rights and anti-discrimination.