The 19th Amendment

The 19th Amendment



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In 1920, women in the U.S. gained the right to vote - but only after a struggle that lasted more than 70 years! Learn how suffragists fought for the 19th amendment.


We Are All Bound Up Together: 19th Amendment History

2020 was the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote. However, when women won the right to vote in 1920, the majority of Black women still couldn’t vote for another five decades. I created this poster to uplift the historic leadership and legacy of Black women in the women’s suffrage movement who went uncredited for so long, and often still continue to be invisibilized. This piece was commissioned in the fall of 2020 for Haight Street Art Center’s exhibit, XIX: 2020 Vision, with artistic direction from Alexandra Fischer.

More on the artwork:

Black women like Ida B. Wells, Frances Harper, Sojourner Truth & Hallie Brown were segregated from marches at the height of the suffrage movement. Ida B. Wells started the 1st Black suffrage club in Chicago in January 1913 and while fighting for the rights of Black people, had to also actively debate white suffragists who thought that Black women should wait until white women got the vote first. Frances Harper’s powerful poetry & oration drew massive crowds to hear her speak. One of her most well-known speeches “We Are All Bound Up Together” was at a Women’s Rights Convention in NYC, where she was invited to speak alongside white suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony. When women won the right to vote in 1920, the majority of Black women still couldn’t vote for another five decades. White women closed up suffrage clubs and Black women had to continue the fight alone. Then, Stanton & Anthony wrote the book “History of Woman’s Suffrage” & intentionally left Black women off the pages the same pages we are fed in history books. As artists, I believe we need to not only reflect the times, but expose the harms of white supremacy & flip the narrative for future generations. To me, the 19th amendment reminds me that movements can achieve major victories & still leave a lot of people behind, especially & continuously, Black women.


Women's Rights

As the home of the 19th Amendment, the National Archives invites you to join our virtual commemoration of the centennial of this landmark document. Throughout August with online programs for all ages, we will explore the complex story of the struggle for woman suffrage, leading up to and beyond the certification of the 19th Amendment on August 26, 1920.

The campaign for woman suffrage was long, difficult, and sometimes dramatic, yet ratification did not ensure full enfranchisement. Many women remained unable to vote long into the 20th century because of discriminatory laws. You can find records that help tell this story, including petitions, legislation, court cases, and more in the National Archives.

You can also learn more about the fight for women’s voting rights through our social media campaigns.


Learn about the struggle for the vote in our exhibit Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote.

A message from Archivist David S. Ferriero and Deputy Archivist Debra Steidel Wall on the centennial of the 19th Amendment.

A message from Corinne Porter, curator of the National Archives exhibit Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote.

Introduction

2019–2020, marks the 100th anniversary of women in the U.S. attaining the right to vote.

The National Archives invites you to browse the wealth of records and information documenting the women's rights movement in the United States, including photographs, documents, audiovisual recordings, educational resources, exhibits, articles, blog posts, lectures, and events.


The 19th Amendment, a century later: 'I’m surprised we are not further along'

Getting the vote was just one step on a very long journey for women.

On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment became law. Citizens of the United States could no longer be barred from voting based on their sex. The culmination of many decades of struggle involving generations of women, the amendment meant some 27 million women were now eligible to vote—the largest ever expansion of enfranchisement in the U.S.

Yet the march toward political equality was far from finished. The amendment failed to rock the patriarchal political landscape as advocates had hoped and opponents had feared. Women didn’t band together as a dominant political force to insist that their interests be addressed. Instead they often checked off the same names on their ballots as their fathers, husbands, and brothers had—if they even voted, that is.

Contemporary accounts estimate that only about a third of eligible women cast a vote in the 1920 presidential election. Some women skipped the trip to the polls out of what one survey called “general indifference.” But many others who wanted to vote were kept from it. Black women faced extensive barriers in the Jim Crow south, where well-honed racist tools such as poll taxes and literacy tests had long kept Black men from the polls. Other women of color had yet to be granted citizenship: Native Americans didn’t gain that until 1924, and Chinese Americans had to wait until 1943.

Passage of the 19th amendment ended up being a way point—albeit a significant one—on a very long journey toward equality that hasn’t been completed yet. The World Economic Forum has estimated that, given the current rate of progress, the United States won’t achieve gender equality until well into the 23rd century, years if not centuries behind other developed countries.

American women have made some progress. More women than men are now registered to vote and women turn out to vote in higher proportions than men do. In the 2016 presidential election, women outnumbered men at the ballot box by 10 million.

The key sticking point in the drive for equality is political empowerment—the lack of women serving in public office including as heads of state. In the World Economic Forum’s rankings, the United States falls in the bottom half on that measure, well behind countries such as Albania, where women gained the vote in 1920, and Rwanda, where women couldn’t vote until 1961. The U.S. has never had a female president. Only 26 out of 100 U.S. Senators are women—and that’s the highest proportion of women senators in history. Only 101 of the House’s 435 voting members are women. Women of color account for little more than a third of these legislators. (Rwanda's legislature is majority female. Here’s how it happened.)

“I am surprised we are not further along,” says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University (CAWP), describing what she calls the “glacial” increase in the number of women in elected office over the years. She says that for a long time political parties just weren’t making a point of recruiting and supporting women candidates.

The balance of power may be slowly shifting. “It’s been well-documented that [Democratic Senator] Doug Jones in Alabama won because of Black women,” says writer and activist Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of suffragist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells. “I think there’s a recognition that Black women are voters that need to be satisfied. They need to address our concerns because we vote.” Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate, the first Black woman and first Asian-American to be nominated for vice president by a major party, appears to be an acknowledgement of that.

The 2020 election promises to be historic in other ways as well. Both Republicans and Democrats have broken records for the number of women securing their party’s nomination in the races for U.S. House seats: 88 women so far for Republicans and 199 for Democrats.

The growth has come partly from the many organizations which now exist to build the political pipelines that help get women into office, such as NEW Leadership at CAWP. “The research has shown that women often get involved because they’re interested in solving issues and they’re interested in representing their communities,” says Christabel Cruz, NEW Leadership’s director. “It’s not as much about accolades or merit, although that’s fine, too.”

Cruz’s program helps female college students explore political participation, while the organization She Should Run does the same for women of all ages. Other nonpartisan initiatives, such as CAWP’s Ready to Run and the Campaign School at Yale, train women in the nitty gritty of attaining public office. Higher Heights focuses on Black women, while Republican Women for Progress aims at conservative women. “After 2016 we saw these organizations growing more and really going into turbo mode,” says Cruz.

Last year, three progressive leaders—Alicia Garza, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter Ai-jen Poo, the executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Cecile Richards, the former head of Planned Parenthood—formed Supermajority to capitalize on women’s strength in numbers. “The fact that we’re the majority of everything and yet we’re still treated as a special interest group is one of the most absurd narrative and cultural Jedi mind tricks,” says Poo. (Here's why Garza is so hopeful for the future.)

Garza describes one of the new organization’s goals as “training women across race to be able to be protagonists in our communities and be defenders of democracy.” The suffrage movement was “only for certain women,” she says. “We have to build the kinds of movements that everyone can see themselves in and that everyone is welcome inside of.”

Achieving full political empowerment for women is unlikely to happen without systemic change. Last fall, philanthropist Melinda Gates and her company Pivotal Ventures committed a billion dollars toward closing the gender gap. Some of the funding will focus on removing the barriers that can hold women back. Chief among them is unpaid carework—childcare, eldercare—an issue that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic.


Unit 4 1920s: Colonialism, Anti-Colonialism, and the Question of Women's Suffrage

When American women achieved the vote in 1920 with the 19th Amendment, most of the people in the world were colonized with little to no access to political rights. American and European women’s movements had complex and often contradictory relationships to the imperial project.

Indian suffragists in the Women's Coronation Procession, London, June 17, 1911 [Museum of London/Heritage Images].

Nineteenth Amendment

Open-carry activists are known for baiting cops into on-camera arguments about the Second Amendment and state laws.

They would not, for example, supersede federal law regarding the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment.

Either we believe the First Amendment is worth defending or we do not.

They then would expect the Senate to strip that amendment and compromise simply on keeping government open for 60 days.

This was all the rage among Bible scholars in the nineteenth century.

The "new world" was really found in the wonder-years of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The economists and the leading thinkers of the nineteenth century were in no doubt about this question.

The narrow individualism of the nineteenth century refused to recognize the social duty of supporting somebody else's grandmother.

The attitude of the nineteenth century upon this point was little short of insane.

Consequently an amendment may be made diminishing the weekly allowance to a member who is sick, and also the time of allowing it.


Women’s Suffrage in Maryland (Guest Blog)

The quest for women’s suffrage represents over 70 years of activism that ultimately resulted in the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, on August 18, 1920. The movement relied on a complicated grassroots network of affiliated national, state, and local organizations that were often fraught with divisions over race, strategy, and tactics. These organizations were predominantly comprised of white upper- and middle-class women, although some efforts were made to engage poorer women. White suffragists nearly always excluded black women, who formed their own segregated organizations such as the Progressive Women’s Suffrage Club established in Baltimore by Estelle Young. Black suffragists advocated not only for women’s suffrage but also for a host of other civil rights legislation. Overall, the movement was decidedly nonviolent and relied on the power of persuasion and education to attract people to the cause.

The Just Government League headquarters at 817 N. Charles Street in Baltimore. Photo: Nicole Diehlmann

The national movement began in 1848 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, but organized suffrage activity in Maryland did not gain much momentum until the end of the nineteenth century. In 1889 Caroline Hallowell Miller of Sandy Spring in Montgomery County established the Maryland Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA). Despite the name, the organization consisted only of a small group of Quaker women in the county. When the Baltimore City Suffrage Club was established in 1894, the Sandy Spring group was renamed the Montgomery County Suffrage Association and both clubs allied under the umbrella of the MWSA. Meetings were originally held in member’s homes, but as the groups grew larger, they began using more public spaces, such as the Friends’ Meeting House on Park Avenue in Baltimore.

From the Maryland Suffrage News

At the turn of the twentieth century, MWSA began hosting more and larger mass meetings to gain recruits. These meetings often featured nationally known suffragist leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt and were held in large private halls or theaters like Heptasoph’s Hall and MedChi’s Osler Hall in Baltimore. Under the leadership of Emma Maddox Funck, who was elected MWSA president in 1904, the organization became more closely connected to the national movement, and the number of locally affiliated clubs grew. The growth of these local clubs led to a diversity of opinions regarding strategy and tactics and, ultimately, a fracturing of the movement. By 1910, there were three separate statewide suffrage organizations for white women competing for membership and control of statewide suffrage strategy. MWSA remained as the most conservative organization. Most of its members tended to be women who did not work outside the home, and these women generally acted within socially accepted norms for upper and middle-class women of the time. Edith Haughton Hooker’s Just Government League, which was comprised of many professional women, such as nurses, teachers, and businesswomen, was the most militant. Just Government League members brought their members and their message outside of traditional female-occupied spaces to more public forums like open air mass meetings. Elizabeth King Ellicott’s State Franchise League was somewhere between the two. Both the Just Government League and the State Franchise League developed broad grassroots campaigns, creating affiliated organizations in towns and counties throughout Maryland.

The Just Government League marching on Cathedral Street in Baltimore. From the Maryland Suffrage News

The Just Government League was the most successful of the three organizations, growing its membership through persuasive marketing tactics, including its widely publicized suffrage hikes, where women would march from town to town carrying banners, distributing literature, and giving speeches in support of women’s suffrage. The first was held in January 1914, where the “Army of the Severn” marched from Baltimore to Annapolis to deliver a suffrage petition to the Maryland General Assembly. Hikes continued into 1915, visiting all corners of the state, including a Western Maryland hike in Allegany and Garrett Counties, a “pilgrimage” from Baltimore to St. Mary’s County to visit the homesite of Margaret Brent, considered Maryland’s first suffragist, and shorter hikes in Harford, Howard, and Montgomery Counties. Not only did these hikes garner much publicity through widespread newspaper coverage, they also boosted membership in local and statewide suffrage organizations, which was key to growing a broad base of support for women’s suffrage.

From the Maryland Suffrage News

Despite their organization and tactics, Maryland suffragists were unsuccessful in convincing the Maryland General Assembly to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. Both chambers decisively rejected ratification when it came up for a vote on February 17, 1920—the House by a vote of 64 to 36 and the Senate by 18 to 9. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment. Several days later, on August 26, 1920, US Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the vote and proclaimed the Nineteenth Amendment to be part of the US Constitution. The decades-long struggle was finally over, and both white and black suffragists in Maryland quickly shifted to the task of preparing women to vote in the 1920 election however, black women were still subject to Jim Crow-era rules and practices that sought to restrict black citizens’ access to the vote. Equal suffrage for black women was not fully secured until the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Maryland General Assembly finally ratified the Nineteenth Amendment in a token vote on March 29, 1941, but the vote was not certified until March 25, 1958. Despite Maryland’s lack of decisive action on the amendment, Maryland suffragists, both black and white, made major contributions to the overall effort and their grassroots advocacy created a network of skilled female activists who continued to press for political and civic reforms in the state.

From the Maryland Suffrage News

National Park Service. Maryland and the 19th Amendment. Last Updated May 12, 2020. https://www.nps.gov/articles/maryland-and-the-19th-amendment.htm.

Rohn, Kacy. 2017. The Maryland Women’s Suffrage Movement. Draft report available at the Maryland Historical Trust, Crownsville.


Any Great Change.

Commemorating the centennial of the 19 th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (August 1920) the exhibition Any Great Change documents how women gained the vote and the ways they have used political power over the last century. That impact includes Georgia women and their role in politics both as elected officials and organizers.

The exhibition explores the decades-long struggle for women’s suffrage as well as the key groups, their strategies, and their leaders, including Emily C. MacDougald and her daughter, Emily Inman, owner of Swan House. MacDougald was president of the Equal Suffrage Party of Georgia and Inman participated in Atlanta suffrage parades.

The exhibition will be installed in a gallery space on Swan House’s second floor, now fully accessible via chair lift.

Support
Funding for the exhibition, as well as the chair lift installation, is generously provided by Emily Bourne Grigsby.


Most women's ballots were accepted that spring without question. But in Racine, the ballot of WWSA leader Olympia Brown was rejected. In addition to school offices, she had voted for municipal offices on the grounds that they affected local schools. Judge John Winslow ruled in Brown's favor. But the state Supreme Court reversed the decision in "Brown v. Phillips." The court claimed that condoning Brown's actions would give women the right to vote for all offices, which was not what the legislature originally intended. The court also ruled that women could not use ballots that included any offices other than school offices, since there would be no way to verify that women had only voted for school offices on a secret ballot. The court ruled that school candidates would be listed on a separate ballot. But the legislature refused to allow local governments to do so the school suffrage law of 1869 was essentially nullified.

Led by Theodora Winton Youmans of Waukesha and Ada James of Richland Center, women's rights advocates began relying on women's clubs to promote suffrage. The WWSA gave way to the Wisconsin Federation of Women's Clubs (WFWC) as the leader in the campaign for women's rights.

Reformers began concentrating on two short-term goals. They placed women in influential government positions and tried to make the school suffrage law work effectively. The legislature finally authorized separate school ballots in 1901. Governor Robert La Follette, whose wife was an active attorney in the women's movement, appointed women to state boards and commissions so they could assure the school suffrage law was enforced.

In 1911, the WFWC successfully lobbied the legislature to authorize a statewide referendum on suffrage. When the referendum was held, Wisconsin men voted against suffrage by a 63 percent majority. One of the main reasons suffrage failed was because of its connection to temperance, which German Americans found abhorrent.


The Power of the 19th Amendment, Then and Now

Today is Women's Equality Day, which marks the 94th anniversary of the 19th Amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote. It was the culmination of a long struggle by generations of women who fought for equal access to the promise of the American Dream. The right to vote, they believed, was the main hurdle in the way of equality. Once political equality was achieved, social and economic equality would soon follow. Despite the myriad of successes women have achieved since then, true equality remains a distant dream.

Today women are still denied basic pay equity. I've written before about the harsh reality of the gender pay gap and the detrimental effects it has on American families. Nearly every day new stories and studies prove that gender discrimination is a real and present threat to women in the workforce and their families.

Yale University recently found that two identical resumes, one with a male name and one with a female name, received markedly different reactions from employers. The employer consistently ranked the female applicant lower in competence and hire-ability, despite identical qualifications. Female applicants were also offered $4,000 less as a starting salary.

Yet despite this reality, opponents of equal pay continue to deny the very existence of discrimination and a resulting pay gap. They argue that such legislation would be redundant and unnecessary. Their actions tell women to accept their status as second-class citizens who deserve less than their male counterparts.

Women also continue to struggle to achieve equality of health care. Although the Affordable Care Act sought to rectify the disparity by guaranteeing coverage to all and making it illegal for insurance companies to charge more to women based solely on gender, there is still far to go. Women can be denied access to birth control, and face increasing restrictions in access to abortion. Women are not even guaranteed control over their own bodies.

In the near century that women have had the right to vote, they have used it to push for progress and justice. Yet despite their many hard-fought battles, real equality remains elusive. This November, I urge women to once again use their votes for social change. This November, vote against those representatives, like my own Congressman Dave Reichert, who have stood in the way of women's equality.

Vote against those who deny the wage gap and refuse to rectify sexism in the work place. Vote against those who say that women should not be allowed to control their own bodies. Vote against those who say that women are not truly equal.


Watch the video: The 19th Amendment. History