On August 18, 1920, by a vote of 50-47, Tennessee became the last state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment, finally giving American women the right to vote, moving one step closer to women’s equality in America. A hundred years later, we reflect on Herstory to examine how far we have come since then, and what comes next.
However, the story starts well before 1920. Suffragists began their fight for women’s equality in 1848 when they demanded the right to vote during the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. The meeting was the launching point for the women’s suffrage movement. The two day convention was made up of about 300 individuals, and open to only women on the first day.
One of the main leaders of the suffrage movement was Susan B. Anthony, who died before the 19th Amendment was even passed. In 1872, in Rochester, New York, Anthony cast her vote, even though it was still illegal for women to vote in New York. Poll workers questioned if she was credible enough to vote, and she demanded they register her anyway. However, one week later, Anthony and 14 other women were arrested and charged with voting unlawfully.
By the end of her trial, which she called the “greatest judicial outrage history has ever recorded,” she was told to pay a $100 fine, yet she declared to the judge she would never pay a dollar.
Fourteen years after her death at the age of 86, Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, technically guaranteeing women the right to vote, but mainly white women. It would be decades until women of color would be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
And on the 100th Anniversary of this momentous event in American history, President Trump announced that he would issue a posthumous presidential pardon of Susan B. Anthony for her crime of voting illegally. At the same time, it is also insane in this day and age that not only has she not been pardoned, but that she was ever considered to have committed a crime.
However, it was not only Anthony or Elizabeth Stanton, who was one of the heads of the Seneca Falls Convention, who paved the way for women’s right to vote: women of color, the working class and immigrant women all paved the way to the passing of the 19th Amendment. According to the NYTimes, the movement actually originated with the abolishment of slavery, as many early suffragists were present in this same fight for freedom. The 19th Amendment was only the beginning for women’s suffrage. Many Black women, for example, could not vote until 1965 with the passing of the Voting Rights Act. Some historians also find it demeaning when people say that women were “given” the right to vote. Saying that they were given that right completely undermines any sort of fight for their right. The right to merely exist as an equal was a fight; it wasn’t handed to women on a silver platter.
As a young woman in her early-20’s, where all I have known is that I have the right to vote, it baffles me to think how only 100 years ago, that right just came into existence. In the grand scheme of things, 100 years ago wasn’t too long ago, yet women have come so far since then, and will continue to fight until they are truly equal. It forces me to reflect on how different my life would have been if I was born a century ago, or even a century in the future.
To learn more about the Centennial of the 19th Amendment, Womensvote100.org provides a series of discussions on different aspects of the women’s fight for equality that goes beyond textbook level, and truly delves into Herstory.