Image taken from Women March 2020 Wikipedia
Since the ratification of the 19th Amendment a century ago, women all over the country gained the right to vote; however, that was simply not the end of the fight for women’s equality, instead, merely the beginning. For example, many marginalized groups were unable to vote until years, even decades, later due to loopholes and discrimination. Yet the question remains: What really happened after the ratification of the 19th Amendment? Here are 10 monumental events in the decades following the Women's Suffrage Movement that advanced women’s equality in America.
Nineteen twenty-four saw the Indian Citizenship Act, which granted all Native Americans citizen status in America. This ended the long debate over the birthright citizenship for the discriminated group. The act read “all noncitizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States.” Up until this time, about 125,000 Native Americans were not considered to be citizens. As a result, Native American women were now able to vote in most states.
While the 1930s did not see a huge cry for women’s equality, Supreme Court cases such as West Coast Hotel Co v. Parrish in 1938 established minimum wages for women as constitutional. Elsie Parrish, an employee at West Coast Hotel, was supposed to receive $14.50 per week minimum wage set by the Industrial Welfare Committee and Supervisor of Women in Industry, however she received less than this amount. By declaring wage regulation does not violate due process, women were able to move one step closer to equal pay.
World War II in the 1940s inspired women to fight at greater lengths for social change and equality. The image of Rosie the Riveter depicted a confident woman who wore overalls and a bandana as she flexed her muscles with the headline “We Can Do It!” This picture was unlike any previous depiction of women, and many historians cite her as inspiration for female liberation. Because men were away at war, women became more self-sufficient, often replacing men in some of these more ‘masculine roles.’ They took on dangerous roles in the war. There was even the all-black, all-women 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion sent to England and France in order to process backlogs of undelivered mail.
In 1957, the FDA approved the birth control pill after the 50s saw the race to complete the pill in full force. Initially, the pill was only for severe menstrual disorders, rather than a contraceptive. However, an unusually large number of women reported severe menstrual disorders. It was not until 1960 that it was approved for contraceptive use.
The 1960s made major progress in passing legislation benefiting women’s rights, the most impactful being the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While this act is mainly associated with the Civil Rights Movement, it also was a big step in advancing women’s rights. The act stated that employers could not discriminate against someone based on race and gender. Employers could previously not hire a woman based solely on the fact that she was a woman.
In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. This act prevented legal barriers, such as literacy tests or ‘incorrect’ voter application, that disqualified African Americans from exercising their right to vote. African American women were one of the final groups barred from voting in America, despite the 19th Amendment having been passed 45 years prior.
The entirety of the 1970s saw the fight for women’s rights skyrocket. First, in 1973 two Supreme Court cases, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, legalized abortion in the United States. Roe v. Wade in a landmark decision that declared that the right to privacy under the Due Process Clause in the 14th Amendment extended to a women’s decision to having an abortion. In Doe v. Bolton, on the same day as the previous case, overturned the abortion laws in Georiga and allowed the procdure for reasons of maternal health.
The later part of the 1970s saw the push for the Equal Rights Amendment which demanded that discrimination against individuals based on gender be banned, playing a large role in the fight for equality. It sought to equalize rights for all genders. While the initial amendment was approved by Congress in 1972, it was only given seven years to be ratified by at least 38 states and was slowed by conservative activists who claimed it was forcing women out of traditional household standards. By 1975, only 35 states had ratified the ERA, and by 1982, the ERA had been defeated.
The 1980s were a decade of firsts for women in the United States. Starting in 1980, Paula Hawkins, a Republican from Florida, became the first woman to become elected to the U.S. Senate without following her father or husband in the job. In 1981, Sandra Day O'Connor became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Geraldine Ferraro, in 1984, became the first woman nominated to be vice president on a major party ticket. While these moments might not deem ‘essential’ to women’s equality, these firsts for women set precedent in the government for hundreds and thousands of women to come.
While there are countless moments in American history since the 1980s that have pushed the fight for women’s equality further, it is necessary to look into more recent years to see how women are still fighting for rights and equality in the 21st Century. One of the most important moments in this century has been the #MeToo movement, which worked, and continues to work, against ending sexual violence, specifically amongst women. During 2017, around when Harvey Weinstein began to dominate headlines after countless allegations of sexual assault, many more women spoke up against their own assaults. Tarana Burke, who founded the #MeToo movement, wanted to create a focus on healing and survivorship by building a community where women can discuss and share their experiences. For one of the first times in history, women were finally speaking up against the abuse they have faced their whole lives; and for the first time, people were listening to their stories. Rather than blaming the victim, the victim became a voice finally heard.
Throughout the past century, as a reflection on the Women’s Suffrage movement, women have been fighting for equality within all aspects of life. When many discuss the concept of women’s equality, they stop at the 19th Amendment, yet the right to vote was only the beginning. The century following the Women’s Suffrage Movement is now Herstory not history, and women will continue to fight until they are truly seen as equals.