Well, I’m hoping it’s happy, anyway. I voted this morning after dropping off my daughter at school, and I actually felt a bit of foreboding as I walked in. I choose to hope for the best, however!
Normally, I LOVE election day. It reminds me of my great-grandma, who loved to remind me of the huge societal changes that happened “when women got the vote!” Her mom was a suffragette–someone who fought for votes for women. (Anyone else have the Mary Poppins song going through your head right now?) Because of my family history, voting has always be incredibly important to me–even when I lived abroad for a couple of years after college.
Since we love to celebrate women around here, how ’bout a little history on the Nineteenth Amendment the the United States Constitution? The amendment was first introduced to Congress in 1878, but it wasn’t approved until 1919, and then ratified (made official law) on August 18, 1920. Prior to that, mostly only white men could vote.
The 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in New York is generally considered the start of the American women’s rights movement (although other countries, most notably England, were ahead of us in the fight for women’s votes).
It wasn’t until after the Civil War, however, that the women’s suffrage movement really gained momentum with the Reconstruction Era (1865-1877), when the Thirteenth (abolishment of slavery), Fourteenth (granting universal citizenship), and Fifteenth (granting the right to vote without respect to race) Amendments were passed.
Although women’s rights leaders including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony fought for universal suffrage irrespective of sex in those amendments, the amendments did nothing to advance women’s fight. In fact, the Fourteenth Amendment expressly discriminated against women by penalizing states that deprived adult male citizens of the vote, but not for denying adult female citizens the right to vote.
As more people moved west, the fight for women’s voting rights was constantly being discussed at the state and territory levels. In fact, it was in those western areas where women’s suffrage was first established, namely in Wyoming Territory (1869), Utah (1870), and Washington Territory (1883). It is rumored that Susan B. Anthony often vacationed in Utah because “It [was] one of the few places in the country that truly appreciated women.”
Over the years, suffragettes attempted to challenge the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, but after three separate Supreme Court rejections, women’s suffrage groups changed tactics and started fighting for a new amendment. Not much happened for about thirty years, until, starting in 1910, the majority of western states granted full or partial suffrage for women.
The final turning point came after Carrie Chapman Catt succeeded Susan B. Anthony as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Catt led a successful campaign to achieve state-level suffrage in New York in 1917. She then created snowballed that into a huge PR win by going against many of her pacifist colleagues to support the war effort during World War I. That decision turned the suffragettes from “the enemy” to very visible symbols of patriotism and nationalism. President Woodrow Wilson then supported their efforts, and he was instrumental in pushing the Nineteenth Amendment through Congress.
So, after so many women worked for so many decades to “get the vote,” have you voted yet today? Let us know how you are feeling about today’s election in the comments below!