The Distance Between the Nineteenth Amendment and Us

by Rosa Eberly
The Distance Between the Nineteenth Amendment and Us

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” — Nineteenth Amendment

Associate Professor, Dept. of Communication Arts & Sciences and Dept. of English

Last month marked the 98th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment being quietly signedinto law. From the National Archives: “Achieving this milestone required a lengthy and difficult struggle; victory took decades of agitation. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, woman suffrage supporters lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and practiced civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans considered radical change.”

I have long used the Nineteenth Amendment as a kind of historical measuring stick for assessing how and whether We The People are working to create a more perfect Union. My mother was born three months before ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. In the language I grew up with, 1920 was “the year The Women got The Vote.” Yet not all women embraced the opportunity to vote, and, indeed, not all women gained the right to vote from the Nineteenth Amendment. While the Nineteenth Amendment allowed white women to vote, it did not extend voting rights explicitly to people of color.

The roots of that exclusion inhere in the women’s rights movement itself. As Penn State Professor of History and Women’s Studies Lori Ginzberg told NPR in 2011, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who helped organize the world’s first women’s rights convention in 1848, thought of women’s rights as white women’s rights. “When (Stanton) said ‘women,’ … she primarily had in mind women much like herself: white, middle-class, culturally if not religiously protestant, propertied, well-educated.”

Getting the Nineteenth Amendment into law took decades of organizing, work, and civil disobedience. Again from the National Archives: “Between 1878, when the amendment was first introduced in Congress, and 1920, when it was ratified, champions of voting rights for women worked tirelessly, but their strategies varied. Some tried to pass suffrage acts in each state—nine western states adopted woman suffrage legislation by 1912. Others challenged male-only voting laws in the courts. More public tactics included parades, silent vigils, and hunger strikes. Supporters were heckled, jailed, and sometimes physically abused.”

Find more resources on the Nineteenth Amendment here https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/18/books/review/womans-hour-elaine-weiss.html and here “Colby Proclaims Women Suffrage” https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1920/08/27/issue.html