Women Have The Right To Vote

Voting is a right, written on the back of a strong woman

It’s only (as well as an excruciating) 92 days until the next big election. Early voting starts in Minnesota in half that time–on Friday, September 26th. There are still primaries in many states shaping up down-ballot races, including those critical local and state races that have a huge impact on people’s day to day.

At the risk of jumping in like Captain Obvious, it’s important to remember that women–you know a little bit more than half of the U.S. population–weren’t able to cast a vote in the U.S. until 1920.

So, for those 114,642,000 U.S. citizens of voting age who are women, per the Census, as you contemplate casting your ballot, contemplate what it took to gain your right to  vote.

Things You Maybe Didn’t Know About Women’s Suffrage

Worldwide, women weren’t always included in voters rolls.

  • Switzerland was the last Western republic to grant women’s suffrage in 1971. I guess their neutrality wasn’t all that neutral. Other late adopters of women’s rights to vote in Europe were Spain 1931, France 1944, Italy in 1946, and Greece in 1952.
  • Some countries were early to the table regarding women’s vote. Their idea was that people vote, and that women were people, ipso facto women voted. Crazy, no? Examples include Austria and Estonia and Poland. While these countries were not early democracies, at least when they let people vote, they included women.

Back to the U.S., there were pockets of women’s suffrage before the 19th Amendment.

  • New Jersey got it right. At first, anyway. The New Jersey constitution of 1776 enfranchised all adult inhabitants who were property owners. Laws from 1790 and 1797 referred to voters as “he or she,” and women regularly voted. But in 1807 they passed a law that took that right away from women. Why??!?
  • In December of 1869, the Wyoming Territory approved the first law in United States explicitly granting women the right to vote. Yay!
  • Another western state, Colorado, did it in 1893. This was super awesome because the change came via referendum. This means that the men in Colorado were excellent early allies and voted for their sisters, mothers, wives and friends to join them in political decision-making. The referendum passed with 55% of the vote. Double yay!!

Wanted: Constitutional Amendment for all U.S. Citizens (where ALL includes women)

  • The push for universal women’s suffrage had it’s birth in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention in upstate New York. Activists–primarily women–began a seven decades effort to secure the right to vote.
  • The 19th Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878 and the language was modeled after the 15th Amendment. It was pretty simple.

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.

  • Hard to think that it was controversial, right? You’d be incorrect there. It took forty-one years to get Congress to approve the amendment and send it to the states for ratification.
  •  It was ratified by the requisite number of states one year later, with Tennessee’s ratification being the final vote needed to amend the Constitution and provide women a voice in government.
  • Here’s a scary one. Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina did not ratify the 19th Amendment until 1969-1971. Mississippi was the laggard, finally voting “Yes” in 1984. You read that right. Women could still vote, mind you. They just didn’t approve.

The Struggle Was (and is) Real

  • Suffragists adopted a “feminine” dress to appear less threatening. They frequently wore white to symbolize their purity. No reason to scare people off. I guess.
  • Women have been helping each other all along the way. Susan B. Anthony would babysit Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s children while Stanton wrote suffrage speeches and petitions for Anthony. Sisterhood teamwork!
  • Mom’s rule. The story goes that a Tennessee legislator was pressured by his mom to change his No vote to Yes. His was the last vote needed. She told him to do the right thing. That’s lobbying from the heart. Everyone, go thank your mother, just on general principle.
  • The Census estimates there’s 302,800 women in the U.S. who were born before the 19th Amendment was ratified. Bless them, one and all!
  •  Many African American women were active in the woman suffrage movement–even though they were not always welcomed by some white activists. Look up Ida B. Wells. Let me help you. Her work on women’s suffrage, and her brave anti-lynching activism, made her a hero to social justice. And white women need to take heed of sisters of color, they are there fighting the good fight on many fronts!

Folks, and especially women, who think that voting isn’t important, just think about the women and men who helped ensure the right to vote. It was important then, and it’s still important now.

Make sure you register to vote. Then make sure your voice is heard. Cast your ballot.

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