August 26, 2015 marks the 95th Anniversary of the Woman Suffrage Movement’s great victory, the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This courageous political campaign, which spanned 72 years, was carried out by tens of thousands of persistent women and men. The significance of the woman suffrage campaign and its enormous political and social impact has been largely ignored in the telling of American history, but it is a story that needs to be told. It is a story of women creating one of the most remarkable and successful nonviolent civil rights efforts the world has ever seen.
It’s been a hard-fought battle.
The suffrage movement in the United States gained prominence with the first women’s rights convention in the world: the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. The convention was organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, active members of the abolitionist movement who met in England in 1840 at the World Anti-Slavery Convention. In 1851,
Stanton was introduced by a mutual friend to Susan B. Anthony, who was most active in the temperance movement at the time. The two would form a life-long friendship and collaboration focused on obtaining suffrage. They formed the Woman’s National Loyal League in 1863 to support the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery and to campaign for full citizenship for blacks and women.
DID YOU KNOW THAT: There is a difference between the terms “suffragist” and “suffragette?” In the United States, supporters of woman suffrage preferred and used the term suffragist. In Britain, militant supporters of woman suffrage called themselves suffragette. When the American press, or those who opposed woman suffrage, called an American woman a suffragette, it was intended to be derogatory.
But women wanted more. They wanted the right to vote as well…
DID YOU KNOW THAT: Women were the first protest group in US history to picket the White House? Since then, this tactic has been used by many groups to protest for rights.
It is all the more remarkable when one considers the barriers the suffragists had to overcome:
- Suffrage Challenged the Existing Order: Deep cultural beliefs in male/female differences in altitudes and abilities supported this situation, and giving the women the vote posed a direct threat to male powers and privileges. Changes in women’s reforms, such as access to education or property rights, were justified because they were viewed as an improvement in women’s social position. Suffrage, on the other hand, challenged the existing order by threatening the basis of women’s subordination in society. Granting suffrage was a revolutionary act.
DID YOU KNOW THAT: Many early suffrage supporters, including Susan B. Anthony, remained single because, in the early 1800s, married women could not own property in their own right and could not make legal contracts on their own behalf?
- Many Women didn’t Want it.This rationale swayed many a male legislator.It is true that at times even well-educated women in countries with high percentages of female illiteracy joined men who claimed that as long as the majority of women were still illiterate and ignorant, it would be dangerous to extend them the vote. The anti-suffrage groups in the U.S., for example, were mainly led by women.
- Fear of a Loss of Female rights. Some worried that if the concept of male “protection” of women were broken, women would be forced to compete with men in areas which they were not prepared to. Giving women political independence would even change male/female roles in the family structure, severely damaging it.
DID YOU KNOW THAT: American women who were jailed for demonstrating for the right to vote were force-fed in prison when they went on hunger strikes?
- Women’s Essential Femininity would be Sacrificed. Most women did not want to give up what they saw as essential characteristics of their female nature if voting meant that they would have to enter the rough and disorderly realm of politics. There were fears that when women entered the public arena their “natural” roles of wife and mother would be undermined.
DID YOU KNOW THAT: In the early 1800s, in most states, women could not have custody of their own children? According to state laws, children “belonged” to the husband. Not until the 1840s, when women began to organize to obtain legal rights and gradually laws began to change, could women own property in their own right after marriage, or obtain custody of their own children.
- National Needs Come First:In countries fighting for their independence from colonial rule there was pressure on women to wait their turn. Even women suffrage supporters tended to be more nationalistic than feminist, arguing that votes for women were necessary so that they could imbue their children with ideas of nationalism.
- Resistance of Liberal/Left Politicians: Some supporters of progressive legislation
worried that acts by women’s militant suffrage would harm the “larger” cause of progressive politics. They were also concerned that once given the vote, women might vote for conservative parties.
DID YOU KNOW THAT: Alice Paul, leader of the National Woman’s Party, was put in solitary confinement in the mental ward of the prison as a way to “break” her will and to undermine her credibility with the public?
The Constitution allows the states to determine the qualifications of voters, subject to limitations imposed by later amendments. Until the 1910s, most states disenfranchised women. The amendment was the culmination of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States, which fought at both state and national levels to achieve the vote. It effectively overruled Minor v. Happersett, in which a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not give women the right to vote.
The Nineteenth Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878 by Senator Aaron A. Sargent. Forty-one years later, in 1919, Congress approved the amendment and submitted it to the states for ratification. It was ratified by the requisite number of states a year later, with Tennessee‘s ratification being the final vote needed to add the amendment to the Constitution. In Leser v. Garnett (1922), the Supreme Court rejected claims that the amendment was unconstitutionally adopted.
DID YOU KNOW THAT: The nineteenth amendment to the Constitution granting women the vote was passed by only one vote? Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify the Amendment, and it passed the legislature when Harry Burn, a young legislator, changed his vote to “yes” after receiving a letter from his mother telling him to “do the right thing.”
Today, Women want MORE as well. We want ALL our rights to be protected under the Constitution, not just the right to vote.
DID YOU KNOW: America women STILL don’t have full equality under the law?
In the 1960’s women again begin to take a stand. Women begin to ask themselves – ‘Is this all there is?’ They were tired of discrimination and began to band together in defense of their rights. Pro-ERA advocacy was led by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and ERAmerica, a coalition of nearly 80 other mainstream organizations.
Women eventually gained a little more legal respect through the Equal Rights Amendment of 1972, but the journey was a long and incomplete struggle that continues today. In 1977, Indiana became the 35th and so far the last state to ratify the ERA. That year also marked the death of Alice Paul, who, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony before her, never saw the Constitution amended to include the equality of rights she had worked for all her life. We don’t want women today to die without realizing their full rights under the law!
These three sentences comprise the entire text of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), affirming the equal application of the U.S. Constitution to both females and males.
- Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
- Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
- Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
The struggle now is to remove the deadline from The Equal Rights Amendment!
There is NO VALID ARGUMENT against gender equality.
Contact your senators and tell them you want them to support removing the deadline. Spread the word. Make them feel the pressure. Be friendly and courteous but be firm!!!!
“There should never be a deadline when it comes to ensuring the rights of any American” ~ Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)
For a list of elected officials to contact: http://blog.wearewoman.us/2015/05/remove-deadline-from-equal-rights.html
Helene Swanson, a resident of Sausalito, California, began her pilgrimage on foot in the Spring of 2014, responding to a spiritual call to bear public witness for the ERA. By August 26,, 2015, often walking alone by the side of the highway, she will have traversed each of the 15 states that have failed to ratify the amendment and pressed legislators in their capitals to take action. Ratification by three more states is needed for the ERA to become a part of the U.S. Constitution.
On August 27, 2015, the day following the March and rally, ERA Action in conjunction with Katrina’s Dream, UniteWomen.Org, Equal Rights Alliance, ERA Coalition, ERA Minnesota, National NOW, We Are Woman US, Women-Matter and other women’s groups are coordinating a lobbying effort to call upon senators and representative to co-sponsor S.J. Res 15 and H.J. Res 51 respectively to remove the deadline and bring the ERA to Congress for a vote!
Haven’t we earned it? Haven’t we waited long enough?