This year marks the 100th year that white women in the United States have had the right to vote. The ratification of the 19th amendment mandates “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.”
Over the course of America’s history, women of all backgrounds have fought for equality with their male counterparts. The passing of the 19th amendment marked the beginning of a new era of equality for women and led to the continued fight for rights over the course of the next 100 years.
Discover more about the women that changed America and books to help you teach your kids about suffragettes and the 19th Amendment.
Why is the 19th Amendment important?
In short, the 19th amendment guaranteed that women would have a voice in elections. The overarching impacts of this amendment were much larger than just that though. This opportunity allowed women to fight for reproductive rights, job opportunities, access to education, fairer wages, and the ability to more easily run for office.
After women were enfranchised, it gave them the ability to cast their vote towards the official who best represented their morals and ethics, and get a foothold in the national conversation surrounding important issues. Candidates catered to women in an effort to get elected and women took advantage, advocating for laws that would provide them with better economic opportunities and securities.
Women were able to create economic progress for themselves as a result, with an increased availability of family-planning services, as well as allowing more women to participate in higher education and have professional occupations. As women started higher education and entered into the workforce, salaries increased for women and the wage gap narrowed.
A Brief History of Voting
To understand why the 19th Amendment was so groundbreaking, it’s important to take a look back to the birth of the United States and its voting history.
When America emerged from the ashes of the revolution, the new government left it to the states to decide who was allowed to vote. Most stats put in place voting restrictions that limited voting to only white, male property owners. Some even went as far as restricting it to white, male, Christitian property owners by implementing religious tests.
By the time the 1800’s rolled around, state legislatures had started removing property ownership barriers and in the years following the Civil War, the 15th amendment was passed and ratified by the states that gave all men the right to vote, regardless of the color of their skin. Despite this, many southern states created new barriers, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, to deter African American men from voting.
Near the end of the 1800’s, women’s suffrage movements joined together to push for women’s right to vote, taking hold in nearly every major city. By 1912, many women had gained voting rights within their individual states. Despite this, women still fought tirelessly to become enfranchised under a federal declaration, rather than through their state legislature’s decision.
While there was growing support for women’s right to vote, there were many who were opposed to the idea. Most anti-suffragists were men who argued that a woman’s place was in the home and that voting rights would compromise what made women distinctly feminine. The years leading up to the ratification of the 19th amendment proved to men, and anti-suffragists sympathizers, that women were committed to uplifting their country through voting.
The suffragist movement actually started much further back than most people realize. As early as the beginning of the 19th century, women had started to push their way into politics. It wasn’t until the middle of the 1800’s that women’s suffrage became more widespread and well known throughout the country.
In 1849, the Seneca Falls convention took place with several hundred women in attendance. This is where Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a historical suffragist figure, drafted the “Declaration of Sentiments.” Modeled after the Declaration of Independence, this document proclaimed that all men and women were created equal and outlined a list of resolutions surrounding property rights, higher education, and women’s suffrage. Soon after, Susan B. Anthony, another well known historical suffragist figure, made women’s suffrage a national goal and movement.
When the 15th amendment was passed 20 years later, the women’s suffrage movement split into two groups. One pushed for state-by-state suffrage while the other focused its attention on federal suffrage. These two associations remained separate until 1890, when they merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association, marking a new era in the history of women’s suffrage.
In the years following, the suffrage movement tied itself closely to prohibition and Christianity, creating many opponents to the movement. The liquor industry balked at the idea of illegalizing alcohol and many immigrants felt their way of life would be attacked or diminished. Despite it all, the women’s suffrage movement was victorious following the end of WWI.
In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson issued a statement supporting a federal amendment to grant women’s suffrage, publicly stepping away from his initial preference for state-by-state suffrage. In 1919, the United States House and Senate passed the Nineteenth Amendment, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. Finally, in August of 1920, it was ratified by Tennessee, the last of the thirty-six state approvals necessary for the amendment to become binding.
Women of Color and Voting Rights
During the early part of the suffrage movement, suffragists and abolitionists worked together closely to fight for universal suffrage: the right to vote for all adult persons regardless of race, religion, or gender. The pushback received from this led many suffragists to omit abolition as part of their goal.
The concerns of African American women differed from those of white women because they had to worry about discrimination based on both gender and race. Broadly speaking, the women’s suffrage movement and the 19th amendment tended to discriminate against women of color, specifically African American women. They did not have the same reproductive and economic rights that white women did after the passage of the 19th amendment.
Native American women and Asian American women were barred from voting due to other federal citizenship laws—Native women until 1924 and some Asian women until the 1950s. African American women in the United States were not fully guaranteed the right to vote until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Why does it matter now?
The suffrage movement paved the way for women’s entrance into the political sphere. By creating broader opportunities for women to participate in politics, women were able to get legislation that benefited them on the table.
Suffrage activists also pioneered many political tactics still used today, including lobbying elected officials, going door-to-door to convince voters to vote yes on initiatives, and picketing the White House. The ripple effect of the women’s suffrage movement is evident in educational, civil rights, and health care reforms, as well as in the growing number of women elected to governmental positions.
Earning the “women’s vote” is a critical political goal in nearly every level of elections and more and more women are stepping up to the ballot box like never before. After 100 years, it’s more important than ever to let your voice be heard. Your vote and your voice matter, so use it this election.
Teach Your Kids about Suffragettes and the 19th Amendment
Below are a few books you can use to teach your kids about women’s campaign for the right to vote, notable suffragettes, and the importance of the 19th amendment.
“Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles” – Mara Rockliff, ages 5-9 (amazon.com, starting at $8)
“Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote” – Kirsten Gillibrand, ages 6-9 (amazon.com, starting at $12.49)
“Elizabeth Leads the Way” – Tanya Lee Stone, ages 6-10 (amazon.com, starting at $9)
“Heart on Fire: Susan B. Anthony Votes for President” – Ann Malaspina, ages 4-8 (amazon.com, starting at $17)
“If You Lived When Women Won Their Rights” – Anne Kamma, ages 7-10 (amazon.com, starting at $12.28)
“My Name Is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth” – Ann Turner, ages 6-9 (amazon.com, starting at $16)