91 or 72 Equal (Rights) 19



It was twenty years ago today,

Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.

They’ve been going in and out of style,

But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile.

So may I introduce to you

The act you’ve known for all these years

Sgt. Pepper’s lonely hearts club band.

–The Beatles

 Actually, it was 91 years ago today that enough states ratified the proposed Nineteenth Amendment to the constitution of the United States that it came into effect. Its language is simple:

 XIX–Passed by Congress June 4, 1919. Ratified August 18, 1920.

“Section 1. 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.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

 The process was established in Article V of the constitution as drafted in 1787. “The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this constitution, or on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three-fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress.”

 With forty-eight states in the Union in 1920, Article V required ratification by thirty-six states to add the amendment to the constitution. That 36th state ratifying it was Tennessee, on August 18, 1920. And it had been 72 years since Elizabeth Cady Stanton had taught the band of suffragists to first sing at Seneca Falls. Suffrage was not the main focus of the convention. Indeed, Lucretia Mott and others present at Seneca Falls worried that adding the suffrage issue would hurt the cause of women. It was the eloquent speech of Frederick Douglass which moved the convention to accept Stanton’s full “Declaration of Sentiments” which included the demand for the right to vote.

 In the thirteen years between the Seneca Falls Convention and the outbreak of the Civil War, agitation for woman suffrage advanced slowly, then came to a standstill as the nation dealt with secession. The woman suffrage movement took hold after the war, during the period of Reconstruction (1865 to 1877). In this period, women’s rights leaders advocated for the inclusion of universal suffrage as a civil right in the Reconstruction amendments (the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments). However, the issue fractured the antebellum alliance between women and men in the abolitionist movement. When the Fifteenth Amendment enfranchised only African-American men, some women opposed the adoption of it. Males such as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, while continuing to support civil rights, including suffrage, for women, took the position that “a half of a loaf is better than none.” Some women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton took the position that upper-class, educated white women were better qualified to vote than black men and illiterate European immigrant men. And women who favored suffrage divided–sometimes bitterly–among themselves on whether to demand an amendment to the U S constitution or to fight state-by-state to gain voting rights or to concentrate on other issues such as working conditions and changes in divorce laws and put suffrage on the back burner or to concentrate solely on suffrage as they figured once women could vote they could gain the full exercise of other civil rights.


Lucy Stone

Two rival organizations, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), formed in 1869. Some prominent leaders in the movement, including Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe, argued strongly against Stanton’s “all or nothing” position. The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was founded in May 1869 by Susan B Anthony and Stanton, who served as its president for 21 years. The NWSA opposed passage of the Fifteenth Amendment without changes to include female suffrage and, under Stanton’s influence in particular, championed a number of other issues deemed too radical by more conservative members of the suffrage movement. The better-funded and larger group was the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), founded in November and led by Stone, Blackwell, and Howe. They openly and firmly supported the Fifteenth Amendment as written. Following passage of that Amendment the AWSA preferred to focus primarily on woman suffrage rather than advocate for broader rights The NWSA attempted several unsuccessful court challenges during the 1870’s. Their legal claims, known as “the New Departure,” were that the Fourteenth Amendment (granting universal citizenship) and Fifteenth Amendment (granting the vote irrespective of race) taken together gave a de facto guarantee of women’s right to vote. Three Supreme Court decisions between 1873 and 1875 rejected this argument.


Susan B Anthony

In January 1878, Senator Aaron Augustus Sargent, a Republican from California, introduced a proposed constitutional amendment in the very language that later become the 19th Amendment. Sargent’s wife, Ellen Clark Sargent, a leading voting rights advocate and a friend of Susan B. Anthony, introduced Anthony to her husband. [Interestingly, Sargent also gave key support to Belva Lockwood’s efforts to become the first woman to argue a case in the Supreme Court, opening a big door for other women in the legal profession.] Sargent’s suffrage proposal sat in committee until it was considered by the full Senate and rejected in a 16 to 34 vote in 1887, after he had retired from the Senate. For the next twenty plus years, the full Congress took no action on the suffrage question, despite petitions, letters and the occasional hearing.

Senator Sargent


In February 1890, Susan B Anthony, using all her diplomatic skills, arranged the merger of the NWSA with Lucy Stone’s AWSA, creating the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). The merger came about in part because Anthony admired Anna Howard Shaw, who worked with the AWSA and was a powerful and effective speaker. The controversial merger and Anthony’s pursuit of alliances with moderate suffragists created some lasting tensions between her and more radical suffragists. Shaw was a licensed physician and the first woman to be ordained in the Methodist Protestant church in the United States. Lucy Anthony, a niece of Susan B. Anthony, became Shaw’s dear companion. Dr Shaw served as president of NAWSA from 1904 to 1915.


Dr Shaw

Elizabeth Cady Stanton died on October 26, 1902. Anthony died on March 13, 1906. Before her final illness, Anthony said to a woman who asked if suffrage would ever come, “it will come, but I shall not see it. . . . It is inevitable. We can no more deny forever the right of self-government to one-half our people than we could keep the Negro forever in bondage. It will not be wrought by the same disrupting forces that freed the slave, but come it will, and I believe within a generation.” She added her favorite phrase: “Failure is impossible.”

Grave of Susan B Anthony

Indeed, the West held some promise. Wyoming recognized that women had the right to vote in 1869, followed by Colorado in 1893 and Idaho in 1896. Increased activism on the suffrage question during 1910 and 1911 brought success in the states of Washington and California. Then Oregon followed suit in 1912, as well as Kansas and Arizona. In 1914 Montana and Nevada saw the light. That year the U S Senate again considered the proposed federal constitutional amendment and again rejected it. On January 12, 1915, a suffrage proposal came before the House of Representatives, but went down to defeat by a vote of 204 to 174.

In the general election in 1916, Montana voters elected the first woman, Jeanette Rankin, to the House of Representatives. During 1917, Arkansas and New York saw the light and recognized the right of women to vote while against the wishes of Carrie Chapman Catt, who succeeded Anna Howard Shaw as president of NAWSA, Representative Rankin voted her peace principles and against U S entry into the Great War.


Carrie Chapman Catt

Another proposal for a suffrage amendment came before the House of Representatives on January 10, 1918. The previous evening, President Woodrow Wilson made a strong appeal to the House to pass the measure. (Interesting, because just the year before, in January 1917, he had women arrested who demonstrated in front of the White House for suffrage and he condoned their force-feeding when they went on a hunger strike in the workhouse.) The suffrage measure passed by the required two-thirds of the House, with only one vote to spare. When the measure moved into the Senate, Wilson again made an appeal, but on September 30, 1918, the proposal fell two votes short of passage.


Suffragists picketing the White House

In President Wilson’s State of the Union message, delivered on December 2, 1918, he declared, “And what shall we say of the women, of their instant intelligence, quickening every task that they touched; their capacity for organization and cooperation, which gave their action discipline and enhanced the effectiveness of everything they attempted; their aptitude at tasks to which they had never before set their hands; their utter self-sacrifice alike in what they did and in what they gave? . . . . The least tribute we can pay them is to make them the equals of men in political rights as they have proved themselves their equals in every fieldof practical work they have entered, whether for themselves or for their country. These great days of completed achievement would be sadly marred were we to omit that act of justice. . . .we carry them at our hearts and thank God that we can say that we are the kinsmen of such.”

 On February 10, 1919, the proposed amendment again went down to defeat. However, many politicians of both parties wanted the proposal made part of the Constitution before the 1920 general elections, so President Wilson called a special session of Congress. On May 21, 1919, the proposed amendment passed the House with 42 votes more than necessary. On June 4, 1919, it came before the Senate and, after some heated debate, passed with 56 yes and 25 no votes.


HQ aganist suffrage--count the number of men

Opponents of woman suffrage, both women and men, who had battled against suffrage for decades, put their campaign into high gear. Frequently they invoked the family as they described the ways that women voting would violate gender roles. Gender norms of the era identified women with the family and men with the domains of market and politics. The prospect of women voting threatened female nature and the family as well. [Am I hearing an echo of a certain current debate?] Anti-suffragists emphasized that women were specially suited and exclusively destined for the work of family maintenance; in their view, women lacked the capacity for managing public affairs, and such effort would distract them from their obligations as wives and mothers. “To the husband, by natural allotment … , fall the duties which protect and provide for the household, and to the wife the more quiet and secluded but no less exalted duties of mother to their children and mistress of the domicile,” declared the House Judiciary Committee in 1883.


Suffragist being arrested

The anti-suffragists often used two arguments about the household as the mainstay of their case. First, the argument of virtual representation. Women did not need the vote because they were already represented in the body politic by the men who were the proper heads of household. Second, changing the distribution of the franchise would threaten the unity of the family. Granting women the right to vote would introduce domestic discord into marital relations and distract women from their primary duties as wives and mothers.

 So the battle moved to the states. Thirty-six needed to ratify the amendment to add it to the constitution. On June 10, 1919 Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan ratified it. Six days later, Kansas, Ohio and New York. June 24th–Pennsylvania. The next day, Massachusetts. Texas ratified on June 28th. Iowa on July 2nd, followed by Missouri the next day. So far, so good, yes? Eleven of the required thirty-six. No nay-sayers. Yet. Then, Georgia rejected it on July 24, 1919. Arkansas voted in favor on July 28, followed in quick succession by Montana and Nebraska on August 2, 1919. In September, Minnesota (the 8th) and New Hampshire (the 10th) ratified and Alabama (on the 22nd) rejected the proposed amendment. Utah joined in on October 2nd while California (November 1, 1919), Maine (November 5, 1919), North Dakota (December 1, 1919), South Dakota (December 4, 1919) and Colorado (December 15, 1919) ratified. By year’s end the box score was 22 yes and 2 no. Suffrage advocates had 61% of the states they needed.

Leaflets for the cause

 The first month of 1920 saw Kentucky (January 6), Rhode Island (January 6), Oregon (January 13), Indiana (January 16) and Wyoming (January 27) ratify it and South Carolina reject it (January 28).

Suffrage parade in Michigan

Then in February, Nevada (February 7), New Jersey (February 9), Idaho (February 11), Arizona (February 12), New Mexico (February 21) and Oklahoma (February 28) ratified while Virginia (February 12) and Maryland (February 24) joined the nay-sayers. March 10th West Virginia ratified followed by Washington on March 22nd while Mississippi rejected on March 29, 1920. No more states took action until Delaware rejected on June 2 and Louisiana rejected on July 1, 1920. So August 1st saw 35 states in favor, 7 opposed and only 6 not yet on record. Then in Tennessee a 24 year-old legislator named Harry Burn at the insistence of his mother changed his vote from no to yes and ratification was completed on August 18, 1920.


It's actually happening!

Of course, there was a challenge or two. A federal court case from the right. Ms Alice Paul, radical feminist, on the left. But that’s another story . . . .


Alice Paul

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