19th Amendment: 100 years and counting

Last week, on Tuesday, Aug. 18, this nation commemorated the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. Although it didn’t grant that right to all women. Just to white women. But it was a start. And as we all know, the push for equal rights had to start somewhere.

It took decades for all women to be able to vote in America under the Voting Rights Act, which finally passed in 1965 — a mere 55 years ago. The 19th Amendment actually failed to include many women — African American women, Latin American women, Native American women, Chinese American women — many women remained barred from voting under the 19th Amendment — the very act that makes us who we are as citizens of what is inarguably the most Democratic country in the world. 

It wasn’t until 1924 that many Native Americans were able to cast their ballots, after the Snyder Act made them U.S. citizens. Chinese immigrants weren’t able to vote until the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943. And although Black and Latinx people had the right to vote on paper, they were functionally disenfranchised by poll taxes for decades, as well as by literacy tests, “White Primary” laws and other forms of voter suppression. It was the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that helped curb many forms of racial discrimination in voting and contributed so greatly to the suffrage movement.

Clearly, it takes time to make real progress. For a number of years, suffragists picketed tirelessly outside the White House to win the right to vote. In fact, they were the very first group to do so. In 1913, thousands of suffragists descended on Washington for the Woman Suffrage Procession, according to The New York Times. The procession was organized by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. 

Here is what The Times reported:

“Inez Milholland, a 26-year-old suffragist, led the parade on horseback. Three years later, she would collapse while giving a speech in Los Angeles and die shortly thereafter. Her last public words were reportedly, ‘Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?’”

But there was a lot of resistance against giving women the right to vote in the U.S. After all, men -— white men — ran the country, the world. Why would they want to give up that power?

Even The New York Times expressed opposition to the movement in a 1913 editorial, one of a long string of anti-suffrage commentaries of the time.

“The benefits of woman suffrage are almost wholly imaginary,” it stated. “Its penalties will be real and hard to bear.”

During the 100 years since the 19th Amendment was ratified, there have been many hard-won battles in the fight for equal rights. And the war is still raging. Women continue to try to shatter glass ceilings as they strive for equal pay and workplace equity, reproductive rights, constitutional equality, an end to gender-based violence, educational equity and equal access to credit, among other issues. It all began with the suffrage movement, which paved the way for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), Title IX, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and other important legislation. 

Just think about it: The ERA was passed by Congress in 1972, but it failed to reach the three-fourths threshold for ratification before a congressional deadline and it wasn’t until this year — on Jan. 15, 2020 — that Virginia finally became the 38th state to ratify it. Even today, the law’s fate remains uncertain. 

That seems unbelievable, as we witness Democratic California Sen. Kamala Harris step forward as only the third woman in history to be selected as a vice presidential nominee for a major political party, though the first VP nominee of African-American and Indian-American descent. But there you have it. 

Have women come a long way? Yes, there’s no question that they have. But there’s also no doubt that they still have a lot further to go.

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