Written by Paula Penebaker, President & CEO, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
On August 26, 2019 we will celebrate the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting the states and federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex. The date was first celebrated in 1973 and has been recognized with proclamations by every POTUS since Richard Nixon occupied 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Allison Lange, an assistant professor of history at Wentworth Institute of Technology reflects on the occasion, in a Time magazine article by reminding us that “Before women fought for the right to vote, they first had to fight for the right to be considered independent citizens. Women had to first escape from the laws of coverture, a legal doctrine under which a woman’s legal rights were up to her husband. Coverture prohibited married women from signing legal documents, owning property and having a real profession.”
Lange’s statement was related to one of the three pillars of the suffrage movement: 1) as a fight for broader rights for women; 2) recognition of and correction to the transgression of not having included women of color in the suffrage movement; and 3) action to make women’s suffrage “ancient history” in the future”, a goal of Susan B. Anthony.
Comments on those three points in reverse order are appropriate. First, Anthony said that “in 80 years, no one would understand why women worked so hard to gain the right the vote…that it would be representative of the success of their movement rather than a negative thing.” I can’t help but wonder how she would feel about the voting habits of some women on issues that are antithetical to the health and well-being of all women, today.
More white women in very recent history have acknowledged that “women of color” were not included –by and large—in the movement. More concern and outrage centered on black men being able to vote before white women. That was uninformed outrage, unless they too wanted to be lynched while trying to exercise their new-found right. People of color were not given the right without fear of death until passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Today, voter disenfranchisement is the movement de jour. Where are all the good women speaking out against it?
As for broader rights for women, I’d like to think that Anthony would admonish women of means (across racial boundaries) to be more interested in and fighting for the well-being of all women and not engage in divisive we-versus-them rhetoric. So many people, men and women alike, of every political persuasion comment on how we have more in common than there are differences among us when in denial of the “isms”. Certainly that is not true for ALL women. When women talk about equal pay, they often are thinking of middle to higher positioned women in corporate environments. Rarely is their conversation about their impoverished sisters that are looking for a living wage.
Yes. There’s no doubt that passage of the 19th Amendment was a big deal and resulted in great accomplishments for women. After having seen what women around the globe are still fighting for, it pains me that women in the USA seem to have forgotten our past struggles AND the need to keep up the fight for all women to thrive and grow. Let us remember that on August 26, 2019, one year from the 100th anniversary of ratification of the monumental amendment to our Constitution.