In a little over two months men and women of every race, creed, color, sexual orientation, and religion will be casting their individual vote for the President of the United States.
As women we need to think about the fight women had in the 19th and 20th centuries to win the right to vote.
The fight for women’s suffrage can be traced to the “Declaration of Sentiments” produced at the first woman’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. Four years later, at the Woman’s Right Convention in Syracuse in 1852, Susan B. Anthony joined the fight, arguing that “the right women needed above every other…was the right of suffrage.”
During debates on the Reconstruction Amendments which extended the vote to ex-slaves (through the 15th Amendment), suffragists pushed hard for “universal suffrage,” but they never had a chance.
In 1872, suffragists brought a series of court challenges designed to test whether voting was a “privilege” of “U.S. citizenship” now belonging to women by virtue of the recently adopted 14th Amendment. One such challenge grew out of a criminal prosecution of Susan B. Anthony for illegally voting in the 1872 election. The first case to make its way to the Supreme Court, however, was Minor vs Happersett (1875). In Minor, a unanimous Court rejected the argument that either the privileges and immunities clause or the squat protection clause of the 14th Amendment extended the vote to women. Following Minor, suffragists turned their attention from the courts to the states and to Congress.
In 1878, a constitutional amendment was proposed that provided “The right of citizens to vote shall not be abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” This same amendment would be introduced in every session of Congress for the next 41 years.
In July 1890, the territory of Wyoming, which allowed women to vote, was admitted as a state. Wyoming became the first state with woman’s suffrage. By 1900, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho joined Wyoming in allowing women to vote.
In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive (Bull Moose) Party became the first national political party to have a plank supporting women’s suffrage. The Tide was beginning to turn.
In May, 1919, the necessary two-thirds vote in favor of women’s suffrage amendment was finally mustered in Congress, the proposed amendment was sent to the states for ratification. By July 1910, with a number of primarily southern states adamantly opposed to the amendment, it all came down to Tennessee. It appeared that the amendment might fail by one vote in the Tennessee house, but 24-year-old Harry Burns surprised observers by casting the deciding vote for ratification. At the time of his vote, Burns had in his pocket a letter he had received from his mother urging him, “Don’t forget to be a good boy” and “vote for suffrage”. Women had finally won the vote.
Today we have another choice. In this 21st Century are we going to let down all those women and some men who fought so hard for our right to vote? With states across the country trying to tighten the rules for the right to vote…with politicians declaring the rape of women as frivolous…with women still not earning the same pay for the same job… and with health care and economic security being threatened at every turn…. We owe it to our ancestors and our children to VOTE FOR OBAMA and Democratic members of the House and Senate…both at the state and federal level. Plus, we need many more progressive women to fill the halls of Congress. This is the year. This is the time. Do not vote away your hard-earned rights.