So, today is kind of a big deal. Not only is it my birthday, but it also happens to be Women’s Equality Day (no small coincidence, in my opinion). I’ve been proudly touting this fact for years, but surprisingly, not everyone is aware that a Woman’s Equality Day exists at all, let alone on this particular day. So get ready for an admittedly all-too-brief history lesson.
Today marks the 91st anniversary of U.S. women winning the right to vote, per the passage of the 19th Amendment. Note that I didn’t say women were “given” the right to vote. In no way, shape or form were women “given” this right — they fought HARD for it, enduring imprisonment, starvation, beatings and other injustices. And they fought long.
Suffrage was first seriously proposed during the 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention, beginning the 70+ year-long struggle to secure the right to vote and run for office. Following the Civil War, agitation for the cause continued to increase. In 1869, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association, whose aim was to secure an amendment to the Constitution in favor of women’s suffrage. That same year, Lucy Stone formed the American Woman Suffrage Association. Why these two groups, if both wanted to secure women’s right to vote? Essentially, the NWSA opposed the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed Black American men the right to vote, as it excluded women, whereas the AWSA supported its passage. Eventually, the two groups merged in 1890 to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association and continued to fight for the vote, adopting a strategy of lobbying individual states.
During World War I, the movement witnessed another resurgence with the National Women’s Party headed by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. This group, which split from the NASWA, took a different approach to suffrage, focusing instead on a national amendment. After protests, rallies, hunger strikes and an increasing public outcry, President Woodrow Wilson caved and finally made a pro-suffrage speech in 1918. The following year, the 19th amendment was proposed. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, several states (Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana, South Carolina) did not ratify the amendment until the early 1970s. But the worst offender was Mississippi, which held out until 1984.
In 1971, at the behest of Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY), Congress designated August 26 as “Women’s Equality Day” to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment and acknowledge women’s continued struggles towards FULL equality.
The lesson? Make noise. Persevere. Accept nothing but full equality. And for the love of all that is pure and holy, EXERCISE YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE! The coming year demands that feminists pull together to vote for pro-woman candidates who will further our equality, not continue to erode it.