100 years ago, life changed for American women when we were finally given our voice in politics. Many of us take for granted that simple concept — going to the polls to cast our vote for the leader we want in charge. However, before 1920 that right did not exist for women; it came at a price through a long battle fought by courageous women over many decades.
As a member of Gen X, I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a world where women were told they could be anything they wanted to be and the opportunities for women were endless. I was told, “I could bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan”. The world gave us female superheroes and Wonder Woman became my idol. Strong women of the late ’70s and early ’80s taught me that I didn’t have to be the damsel in distress, I could choose to be more. They inspired me with their confidence in having the freedom to do what they wanted. Part of the reason they could have a say so in their lives was the ability to vote and make political decisions for themselves. The sky was the limit for my generation of American girls because we never knew a world where anything was different.
Our freedom to be taken seriously in society was made possible thanks in part to a few brave women who were fearless in their pursuit of a woman’s right to vote. They helped to forge the key that would open the doors of opportunities for future American women. It’s sometimes hard for any of us to fathom not being able to cast a vote and I’m often left wondering what our society would be like today if it were not for the trailblazing women and their push for the 19th Amendment.
August 18, 2020, marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. This historic occasion, forever etched in American history, changed the future for generations of women and ushered into the forefront our role in society. For the first time ever, women finally had an opportunity to make their voices heard in the political arena.
Although this year may seem unpredictable and unprecedented, with a pandemic sweeping across the World, protests, riots popping up across U.S. cities, and an upcoming heated Presidential election thrown in to boot, we often forget that 1920 was an equally unprecedented year that brought forth great societal change. Back then America was dealing with the aftermath of the Spanish Flu pandemic, dealing with massive immigration, adjusting to life with prohibition, and American women were on the verge of celebrating a historic victory in the decades-long fight for the legalization of their right to vote.
Today’s modern women owe a debt of gratitude to courageous women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Alice Paul, and Susan B. Anthony who led the suffrage movement to eventual victory. Their road to victory did not come easy. It was long and filled with many perils and decades of heartache.
The word “suffrage” is oftentimes misinterpreted as suffering, which although quite a few women suffered in the process during the suffrage movement, the word comes from the Latin origin suffragium meaning the right to vote or a vote. It was the desire of women to vote, which can be traced back to the mid-1800s, that became the catalyst for the Suffrage Movement.
The journey to victory began in Seneca Falls, New York, long known as ground zero for the birth of the suffrage movement. A group of abolitionist activists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, gathered in 1848 to discuss anti-slavery and the problem of women’s rights. It is here where the movement gained momentum and led to the first National Women’s Rights Convention held a few years later in 1850.
These early women leaders faced being arrested, were shunned by anti-suffrage groups and industry leaders, but nothing deterred them from their goal. The suffrage movement inspired women from all backgrounds to band together, march, protest, and even engage in hunger strikes to shine a spotlight on the fight for a woman’s right to vote. Their fight gave us our right which is sometimes taken for granted or worse, not acted upon. They were the original badass women who inspire change today.
However, it wasn’t until after the Civil War that Elizabeth Cady Stanton joined forces with Susan B. Anthony and founded the National Woman Suffrage Association that pushed for women’s rights issues to become a reality. By the year 1878, their tireless work led to the first proposed Woman Suffrage Amendment in the U.S. Congress. Although the bill faced defeat, the originally worded document eventually became the 19th Amendment 41 years later.
When the 19th Amendment was finally ratified into law, more than 8 million American women from across the country showed up to the polls for the first time to cast their votes in the 1920 U.S. elections. The right to vote spurred on many other Women’s Rights movements. Since then, women have gone on to become CEOs, doctors, lawyers, business owners, innovators, astronauts, politicians, or whatever they choose to become. Women have made their mark on society and have broken just about every glass ceiling except one — leading this nation, all due to the actions of the courageous pioneering women that fought for our precious right to cast a vote and to have our voices heard in the political arena. Today, more than 68 million women have a powerful voice and vote in elections.
Without the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the rise of women in politics would not have been possible. As we celebrate 100 years of the female vote, let’s also celebrate the political “female firsts” who inspired change.
First Female Congresswoman: Montana granted women the right to vote prior to the 19th Amendment allowing Jeannette Rankin, a Republican, the first woman to be elected in 1917 to serve in the U.S. Congress.
First Female Minority Congresswoman: Shirley Anita Chisholm of New York, became the first female African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress. In 1972, she also became the first woman to seek the Democratic Presidential nomination.
First Female Senator: Although Rebecca Latimer Felton from Georgia was the first female U.S. Senator, she was appointed in 1922 but never ran for election. The first female to run and be elected as a U.S. Senator was Hattie Ophelia Wyatt Caraway, a Democrat from Arkansas in 1932.
First Female Minority Senator: In 1993, Carol Moseley Braun, a Democrat from Illinois, became the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
First Female Governor: In 1925, Nellie Ross of Wyoming became the first female governor in the history of the United States.
First Female Minority Governor: The year 2011 saw two Republicans, Susan Martinez, a Mexican American from New Mexico, and Nikki Haley, an Indian American from South Carolina, elected as the first female minority State Governors.
First Female Vice President: Yet to be elected.
First Female to be Nominated for Vice President: In 1924, Lena Springs of South Carolina became the first woman to be nominated by delegates of the Democratic Party to stand as Vice President. However, Geraldine Ferraro, a Democrat from New York, was the first Vice Presidential Nominee on a major party ticket.
First Minority Vice Presidental Candidate: Charlotta Bass became the first African American female candidate to run as Vice President for the Progressive Party in 1952.
First Female President: Yet to be elected
First Female to Run for President on a Major-Party Ticket: In 2016, Hillary Clinton, a Democrat from New York, former First Lady, and Former U.S. Secretary of State, made history as the first female to be nominated for President of the United States by a major party ticket.
Although American women have come a long way in U.S. politics, there is still the ultimate glass ceiling that needs to be broken. Who that woman will eventually be is unknown, but when the right candidate emerges, she will look back in time and be able to thank the early pioneers of the Suffrage movement for the opportunity to do so. This is something we can all be grateful for as we celebrate the 19th Amendment’s 100th anniversary — that and to continue to keep on voting and making our voices heard!