Women's Equality Day

Woman's SuffrageWith the Presidential election right around the corner, it is important for Americans to exercise their Constitutional right to vote. Throughout American history there have been several struggles to gain equal voting rights. Each year America celebrates Women's Equality Day to commemorate the certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution on August 26, 1920, granting women the right to vote after nearly 100 years of struggle. This Amendment, also referred to as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Women's Equality Day was established by Congress in 1971 to honor women's continuing efforts toward equal rights, and every year since, the President has issued a proclamation naming August 26 as Women's Equality Day.

The struggle to gain women's suffrage began early in U.S. history. In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, effectively launching the movement upon agreement by the attendees that women were deserving of their own political identities.  By 1870, there were two notable suffragist organizations, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA).

In 1871, a petition was sent to Congress requesting the prohibition against voting by women to be lifted.  The document was signed by Anthony, Stanton, and other suffragists.  Anthony was later arrested for registering and voting in the 1872 election in Rochester, New York, and was fined $100, which she swore would never be paid.  Instead, she petitioned Congress on January 12, 1874, requesting the fine be withdrawn and stating Anthony's belief that her conviction was unjust.  Aggressive suffragists used tactics such as parades, silent vigils, and hunger strikes, but were often met with fierce resistance by opponents who heckled, jailed, and sometimes physically abused them.

Wealthy white women were not the only early leaders in support of suffrage rights. Other proponents included prominent African American women such as Mary Church Terrell, the first president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, famous for leading a crusade against lynching.  Frederick Douglass, a former slave and leader of the abolition movement, was also an advocate.  With a growing amount of support, the suffragists came together for a common goal in 1916: seeking an amendment to the Constitution.        

Though there was still strong opposition to the idea of women having the right to vote, the House of Representatives passed the 19th Amendment by a vote of 304 to 90, while the Senate approved it 56 to 25.  Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan were the first states to ratify it.  Tennessee appeared to have ratified the Amendment on August 18, 1920, because of a change in vote from “Nay” to “Yay” by Harry Burn, thought to be due to the insistence of his mother.  The ratification was not official, however, as those against the Amendment managed to delay by fleeing the state to avoid a quorum and holding massive rallies in an attempt to discourage passage.  This was all for naught, as Tennessee's critical 36th vote on the ratification was reaffirmed, and the 19th Amendment would, from that point on, guarantee women the right to vote.

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