August 18th 1920: 19th Amendment ratified
On this day in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, thus enshrining women’s right to vote. The suffragette campaign stretched back into the nineteenth century, with the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 listing male denial of women’s ‘inalienable right’ to vote as a crime against women. The focus on suffrage was promoted by the actions of feminist leaders like Susan B. Anthony, who was arrested in 1872 for voting in a presidential election. After the setback of the Civil War and the division of the feminist movement over issues of race and Reconstruction, feminist groups lobbied Congress for a constitutional amendment, which was first introduced in 1878 and defeated in 1886. The focus then shifted to state governments, with 22 states adopting female suffrage before 1919, and marches and pickets raising awareness of the cause. The suffragette movement was boosted by the involvement of women in the war effort during the First World War, and a proposed amendment was introduced in 1918, with the support of President Woodrow Wilson. This first attempt failed, but another amendment was eventually passed by Congress in June 1919, and narrowly ratified by the required number of states on August 18th 1920. The Southern states firmly opposed the amendment, and, one state short of ratification, it came down to Tennessee. Harry Burn, a 23-year-old state legislator in Tennessee, was convinced by his mother to break the tie and vote for the amendment, thus securing the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment; Burn declared that “a good boy always does what his mother asks him to do.” In the 1920 election, eight million American women voted for the first time.
“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.”
95 years ago