“The true republic: men, their rights and nothing more; women their rights, and nothing less,” said Susan B. Anthony, a leading American social rights reformer and advocate for women’s suffrage (the right to vote).
A century ago, on August 18, 1920, the final state fell in place to ratify the 19th Amendment giving women in the United States the right to vote. Thus began the possibly most significant and lasting evolution, via revolution, in American politics, which continues to this day. Women comprise 53-55 percent of registered voters in almost every state, and typically out-vote their male counterparts in higher percentages with each election season.
Decades in the making and not long after American women had helped to protect our shores and power much of the nation's economy during the first World War, the language of the 19th amendment was first ratified by the state of Illinois on June 10, 1919.
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. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Prior to 1776, women had the right to vote in many of the original 13 colonies, but by 1807, each and every state had passed laws prohibiting voting by women into their state Constitutions.
As new states began to join the Union after the Civil War and passage of the 14th amendment, many states again began to allow women the right to vote. But it would take World War I to eventually and steadily shift the tide of public sentiment nationally in favor of women's suffrage. By that time 15 states had independently extended the vote to their female citizens.
A National Woman's Party, as well as the National American Woman Suffrage Association, staged marches and protesters were regularly pointing out the irony of American doughboys risking their lives overseas fighting for freedom and rights for people of other nations, while still suppressing the right to vote and other freedoms for women here at home.
During 1919 and 1920, Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, and several other southern states voted against ratification. Yet the state by state tally was building slowly and steadily in favor. Ratification reached the cusp when Delaware voted yes on June 2, 1920, following another no vote from Louisiana.
When ratification was scheduled for a vote in Nashville, TN on August 18, 1920, lobbying had significantly intensified on both sides for the Tennessee General Assembly. Tennessee House Speaker Seth Walker attempted to table the ratification resolution but was narrowly defeated, twice. When finally brought to a vote again, 24-year old Representative Harry Burn, a Republican, voted in favor, after receiving a note from his mother urging him to do so.
The same day, a motion to reconsider was contemplated, but Speaker Walker could not assemble the votes in the allotted time remaining. By a single vote majority of 50 of 99 members of the Tennessee House, with a suffragist on the House floor ringing a miniature Liberty Bell, Tennessee provided the final ratification necessary to amend the U.S. Constitution and make the United States of America the 27th nation in the world to give women the right to vote.
While ratification of the 19th amendment and its upcoming Centennial on August 18, 2020, may not receive the attention and recognition of other Constitutional amendments, its impact has been among the most significant. Cheers to Ms. Anthony and her thousands of sisters who risked so much to secure this right for all women and to assist our nation in living up to its intended goal of maintaining a beacon of freedom and liberty for the rest of our world to consider modeling and following.