The 19th Amendment
“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.”
2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The vote came down to a single congressman from Tennessee, named Harry Burn. Burn was opposed to ratification, but received a letter from his mother in the days leading up to the vote urging him to “be a good boy” and vote in favor of the amendment. Once the amendment passed, women’s participation in voting suffrage quickly became part of the fabric of American society. It is now difficult to imagine how many Americans, including women, were strongly opposed to women’s suffrage, fearful of the effect it would have on families, the home, and the workplace.
Women voted in local elections throughout colonial America, and it wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century that laws were enacted explicitly to prevent them from doing so. During the early 19th century, women focused on passing laws in favor of married women’s property rights rather than on the vote. At the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, Elizabeth Cady Stanton introduced a resolution in favor of women being granted “the elective franchise.” The resolution was controversial: some thought it was too radical and would make the women’s movement look, as Lucretia Mott suggested, “ridiculous.” Stanton persisted, firm in her belief that “the power to make laws was the right through which all other rights could be secured.” The resolution passed, and by the 1850s, the issue of the ballot had become a central tenet of the women’s rights movement.
From 1848 onward, the movement adopted several tactics to secure the vote. In 1872, Susan B. Anthony and a group of her friends, neighbors, and relatives voted in the Presidential Election. She was arrested for voting and found guilty. Yet, heartened by the securing of women’s voting rights in several Western states, women’s groups began to work toward a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women’s right to vote. First introduced in 1878, the amendment took forty-two years to be ratified; even after its passage, Jim Crow laws across the South made it effectively impossible for African American men and women to vote until the Civil Rights era.