Friday, August 26 is recognized as Women’s Equality Day in recognition of the date in 1920 on which Congress certified the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.
The amendment had first been introduced in 1878, but considering Congress was made up of all men at that time, we aren’t surprised it took 42 years for them to get it done.
The radical idea of allowing women to vote had been suggested at the first major women’s conference Seneca Falls, NY, in 1848. History.com notes that abolitionists Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had met at an anti-slavery convention in London where they were barred from the convention floor because they were women; this indignation prompted them to launch the women’s rights movement in the U.S. They got together with some girlfriends at Stanton’s home near Seneca Falls and decided to hold a convention. On July 19, 1848, 200 women gathered at the local chapel and committed themselves to changing the world.
Their goal would not be achieved for 72 years, but suffragettes who held meetings, passed out pamphlets, and even organized the first-ever picket of the White House remained steadfast in their goal.
The amendment received final approval from Congress in 1919 but still needed to be ratified by two-thirds of the states. Tennessee, the final state needed for ratification, approved it by a margin of one vote. According to the National Women’s History Museum, the deciding vote was made by Harry Burn, whose mother told him to vote in favor of it.
Following a resolution introduced by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) in 1971, Congress has designated August 26 of each year as Women’s Equality Day.
While women have had the right to vote for nearly a century, we note that Congress itself remains largely unequal – women make up just 20% of the House and Senate. Women’s Leadership LIVE looks forward to the day when Congress’ annual recognition of Women’s Equality Day is made by a Congress that is equally comprised of women and men. Until then, WLL applauds the pioneering suffragettes who fought this courageous battle and note that their history-making crusade has two lessons for today:
- Never underestimate what a group of girlfriends can achieve when they put 200 women in a room.
- Always listen to your mother.