The Nineteenth Amendment: Women’s Suffrage

On this day, August 18, 1920, the battle for women’s suffrage is won with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. The Amendment Reads:

“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 power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

In the 1830s, a movement began promoting women’s rights. The early leaders were Frances Wright, Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony. While the nation was debating the emancipation of slaves, women began to demand it for their gender. They wanted the freedom to work in medicine, law, and other fields. The spirit of liberty spread to fashions as some women cut their hair short and began to wear the new design  –  bloomers. Women successfully campaigned for good schools; girls entered public schools, and in 1833, Oberlin College was opened to women. Having won educational opportunities, they turned their attention to voting rights.

These reforms were part of an overall reform movement sweeping the nation the thirty years before the Civil War. Child labor laws were instituted, and labor reformers demanded shorter hours and better working conditions. Dorothea Dix, having exposed the terrible conditions in the treatment of the insane, called for specialized hospitals for their better care.

The philosophy behind the reform movement was a positive outlook based on the belief that the world could be improved through men and women of good-will. To make the United States the happiest place on earth, they labored to banish evil through good works and promoted free government, free conscience, and open discussions of ideas. They believed that virtue requires intelligence, thus the push for free schooling.

On July 19, 1848, the first Woman’s Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. There they organized a movement calling for women’s property rights, the right to vote and hold office, and equal treatment under the law. Frederick Douglas, a champion of human rights, attended the convention.

Women’s suffrage saw its first victory in Wyoming. Women in the territory were able to vote since its inception in 1869. In 1889, when Wyoming became the forty-forth state, the Constitutional Convention had written into their Constitution a clause allowing women to vote and hold office on the same basis as men. Article 1, Section 3, of its Declaration of Rights reads,

“Since equality in the enjoyment of natural and civil rights is made sure only through political equality, the laws of this state affecting the political rights and privileges of its citizens shall be without distinction of race, color, sex, or any circumstance or condition whatsoever other than individual incompetency, or unworthiness duly ascertained by a court of competent jurisdiction.”

Article 6, Section, reads:

“The rights of citizens of the State of Wyoming to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. Both male and female citizens of this state shall equally enjoy all civil, political and religious rights and privileges.”

Idaho, Colorado, and then Utah soon followed Wyoming’s lead.

The ultimate victory was won on this day, August 18, 1920, when the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, granting American women the right to vote, was ratified. They exercised that right for the first time on November 2, 1920, when Warren Harding was elected President of the United States.