100 years, with a long road ahead

This month marks 100 years since the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guaranteed women the right to vote.   

This is an important anniversary, but like a lot of milestones and celebrations, it has been overshadowed by the pandemic in 2020.  But it shouldn’t be overlooked because we need to remind ourselves, and our daughters, of where we started and the efforts of suffragists over 80-plus years to get the vote.

States limited voting rights to white male property owners. Voting rights were then — in theory — extended to Black men by the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870. Women, black and white, were still shut out of the process.

While the women’s movement gained steam in the 1900s, groups opposed to suffrage tried to derail the effort.

A pamphlet released by the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage circa 1911 contained reasons why the amendment shouldn’t be ratified, including that “90% of the women either do not want it, or do not care.” It also stated: “You do not need a ballot to clean out your sink spout.”

Anti-suffragists argued that women didn’t have time to vote or stay updated on politics because they were too busy taking care of their homes and children. Some argued women lacked the expertise or mental capacity to offer a useful opinion about political issues, according to Allison Lange, Ph.D. for the National Women’s History Museum.

Marilla Marks Young of Dover obviously disagreed. She tried to run for governor in New Hampshire in 1910 but couldn’t get on the ballot because she wasn’t a registered voter.

Marks Young said at the time, according to the National Park Service, it might take at least 100 years before a woman might be successfully elected, but she wanted “to set the ball rolling. There isn’t a ghost of a reason why a woman should not be governor or president if she wants to be and is capable of it.” We would wait 87 years to elect Jeanne Shaheen, NH’s first female governor in 1997; we would have to wait until 2016 for a major political party to choose a female as its presidential nominee.

We have a long way to go. Women are 51% of the population in the U.S., but as of October 2019, make up only 25% of the U.S. Senate; 23% of the U.S. House of Representatives; 29% of statewide elected executives; 29% of state legislative seats; and 22% of mayors in cities with populations over 30,000 (source: www.representwomen.org).

Also, the Equal Rights Amendment that guarantees rights to all women, initially passed Congress in 1972, has yet to become law. On Jan. 15, 2020, Virginia became the 38th state — 48 years later — to ratify the proposed amendment, meaning the required number of states for it to become law has been reached. But because the amendment wasn’t ratified by the 1982 deadline it is still in legal limbo.

In 2020, women are still fighting to be recognized as equals at home, at work and in society. But it is thanks to the advocates that came before us to help pave the way. We can honor their legacy by getting Congress to act on passing the ERA, finally, and by using our 100-year-old right to vote in November to elect more women to seats of political power.

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