In 1920 it took only 39 words to give U.S. women the right to vote. In 1971 192 words were deemed necessary to proclaim Aug. 26 Women’s Equality Day. But, hey, we’re happy to have both.
In July 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton stood up in the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls and declared females strong enough and smart enough to participate fully as citizens, even her fellow organizers of the First Woman’s Rights Convention were embarrassed. Knowing his wife intended to add a voting rights provision to her Declaration of Sentiments (modeled after the Declaration of Independence, which sadly liberated on white males) Henry Stanton (a busy abolitionist lecturer) left town.
Seventy-two years later, after much persistence by women such as Susan B. Anthony and much suffering by women such as Alice Paul, U.S. women were given the privilege and responsibility of voting. Those magic 39 words in the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution read:
“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.”
The first state to ratify the 19th amendment was Illinois on June 10, 1919. Just to make sure, the land of Lincoln reaffirmed its vote seven days later. Votes dribbled in over the next 14 months until Harry T. Burn cast Tennessee’s deciding yea! on Aug. 18, 1920. The 20-something Burn was ready to turn his thumb down until he received this letter from his mother:
“Dear Son: Hurrah and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt! I notice some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the “rat” in ratification. Your mother.”
Eleven more states sent in their notices of ratification all the way into the ’60s and ’70s. Mississippi hung on to its image of women as the frailer sex until March 22, 1984.
Here’s Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s take on frail females: “If women can scrub floors, lift huge cooking pots and carry heavy babies, they can muster the strength to fill out a paper ballot and drop it in a box!”