It took seven decades of steady, often brutal, campaigning to get United States women the right to vote. The activism began in 1848 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and friends shocked the local patriarchy by getting together in a church to tell their menfolk what they expected out of life. At that point, men should have stopped asking “What do women want?” Their demands were written out plainly in the convention’s Declaration of Sentiments, which bore an uncanny resemblance to the revolutionary Declaration of Independence.
Unfortunately, husbands, fathers, uncles, nephews and sons turned a collective deaf ear until 1919. On June 4 that year, the Senate followed the House’s lead and confirmed a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. In between 1848 and 1919, a whole lot of shaking went on. Susan B. Anthony nearly killed herself traveling from city to city and state to state explaining to large and small audiences why half of the country’s population needed a say in how the country was run. Alice Paul picketed Woodrow Wilson’s big house and was jailed and force-fed for her trouble. Hundreds, no thousands, of resilient, resolute women persisted until they got what they deserved.
It’s interesting that, for a period of this struggle, women could vote in several western states. Between 1909 and 1912, California, Oregon, and Washington gave women voting rights. More states wised up and by the 1916 election, 4 million new voters were on the rolls.
After Congress approved the 19th amendment, it still needed “yeas” from 36 states. Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan said “yes” quickly. Tennessee, after some goofing around, claimed No. 36. Strangely, some states couldn’t admit the 19th Amendment was the supreme law of the land for quite a while. Maryland did not ratify the amendment until 1941, and didn’t send the ratification document to the State Department until 1958. What was that all about? I was surprised to read that the amendment wasn’t enforced nationwide until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, thanks to women serving in Congress.
Yes, one hundred years ago today, U.S. women were on their way to becoming full-fledged citizens. That was just four years before my mother was born. Hard to imagine. My first historical novel tells the story of the First Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. in 1848 and how it was truly A Shocking & Unnatural Incident. Find details on this website and on Amazon.