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Women’s Equality Day: On the road to women’s right to vote

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. --

Are you aware that Women’s Equality Day exists? If you are not, I assure you, you are not the only one. August 26 is the day women’s equality is celebrated to commemorate the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. This Amendment became a part of the Constitution in 1920 and it stated that the federal government and the states were not allowed to discriminate or deny citizens of the United States the right to vote solely based on sex.

The history of Women’s Equality Day dates to 1848. At this time, a peaceful civil rights movement had its formal beginnings at the world’s first women’s rights convention at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York on July 19-20. The five organizers of the convention included Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Mary M’Clintock, Martha Coffin Wright, and Jane Hunt. It was here where the five organizers expressed and described women’s grievances and demands. This was entitled “The Declaration of Sentiments, Grievances, and Resolutions.”

The declaration began with 19 sentiments that depicted, what women felt, were degradations of themselves and their power. It was also felt that these sentiments exemplified the sheer definition of dependence, which is what none of these women desired to feel. Due to the lack of the right for women to be able to vote, they were forced to submit to laws in which they did not consent. Women were required to be obedient to their husbands and were not allowed to own property of their own. Any wages they earned belonged to their husbands and upon divorce, unequal rights were received. A list of resolutions, which demanded women be regarded as men’s equal, came as a result of this. The resolutions called on Americans to regard any laws that placed women in an inferior position to men as having “no force or authority.”

The most controversial resolution was that of the ninth, which called for women’s right to vote. This resolution would go on to become the cornerstone of the women’s suffrage movement. Senator Aaron A. Sargent introduced the beginning words of what would become the 19th Amendment in January of 1878.

Between 1878 and 1920, champions of voting rights for women worked tirelessly, although their strategies varied. It wasn’t until President Wilson decided to enter World War I in 1917 that a turning point came about. Supporters of the cause debated that in order to “make the world safe for democracy” (Woodrow Wilson, “Joint Address to Congress”, April 2, 1917) we would need to start at home by extending our alliances. Without women being able to participate in voting procedures, their support for the war would be hindered, which would be a major blow to the desired war effort the United States desperately desired. Finally, on August 26, 1920, the Amendment was ratified! Although it was a lengthy legal process, it was beyond satisfying for anyone involved in this movement.

Although this was a major milestone for women’s right to vote, it is imperative to keep in mind that even though this Amendment stated that the federal government and the states were not allowed to discriminate or deny citizens of the United States the right to vote solely based on sex, many women were still unable to vote. It wasn’t until 1924 that Native American women were recognized to vote, 1943 for Chinese American women, and 1952 for Japanese and other Asian American women. After the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, African American women finally had their rights upheld. Though voting rights began to be recognized prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 1975 brought real change for Latina voters (as well as all non-English-speaking Asian Americans and Native Americans) following an extension of the Voting Rights Act. This extension made it possible to translate registration materials into other languages so that communities of color could not be discriminated against at the polls. Women’s Equality Day gives not only women, but everyone, the opportunity to reflect on many of the obstacles women have faced to get where we are today.