Sex and Voting

That is completely misleading headline aimed at getting your attention. It worked.

On this date, August 26, in 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified by the necessary two-thirds of the states.

"You've come a long way baby."

It was 233 years ago that the brilliant Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John, then working in Philadelphia on independence.

"Remember the ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors... Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and we will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or Representation."

It only took another 144 years for Abigail's demand to be met.

Here is the New York Times story about the announcement of the vote for women.

After Abigail Adams' failed effort, women's rights was a mostly invisible issue in America. Women were a strong force in the abolitionist movement, with Harriet Beecher Stowe attracting the most prominence. But even in that freedom movement, women were accorded second-rate status.

To many male abolitionists, the "moral" imperative to free black men and give them the vote carried much greater weight than the somewhat blasphemous notion of equality of the sexes. In fact, it was exclusion of women from an abolitionist gathering that sparked the first formal organization for women's rights. The birth of the women's movement in America dates to July 19, 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) and Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) called for a women's convention in Seneca Falls, New York, after they had been told to sit in the balcony at a London antislavery meeting. Of the major abolitionist figures, only William Lloyd Garrison supported equality for women. Even Frederick Douglass, while sympathetic to women's rights, clearly thought it secondary in importance to the end of slavery.

At the 1913 inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, who opposed the vote for women, 10,000 women demonstrated for the vote.

In 1918, a Republican Congress was elected. Among them was Montana's Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973), the first woman elected to Congress. Rankin's first act was to introduce a constitutional suffrage amendment onto the House floor.

On August 26, 1920, Tennessee delivered the last needed vote, and the Nineteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution. It stated simply that "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

Somewhere Abigail Adams was smiling.

There is a good history of the suffrage movement at the University of Rochester's Susan B. Anthony Center for Women's Leadership.

You can also read more about the suffrage movement in Don't Know Much About History