Women’s Equality Day commemorates the day the 19th Amendment, which officially granted women the right to vote, was certified to the Constitution on August 26, 1920. The holiday began in 1971, when Congress officially declared August 26 a celebration of women’s suffrage.
According to the National Women’s History Project, the holiday declaration said the 19th Amendment “culminated a 72-year, non-violent campaign to extend the right to vote to women, as symbol of the continued fight for equal rights.”
The 19th Amendment was a considerable victory for women’s suffrage. The movement started picking up speed in the late 19th century, particularly after the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention organized by abolitionists Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In 1872, Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth both tried to vote, but were both turned away. The suffragettes kept fighting for the votes for decades, and even marched on both New York and Washington, D.C. in 1912 and 1913. Finally, after 113 years of being denied the right to vote, the 19th Amendment constitutionally protected a woman’s right to vote.
Though the amendment granted suffrage to all women on paper, women of color were still disenfranchised and barred from voting. In 1922, the Supreme Court ruled that people of Japanese descent couldn’t become citizens, thus they could not vote. State laws across the country barred Native Americans from voting, and unjust barriers like literacy tests made it nearly impossible for thousands of African Americans to vote. So while the 19th Amendment was a step in the right direction, true and universal suffrage wasn’t guaranteed for everyone until 1965, when the Voting Rights Act passed Congress.
Women’s Equality Day is an excellent way to celebrate all the progress we’ve made as a country, but it’s also a way to remember how far we still have to go. While we’ve made massive strides at the ballot box, restrictive practices like gerrymandering and voter identification laws make it hard for people of color and poor citizens to vote. Outside the voting booth, the gender pay gap, the lack of paid maternity leave, and the struggle for reproductive rights continue to affect women’s daily lives. So on August 26, take a moment to appreciate all the work it took to make Women’s Equality Day a reality. You can always call your congress people to tell them that women’s equality should be a priority, but also remember that the fight for equal rights is far from over
Kathy Adams, Chair
President, Georgia Federation of Democratic Women
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