This week we celebrate 100 years of women earning the right to vote. However, many were disenfranchised for years after that. While many black women joined the suffragist movement, some argue that the white organizers of the movement left them behind when they declared victory on August 26, 1920. In addition, while the suffragist movement notes it was 72 years in the making, many would say the struggle for the right to vote and, indeed, for equal rights, began long before that.
Lucy Burns, Ida B. Wells, Alice Paul and Sojourner Truth, to name just a few, are women in history who fought for women’s equality, including the right to vote. Many more came before and after, and the struggle for voting rights continues long after the adoption of the 19th Amendment.
Many minorities were disenfranchised for decades after 1920, including Black women, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Chinese Americans and Korean Americans. Additional laws were needed to ensure voting rights for all beginning with the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943, then the adoption of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, the 24th Amendment in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, along with its amendments of 1970 and 1975.
Most interestingly to me, what the 19th Amendment changed most was not how it improved the lives of women, but how those women used their votes to change our country and help those in their communities. Adding women to the voting rolls brought an increase in spending for public health, education, social programs and charities. Public education about infectious diseases and vaccinations contributed to a significant decline in childhood mortality and children stayed in school longer, particularly in low income communities. These are just a few examples of the change that the women’s vote brought.
Surprisingly, there are still many, many women throughout the world still fighting for this basic human right. Here in Virginia, where the General Assembly recently became the 38th state to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, women like Jane Barker, Laura McKie and Cypriana McCray are still leading the charge. These three women were honored as part of the Women’s History Month 2020 celebration “Valiant Women of the Vote” this past February.
Today in the United States, the fight for equality continues from the battle to certify the Equal Rights Amendment, to the Black Live Matter movement. This country was built on immigrants, freedom of thought and expression, differing viewpoints and most of all acceptance of those from all walks of life. This is the fabric of American life and morality. The best way to ensure freedom, justice, equality and equity for all is to get out and vote (or stay in and vote by mail) this November.