Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: The U.S. Congress passes the 19th Amendment (1919)
First proposed by Senator Aaron A. Sargent of California in 1878, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed by the U.S. Congress on June 4, 1919. The amendment declares that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” While the passage of the amendment in June of 1919 by Congress signaled great promise and opportunity, the amendment officially became law after successful ratification by the states in August of 1920. The passage of the amendment owes much to the efforts of social activists and suffragists who mobilized and inspired the women’s rights movement in the United States during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In the decades following the American Civil War, women’s rights activists increasingly pressured legislators to enumerate universal suffrage on both the state and national levels. With territorial expansion into the western frontier, questions of women’s suffrage defined political discourse in state legislatures and territorial governments. Under the leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) worked through the courts to build legal cases for women’s suffrage and raise national awareness about the movement. Carrie Chapman Catt, who led the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and the International Alliance of Women (IAW), worked tirelessly to steer public support and congressional backing in favor of the amendment. Their efforts, coupled with the activism and legacies of Sojourner Truth, Jane Addams, Alice Paul, and many others, played a central role in laying the foundation for the successful passage of the 19th Amendment.
By the late 1910s, states such as Wyoming, Utah, New York, Michigan, and Oklahoma had already expanded the right to vote to women, but many states continued to deny women’s suffrage prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment. A testament to the tireless efforts of suffragists throughout the United States, the passage of the 19th Amendment, which closely followed the Representation of the People Act in the United Kingdom, marked a monumental success for the national and global movement for women’s rights. Suffragists, their organizations, and their messages of activism brought women’s rights to the forefront of political focus in the early 20th century.
August 18, 2015 will mark the 95th Anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment and its momentous legacy in the international movement for women’s rights.