I have voted in every election, primary and general, in which I could vote since I came of age many, many years ago. For me, voting is my right and my responsibility as an American citizen. Too many people for too long were denied this right. Who am I to squander it?
Ninety-seven years ago today—18 August 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, granting women the right to vote.
Unfortunately, at the time the United States of America was founded, its female citizens did not share all of the same rights as men, including the right to vote. Women like Abigail Adams implored the men in power to remember the rights of women:
“…I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. 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 will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” ~Abigail Adams, 1776
Obviously, Abigail’s entreaty was ignored.
During the 1820s and 1830s, most states had extended the right to vote to all white men, regardless of their wealth or property. (Non-property owners had faced voting impediments prior this time.) At the same time, reform groups were prolific across America—anti-slavery organizations, religious and moral-reform societies, and temperance clubs. In many of these groups, women played a prominent role.
However, it was not until 1848 that the movement for women’s rights launched on a national level with a convention in Seneca Falls, New York, organized by abolitionists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Following the convention, the demand for the vote became the cornerstone of the women’s rights movement. Stanton and Mott, along with Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and others, raised public awareness and lobbied the government to grant voting rights to women.
During the 1850s, the women’s rights movement gathered steam.
“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again! And now they are asking to do it; the men better let them.” ~Sojourner Truth, 1851
However, with the onset of the Civil War, the movement, understandably, lost momentum.
Almost immediately after the War Between the States ended on 9 May 1865, topics of extending voting rights began anew. The 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution raised questions of citizenship and suffrage.
The 14th Amendment, adopted on 9 July 1868, extended the Constitution’s protection to all citizens: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” However, the 14th Amendment did clarify that these citizens are males only, including former slaves who had been emancipated. Women still did not have the right to vote.
“Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.” ~Susan B. Anthony, 1868
On 3 February 1870, the 15th Amendment was passed, allowing men of color the right to vote: “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 race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” So, although one great injustice finally had been rectified, women of all colors were still denied suffrage.
Starting in 1910, several more western states began to extend the vote to women for the first time in nearly two decades, joining Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho. However, the southern and eastern states still resisted change.
On 4 June 1919, Congress proposed the 19th Amendment: “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.” States across the country began to ratify this amendment. Pennsylvania, the seventh state to ratify the 19th amendment, did so on 24 June 1919. Missouri was the 11th state to ratify on 3 July 1919. The 29th state to ratify was New Jersey on 9 February 1920. The 34th state to ratify was West Virginia on 10 March 1920, confirmed on 21 September 1920.
Finally, on August 18, 1920, two-thirds of the states had ratified the 19th Amendment. Some still held out, including Maryland, the 40th state to ratify; it did so on 29 March 1941, after initially rejecting the amendment on 24 February 1920. It took seventeen years before Maryland finally certified this amendment on 25 February 1958. (A little late to the party, eh Maryland?)
Thelma Catherine (Ardinger) Noell (my great-grandmother) was nearly 19 years old when the 19th amendment was adopted. Her mother, Ida Catherine (Patton) Ardinger (my 2nd great-grandmother), was almost 53 years old. My 2nd great-grandmother, Elizabeth E. (Fogle) Noel, was 57 years old when she was granted the right to vote; she died the next year.
Lucinda Leona (Thomas) Taylor (my great-grandmother) was almost 24 years old when women received the right to vote. Her mother, Ella V. (Long) Thomas (my 2nd great-grandmother), was 61 years old when she was permitted to cast her first ballot. Sadly, she died a year later. My 2nd great-grandmother, Martha Ellen (Trone) Taylor, was 50 years old when she first became eligible to vote.
Osa Irene (Stark) Watts (my great-grandmother) turned 20 years old a couple of weeks after the amendment’s ratification. Her mother, Elizabeth Jane (Campbell) Stark (my 2nd great-grandmother), was 57 years old. Her maternal grandmother, Harriet (Francis) Campbell, was 78 years old. Cynthia Ann (Payne) Watts (my 3rd great-grandmother) was 88 years old when she won the right to vote. She died four years later.
Myrtle Ida Marriner (my great-grandmother) was 17 years old when the 19th Amendment was passed, allowing her the right to vote the following year when she turned 18. Her mother, Hannah Anna (Layton) Marriner (my 2nd great-grandmother), was 46 years old. Her grandmothers (my 3rd great-grandmothers), Rebecca Ann (Moore) Layton and Georganna Ida (Marks) Marriner, were 79 years old and 69 years old, respectively.
My spouse’s grandmother, Reba Gwendola Spangler, was only a toddler when women were afforded the right to vote. Her mother, Willie Alice (Kenney) Spangler (my spouse’s great-grandmother), was 33 years old when suffrage was granted. Her mother, Anna L. (Spangler) Kenney (my spouse’s 2nd great-grandmother), had just turned 57 years old when she was permitted to cast her vote.
Whether any of these women exercised their right to vote that day, or any day for that matter, is uncertain. I can only hope that they did. The struggle for suffrage was too hard-fought to waste or take for granted.