Centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment

Suffragette invites “Women of America” to donate to the cause.

The year 1920 was a momentous turning point in the life of the American republic: the size of the electorate was expanded as never before. Ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting American women the right to vote, became official on August 26, 1920. It was the culmination of decades of struggle, spearheaded by well-known suffragists like Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone. But the fight would not have succeeded without the efforts of a diverse group of American women whose contributions are often overlooked. This centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment is bringing wider recognition to these women. And voting rights were just one area of social and civic life where the fight for equality was waged.

The text of the Nineteenth Amendment is extremely short. It reads: “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. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” The proposed amendment passed both houses of Congress in mid-1919, and state legislatures began voting on ratification immediately. In the first two weeks, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Kansas, New York, and Ohio ratified the amendment. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify. With three-fourths of the (then) 48 states having agreed, the amendment was then certified by the U.S. secretary of state.

Although the amendment brought suffrage to millions of women, it did not mark the first time that American women could vote. As early as 1869, Wyoming Territory granted all female residents age 21 and older the right to vote; when it became a state in 1890, Wyoming maintained its pioneering ways, becoming the first state to enact woman suffrage. By the turn of the twentieth century, three states—Colorado, Utah, and Idaho—had adopted amendments to their state constitutions granting women the ballot. By 1915, the count was 15 states, the vast majority in the West.

What the federal constitutional amendment achieved, then, was to grant women the right to vote at the national level throughout the United States—that is, in the rest of the states that had not already granted suffrage to women. Even with passage of the amendment, implementation of this hard-won right was uneven across the country. Rules for voter registration, for example, differed because even national elections are state-run affairs. A few states—Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina—blocked women’s participation in the 1920 election.

Image credit: © Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

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