96 years of Voting in America: 1920 to 2016
The League of Women Voters traces its origins to the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the organization that launched the campaign for ratification of the 19th Amendment. In 1919, at NAWSA’s Jubilee Convention, President Carrie Chapman Catt proposed the creation of a League of Women Voters to ‘finish the fight’ for women’s suffrage. The League would bring women together ‘in an effort for legislation which will protect coming movements, which we cannot even foretell, from suffering the untoward conditions which have hindered for so long the coming of equal suffrage.” In February 1920, six months before the 19th Amendment was ratified, NAWSA members formally agreed to reconstitute their organization as the League of Women Voters. And so, our story began.
The League of Women Voters is the only living legacy of the women’s suffrage movement. Women’s Equality Day marks the historic fight for suffrage and the birth of our own organization. We look back at the historic fight for suffrage while celebrating the power of the women’s vote and the breaking of glass ceilings in political races across the country; and looking toward the future battles yet to be fought.
Women’s Suffrage in the United States
Ratification of the 19th Amendment was not won easily. The radical notion of woman suffrage prompted vigorous debate as soon as it was proposed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York. In 1919, more than 40 years after the 19th Amendment was introduced in Congress, it was finally voted out and sent to the states for ratification. Even then, though it received more than half the needed approvals in the first year, the amendment was besieged by opposition forces claiming it promoted socialism, free love, and the breakup of the American family.
In 1920, when the 19th amendment became law, 23 million women gained the right to vote. However, the fight to politically, economically, and socially empower women continued. Not until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s could black women in the South exercise their right to vote. However, by all accounts, the passage of the 19th Amendment was a major step on the road toward full citizenship and equality for all American women.
Further Reading: National Women’s History Museum website. www.nwhm.org
The Women’s Vote Today
Women statistically participate in elections more than men do. In recent elections, voter turnout rates for women have equaled or exceeded voter turnout rates for men. More women are registered to vote than men in most states and there is a much higher female turnout rate at the polls.
The equation is simple: more female voters equals more female power. It should be noted, though, that women do not have a single political point of view. Other demographic factors (geography, marital status, race, age, income) have more impact on voter participation and voters’ attitudes and preferences than gender alone.
Further reading: What Women Really Want: How American Women Are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class, and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live, by Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway. Atria Books. October 2005.
Reviving the push for the Equal Rights Amendment
On Friday evening, August 26th, league members attended a screening of the new documentary, Equal Means Equal, at the Navy Memorial Theater followed by a panel discussion. The screening was sponsored by the National Congress of Black Women and Premier Bank.
The 90-minute film exposes how women’s basic human rights are not embedded in the Constitution by looking at 10 realms where women are unequal, including wage discrimination, domestic violence and rape, and reproductive healthcare. State and federal courts as well as the Supreme Court have issued opinions against some womens rights and the late Justice Antonin Scalia stated outright that women are not specifically protected under the Constitution.
The film is a powerful call to reviving the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) today. Currently two bills in Congress addressing ERA legislation:
Traditional legislation to ratify the ERA by the Constitution’s ratification process. (S.J. Res. 16, H.J. Res. 52)
A “three-state strategy” to remove the time limit of the 1982 ERA’s ratification process, thereby retaining the existing 35 state ratifications as viable. Therefore it would require three states to ratify. (S.J. Res. 15, H.J. Res. 51)
Where do we stand? The League of Women Voters first supported the ratification of the ERA in 1972 and it was a top priority through the 1970s and early 1980s. Our commitment to a constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law including the ratification of the ERA into law remains strong.
Watch the film: Equal Means Equal can be purchased from iTunes from starting on September 6, 2016. Free digital copies are available if you are interested in hosting a house party. Go to www.equalmeansequal.com for more information.