Feminist History Lesson: August 18, 1920


On August 18, 1920, ninety-three years ago today, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.  This amendment stated,

“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”.

This landmark decision ended the 70 year fight for universal suffrage which began in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention.   The amendment, drafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, was proposed in 1878, but it was 41 years later that Congress finally submitted the amendment for ratification.

It is important to note that the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment was highly controversial and only passed by a margin of one vote.  In the end, the fate of the amendment was in the hands of one man.  Harry Burn, a 24 year-old legislator who was openly opposed the Nineteenth Amendment, had a last minute change of heart after receiving a letter from his mother asking him to vote in favor the amendment.   He explained his last minute decision the next day,

“I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.”

Today, I am thankful; thankful for the hard work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and other suffragist women who worked tirelessly to ensure that their daughters would be recognized as equal citizens.  I am so grateful that those women never gave up and were not discouraged by the decades that passed with little progress.  I am also thankful for Phoebe Ensminger Burn’s letter and that Harry Burn heeded his mother’s advice.  The fact that it took 70 years of fighting for women to be recognized as equal citizens really puts the rights that we enjoy today in perspective.  We have come so far in the 93 years since then and that makes me very hopeful for what we can accomplish in the next 93 years.



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