Celebrating the Centennial of Women’s Suffrage

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote.  The passage marked the largest expansion of democracy in the history of our country. 

The 144 year long fight for the vote started in March 1776 with a letter that Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John Adams as he and Congress began drafting the founding principles for the newly independent nation.  Her words started with a “remember the ladies” tone at the thought of “putting unlimited power into the hands of the husbands” with the excerpt below: 

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency—and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable 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 perticuliar 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.”

The full letter is readable in the National Archives. 

For more than a century after, women were denied access to the ballot box, yet continued to engage in politics as spouses, speakers, and lobbyists.  Suffragists continued to charge for their reform throughout the post-Civil War years and into the 20th century until 1878 when Senator Aaron Sargent became the first member of Congress to formally propose a constitutional amendment specifically extending voting rights to women.  It still took four decades of continued debate over women’s political rights and suffrage lobbyists putting more pressure on Congress to finally win over the Senate in 1919. Ratified in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution includes only 39 words, two sentences that represent the work of generations of activists and a dedicated group of congressional reformers. 

While the suffrage movement has been reevaluated through the lens of race, there were Black leaders and white allies within the movement who are also recognized.  In 2020, the celebration has broadened to understand the division of race even in the Suffrage movement.  Today, we acknowledge and celebrate the leadership of the Black Suffragists and the leaders that led them, including Sojourner Truth, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, the Grimke Sisters, and Nannie Helen Burroughs to name a few.

Nineteenth 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. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Women’s Suffrage Centennial Text with Citations

In commemoration of this historic milestone, we asked our community:

Which women in your life or history inspired you to vote and why?

Here’s what they said:

Our Heroes

Remember what happened when they supplicated before them.

They stuck around, strong, evading the pain of love.

The very people they birthed turned against them.

They remained trapped, fighting for freedom in the dystopian world before us.

We relish life without pain gifted by our foremothers who were plagued with adversity.

Life was nothing but a cruel game for them.

Their love appeared endless, with nothing to lose they swallowed their fears and rose up.

They have been through hell and back so all the girls of their future and ours have the right to live as they please.

Consider them a delicate flower as their strength and weakness worked in perfect harmony.

With today’s patriarchy it’s hard to even imagine how they even breathed 100 years ago.

Stronger than a thousand men, the reason we’re here, they made a world we could survive in, in a world that hated them. 

@Honey280563: Thank you mothers, thank you angels, thank you warriors, martyrs and goddesses, because of you I’m wearing the clothes I’ve chosen, I’m working the job I want, I’ve had an education, I got to vote, I get to have a voice I can’t even imagine holding back, for you I will keep fighting the battle for women’s rights globally. ❤️

I had but to look inside my own home, growing up with a strong Mother and Grandmother [and Father] who lived thru the racism of the early 1900s, for my inspiration to vote and get involved in the political process in many ways! As Black people in America, we have a different perspective about making America great again. My family’s investment was in making ourselves great in a system that didn’t usually honor our efforts. I remember being eight years old and marching, with my family, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Detroit [June 23, 1963]. I remember my family voting in every election and being proud to do so because their ancestors were not afforded the privilege. I continue to work with viable political candidates to make sure representation is fair to WE THE PEOPLE. One of my proudest moments, as it relates to voting, was when my then 18 year old daughter and her best friend surprised me with the voter registration cards that would allow them to vote for the first time. When my daughter was young, I would take her to the polls to watch me vote. I would point out her grandmother’s name on the roll. Showing her our voting HISTORY! Although I’m deeply indebted to my own Mother, Grandmother and others for instilling in me the importance of making my voice count at the ballot box, I would also like to thank the Suffragettes who paved the way! Lastly, it would be a great gift to America and the world if we would elect a competent, caring, intelligent woman as President!

The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them. – Ida B. Wells

@HeatherMI512: The national women’s suffrage movement focused on courting white, native-born supporters, black women formed their own suffrage organizations. These organizations empowered black women not only to fight for the right to vote, but also to bring awareness to the discrimination and struggles of the black community. After the national women’s suffrage movement The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted American women the right to vote, a right known as women’s suffrage, and was ratified on August 18, 1920, Although this allowed white women the right to vote, It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act was passed nearly a half century later, on August 6, 1965 that black women were officially allowed to exercise their right to vote. Women suffrage of all backgrounds, means to me that women have a voice and that we have something very powerful to share with the world. We have the power within us to change the world.

@Celeste333: Amelia Earhart, was one of the most courageous woman of her generation, but still uniquely feminine and social. Being a feminist, she proved that a woman did not have to give up their femininity to stand strong for what they believed; what they held dear. She was one of the first female pilots and flew solo across that Atlantic Ocean.

I love the fact that she was strong, held on to her beliefs and showed future American women that they could claim it all; femininity, courage and independence that stood the test of time. She is a legend, even though she was lost at sea some 70 years ago, she is still very much remembered. She is, to me, the embodiment of the feminist movement.

And so, lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go, struggling and striving, and hoping that the buds and blossoms of our desires will burst into glorious fruition ere long. – Mary Church Terrell

@MrsCalaSober: Imagine being a single mother in the 60s. Imagine having to raise three kids on your own as you tried to make ends meet. Your ex-husband was an abusive drunk. You work so hard to make sure you could feed your children. Your work at the company is by far the best. You get no credit. You don’t get promoted. You get cat called during your lunch break. You have no respect. This is my grandma’s experience. She is the one I look up to and aspire to be like. She is strong and dedicated. She would stay positive in dark times and be the light that raised my father. She was someone I wanted to be like. She is kind, generous, smart, funny, loving, and a tough cookie. She is what I think of when I see inequality towards women. She never let men walk on her. She didn’t let her husband. She didn’t let her coworkers, and she didn’t let the neighborhood judge her for being a single mom. She knew her worth and pushed forward. When the women protested outside the White House to have the right to vote, they never gave up especially when they went on a hunger strike in prison and had food forced Down their nose. They knew that they were people who have the capability to be just as good, or better then men. I know that my grandma would have stood with them just like how she did during the civil rights movement and when she was being abused. She is strong. Women are strong. 

Rest In Peace Grandma and thank you for being the queen that you were. – @MrsCalaSober

@luluuuuu: I was born into a house of mostly girls, and my dad left me at a young age. I found that with just my mom i am so much of a stronger person. I want to keep her safe, and I want to keep my country safe. having the right to vote makes it so i am able to do both of those things and my vote, along with every other women’s vote, shows the improvements we have made throughout history and it stands for something bigger than ourselves, our ancestors, even the rest of our bloodline to come.

You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.  – Rosa Parks

@unoiiaa: Women. We have come a long way since suffrage. Since we were allowed to vote. Every woman inspires me differently. Every woman I meet or come across. But there are 2 that were so brave and fought for their rights, that I cannot help but mention them. Rosa Parks, and Malala Yousafzai. Both were put in life threatening situations, were discriminated against, but pulled through. Rosa Parks changed history with the simple action of not giving up her seat. Malala stood up for women’s education, got shot, and ended up going to Oxford University. 1 thing that all women need is bravery. We need to fight misogyny and standards. We need to pull through and show our worth. These 2 women inspired me to vote. By doing something so small, I can make a big change. Suffrage to me is fighting to get what you want. So let’s continue our ongoing suffrage, and lets show everyone what we can do.

There will never be a new world order until women are a part of it. -Alice Paul.

@Rosalinda2466: She inspired me a lot that the vote which we womens are giving was got by the help of several women who fought for equal right to vote . Alice Paul was so determined that for her food is not important as the vote she even became vegetarian and also did immense work to get equal right to vote . The vote which i will give when i will be eligible has so many importance and story behind it never thought it’s true what old people say that 1 vote can change the whole nation.

@lucindaautmn: Throughout my life, I been amaze by the evolution of thoughts In our society. For instance, the woman’s suffrage was a huge step for women to have a voice. Having only one women as a inspiration sounds selfish. In the most direct answer the women who inspires me to vote is for the one who surrounds me, the ones who wake up everyday, the ones who spread loves, the ones that wants to fight.the ones who aren’t afraid of society, I’m voting because my ancestors walked so we can run, and I will vote so I can speak for those who can’t or were silence.The women’s suffrage is not about being inferior, is only about giving women a voice, giving women the same position as the others. Whoever fights for women rights regardless their gender, race and background are a reason why I should vote because they are fighting to abolish a issue that is been throughout decades so, I think any women who stands up for herself and for the others is my inspiration to vote.

@Niniz4: While there are many women who inspire me every day to be a part of a change through voting. My Mother is the main one that inspires me to vote. Through the hardships she has endured such being bottled into the gender role many women have been succumbed too. As well as, being belittled at her work for her position and not getting the promotion she deserves for her 15 plus years of working for that company. I grew up watching her determination of never giving up no matter what somebody tells her and breaking out of the stereotypical housewife. She has always told me from a young age we determine what we want and to take advantage of our privileges. If I ever felt like giving up she just reminded me of family members in Mexico who don’t get the opportunities or the treatment that we do.

“ Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”  –Harriet Tubman