100th Anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment|
By Bruce Doorly
|This year marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment
which granted all women in the U.S. the right to vote.
Before the passage of this amendment to our Constitution each individual state had the power to set its own rules on women voting. And most states did not give women their full voting rights and many states gave women no voting rights at all.
|When the country first formed in 1776 the Founding Fathers left the issue
of who could vote up to the states. Ironically, the only state that allowed women to vote back then
was New Jersey. This vote was however limited to single or widowed women who owned property.
For many years New Jersey stood alone in allowing women to vote. However, in 1807 after an election that was tainted with fraud the men of the New Jersey Assembly made women the scapegoat for the disputed election. Thus, they passed a law that limited the vote to just white men. New Jersey women would not see their full voting rights for another 113 years.
|Nationally from 1807-1890 no states gave women the voting rights that men had.
There was only a scattering of token voting rights such as allowing women to vote in school elections.
Women would have to organize and fight for the right to vote.
Historians mark the start of the movement for women with a convention held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. Hundreds of women from around the country traveled to this historic gathering. After that convention women began their long battle for the right to vote and many other rights. There were many prominent women leaders. Historians credit Susan B. Anthony as the most significant.
|The issue of women fighting for the right to vote was known as suffrage and the women
doing the fighting were called the suffragists.
The arguments against suffrage were that women should not get involved in the dirty business of politics and women’s empowerment would be a threat to the family unit. Some of the most vocal opponents against women being granted the right to vote were groups of women themselves who were known as the antis. These antis had their own organizations and often lobbied as hard as the women suffragists.
|The suffragists fought the battle at both the state level and the national level. While the state by state battle encompassed dozens of fights as opposed to one fight for a national amendment, it was at the state level that progress was first made. Thus much energy went into each individual state campaign.|
|The women needed to sway popular opinion so that the men in state government would
grant them the right to vote.
Various organizations for women were created over the years. They did many things to promote their cause. They held parades, gave speeches, passed out flyers, held conventions, and gathered signatures on petitions to present to government officials.
|Susan B. Anthony|
|The first states to grant women full voting rights, all in the mid-west, came easy -
Wyoming in 1890, Colorado in 1893, Idaho in 1896, and Utah in 1897. Then difficult battles began –
victories came in California in 1911, Oregon, Arizona, and Kansas in 1912, Illinois in 1913, and
Montana and Nevada in 1914.
A big victory was New York in 1917. Several other states gave women limited voting rights such as voting in Presidential elections or school elections. But the eastern half of the U.S. for the most part gave little ground to women suffrage.
|New Jersey granted some voting rights to women in 1887 allowing them to vote in
school board elections. However, just seven years later in 1894 the NJ Supreme Court ruled that was illegal
and restricted the votes of women to just referendums on the school budget.
Organizations for women in New Jersey fought hard and by October of 1915 they pressured the New Jersey government to call a special election for a state amendment that if approved would grant all New Jersey women full voting rights. But the referendum was defeated. A quote from a newspaper summed it up stating The story of the defeat of the amendment is the story of a scattered effort against a well-oiled political machine.
|1915 was a bad year for the suffrage movement as in addition to New Jersey, several
other states had voting rights amendments for women defeated.
But ever determined, the suffragists moved their energies away from the one state at a time approach to
a battle for a national amendment. Many labeled this the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.
They picketed the Whitehouse daily for over a year - targeting President Woodrow Wilson. At times many women were arrested and sent to prison for month long stays under harsh conditions.
|Their determination and willingness to sacrifice for their cause was noticed throughout the country. Slowly the public came to support them. President Wilson eventually moved to their side issuing statements supporting their right to vote.|
|In 1917, the U.S. entered the World War. This helped turn the tide toward woman
suffrage throughout the country. With the men away at war the women took up many of the jobs that were traditionally for men and made
sacrifices on the home front. The women not only proved their patriotism, but also their competence.
The War further aided the cause of women as it prompted a logical argument. If the United States was fighting abroad to make the world safe for democracy, should the U.S. not have true democracy at home and allow everyone to vote?
|Finally, after the War, in 1919, both the U.S. Senate and the House of
Representatives passed legislation for an Amendment (the 19th) that would grant all women the right to vote.
But for it to become law two-thirds (thirty-six) of the states had to ratify (approve) it.
Slowly over the next year the states one by one began to approve the amendment. But the number of states that would approve stalled at 35, one short of passage. It would remain at that number for six months as all the previously undecided states, except one, did not approve. It came down to the still undecided state of Tennessee, they were the last hope for women suffrage.
|When the Tennessee legislative opened a special session to vote on the amendment
both the suffragists and the antis sent dozens of people to Tennessee to lobby the officials on this crucial vote.
After an intense and nasty debate, the amendment passed by a single vote after a young congressman
changed his vote to a yes because his mother had urged him to do so.
At last, all women in the United States had voting privileges equal to men.
|In the Bridgewater/Raritan area, after the passage of the 19th amendment,
hundreds of local women gathered together at the estate of Senator Joe Frelinghuysen.
(His home was in Raritan where the Burger King/PC Richard is today.)
At this event they celebrated, but they also organized themselves to get women to register to vote and to instruct them on the process and educate them on the issues.
|The new voting rights came just in time for the 1920 Presidential Election.
The first local women to vote that election day was Emily Frelinghuysen, the wife of the Senator. After she cast her ballot, she was given a bouquet of flowers to mark the occasion. It had been a long battle for women to gain voting rights. Just one woman from that initial convention in 1848 lived to see the Election Day in 1920 where all women had the right to vote.
|Warren Harding won that first |
Presidential Election where all women could vote