Friday, February 27, 2009

The 19th Amendment Declared Constitutional

February 27 – the 19th Amendment Declared Constitutional

On August 18, 1920, women were finally given the federal right to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment. But the fight didn't end there. An evident appeal (because a quick google search is not finding the information I want) to the courts on the the constitutionality of the amendment ended on February 27, 1922 with the court ruling that the amendment giving women the right to vote was indeed constitutional.

The amendment reads:
Section 1. The right of the 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.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

And it took from 1776 until 1920, and thousands of women and men, to get the right to vote for women.

Abigail Adams, wife of the future president, wrote to her husband John, who was then a member of the Continental Congress, to “Remember the Ladies.” But he shouldn't be thought of too badly when he didn't. The right vote, at that time, was not as equal as it is now, not even for white men, but that's another story.

In 1848, Seneca Falls, NY hosts the first women's rights convention in the United States. A “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions” is signed by participants. The declaration outlines the issues, concerns and goals of the woman's movement. Seneca Falls was the first of many woman's rights meetings.

In 1869, Wyoming organizes with a woman's suffrage provision. When it's admitted into the Union in 1890, the provision intact. Wyoming is the first state to allow women to vote.
In 1872, Susan B. Anthony is arrested in Rochester, NY for attempting to vote in the Senatorial election. She is tried in June of 1873 and found guilty by a judge who made up his mind before the trial had even started. Judge Hunt declares, "The Fourteenth Amendment gives no right to a woman to vote, and the voting by Miss Anthony was in violation of the law." For a detailed description of this case check out The Trial of Susan B. Anthony.

In 1878 A Woman Suffrage Amendment is introduced into Congress. It does not pass.
In 1893, Colorado adopts a state amendment enfranchising women.

By 1912, nine western states have adopted women suffrage legislation. Others have challenged male-only voting laws in the courts.

Montana elects and sends to Congress the first female Representative, Jeannette Ranks in 1916.
On May 21, 1919, the House of Representatives passes the amendment first introduced in 1878. It is relatively unchanged from when it is first brought before Congress. Two weeks later, the Senate follows suit. Tennessee is the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, thus making it law.

It is not to be thought, however, that this was an easy road, from introduction to ratification. Susan's arrest and trail was only one of many hardships women faced in their pursuit to equal voting rights. Perhaps the most shocking was the arrest of protesters by the command of none other than the President of the United Sates, Woodrow Wilson.

From the day before he takes into office on March 13, 1913, suffrage supporters hound him. Alice Paul manages to gather 5,000 people from every state in the union to march on Washington the day before the inauguration. Through the next several years, Paul organizes the protests outside the White House with banners reading “Mr. President, what will you do for woman suffrage?” and the like. The police stood by and watch as angry crowds punch, kick, choke and drag the protesters.

First harassed, then arrested, the protesters are sent to a work house for 60 days as punishment. There, they suffer beatings, forced feeding, and unsanitary conditions. When Paul goes on a hunger strike to protest her treatment, she is forced fed with a tube and threatened with commitment to an insane asylum. All because she wants to vote. Paul remains unfaltering in her belief. Wilson is forced to realize he is in a political land mine and needs to act.
The U.S. involvement in the World War I actually helps the movement. How can we claim we are bringing freedom to the world, while deny half our population the fundamental right to vote? Between the human rights we claim to be giving in the war and the treatment of the suffragans at home, Wilson finally declares his support for the amendment.

For more information and Wilson and Paul's actions during this time, check out PBS's page on Wilson and the Alice Paul page.

So, women, rejoice....on this day, the U. S. Supreme Court upheld as constitutional our right to vote!

Here's a detailed timeline of the history of suffrage.

Anna Kathryn Lanier

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