JUNE MARKS MILESTONE FOR WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE
Tuesday, June 4 marked the 100-year anniversary of the U.S. Senate passing the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed that the right to vote shall not be denied on the basis of sex. The constitutional amendment was then sent to the states to be ratified, 36 of whom needed to ratify for it to become enshrined in the constitution. It would take until August 1920 for the amendment to be fully ratified, but much of the struggle began over 150 years earlier.
In July 1848, a convention was called to discuss “the social, civil, and religious condition of woman” in the small village of Seneca Falls, N.Y. This convention attracted national attention and, along with the Declaration of Sentiments released after the meeting, is seen as the launching point of the national women’s suffrage movement in the United States
Although the 19th Amendment is a nationally celebrated event in the timeline of women’s suffrage, many states and territories gave women the right to vote prior to 1920. According to the original constitution of the state of New Jersey, voting rights were granted to “all inhabitants of this colony, of full age, who are worth fifty pounds … and have resided within the county … for twelve months.” In 1790 the language was further clarified to “he or she.” But in 1807, the state legislature passed new legislation restricting suffrage to tax-paying, white male citizens.
Indeed, the first women to serve in a state legislature were elected before 1920. Clara Cressingham, Carrie Holly and Frances Klock, all from Colorado, were elected in 1894, the year after Colorado passed legislation allowing women to vote and a full 26 years before women could vote nationally.
On the national level, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan were the first three states to ratify the 19th Amendment on June 10, 1919. By the summer of 1920, 35 states had ratified the amendment, eight states had rejected it, and five more states had not voted on the issue. Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states. It was at this time that all eyes fell on Tennessee.
During a special summer session called in 1920, the 19th Amendment easily passed the Tennessee Senate but, in the House, the vote was a tie: 48 for, 48 against. During the subsequent roll call vote, Representative Harry T. Burn, upon the advice given to him by his mother, changed his vote, thereby breaking the tie and solidifying Tennessee as the 36th state to ratify the amendment. On Aug. 24, 1920, Tennessee Governor Albert H. Roberts certified Tennessee’s ratification of the amendment, making it the law of the land.
In celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, NCSL’s Women's Legislative Network announced their Suffrage Amendment State History (SASH) Campaign. The goal of the campaign is to highlight the facts and provide information about suffragists from all states, recognizing their tireless work on this historic occasion. The Women's Network is proud to celebrate all the women who have contributed to American democracy in so many significant ways.
As the nostalgic School House Rock song states, women “were suffering until suffrage.” But since the passage of the 19th Amendment: “And now we pull down on the lever, Cast our ballots and we endeavor, To improve our country, state, county, town, and school.“