Having the “right” to vote. It seems absolutely absurd to me that I wouldn’t be able to voice my opinion and vote for the person I feel would be best for the position, whether it be local government or for the highest of elected offices. Yet, not too long ago, in fact in my grandmother’s time, that “right” was not constitutionally available to me as a woman.

When I was a young child, my mother would take me with her when she voted. My memories recall watching her go behind that “Wizard of Oz” curtain and hearing the buttons being pushed and levers being levered until at last the curtain would open and she would once again appear, although, nothing to me seemed to have changed. Little did I know that placing a vote is a very important responsibility.

Always a curious child, I begged to enter the hallowed grounds of the voting booth and my sweet Momma let me, but only one time: I apparently pushed buttons she didn’t really want pushed. But she never failed using teachable moments and she would tell me how important it was to vote; a chance to be a part of a much bigger picture.

Now that I am older and hopefully wiser, I appreciate the hard work and time that went into creating the opportunity for me to cast my ballot. I’m a little saddened that there are many who have no idea the years and tears that went into creating our 19th Amendment.

As we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, I question why women in the colonies were allowed to vote prior to 1776, but by 1807 every state constitution, with the exception of New Jersey, actually denied even limited permission for women to vote. I know the legalities of it, but really, did a woman’s thoughts not count as much after we went from colonization to statehood? Did women somehow just grow ignorant in that short span of years? Where do people come up with this stuff? Many bills were introduced into state legislatures but were generally disregarded and few even came to a vote.

Thankfully, there were many strong women who saw the need for equality at the polls and fought for it. We had a few of those women visit Yankton along their campaigns, among them, Miss Frances Elizabeth Willard and the very notable Susan Brownell Anthony. Both women devoted their lives to fighting for women’s rights but sadly passed without seeing the fruit of their work.

Scattered movements and organizations dedicated to women’s rights existed previously, but the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in New York is traditionally held as the start of the American women’s rights movement. The convention culminated in the adoption of the Declaration of Sentiments, in which one clause stated, “…that it is the duty of the women of the country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”

Then the Civil War happened. During the “Reconstruction Era”, and the ensuing Reconstruction Amendments, (the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments), I would have thought that someone would have included rights for women. The Fifteenth Amendment prohibits denying voting rights “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”; therefore it implied suffrage for women but was not accepted as such. The Fourteenth Amendment explicitly discriminated between men and women by penalizing only the states that deprived adult male citizens the right to vote.

While men fought for the “freed slave” to have rights to vote, the voice of the American woman was still being quieted, hushed and pushed aside. As the Press and Dakotian, February 12, 1885, reported “There is considerable agitation among some of our citizens over the possibility the bill allowing women to vote will pass in the legislature. It’s the novelty of the proposition that appalls the objectors. Very few women will vote if they have the chance”.

Hmmmm. I’m certainly thankful it wasn’t a novelty!

As World War I started in 1914, in eight states women had won the right to vote, but there was little support for a federal amendment.

Women joined the labor force to replace the men that were serving in the military. Even as we fought for democracy abroad, it was still restrictive to women in the country they served.

The National Woman’s Party, NWP, began picketing the White House. This group was nicknamed the “Silent Sentinels” and on July 4, 1917 police arrested 168 of them and they were sent to prison in Lorton, Virginia. They were apparently treated very harshly, some were even severely beaten. The women were released a few months later due to increasing public pressure.

By 1918, President Woodrow Wilson began to realize he needed to support a federal amendment. Fifteen states had already extended equal voting rights to women. A proposal was once again brought before the House and in January 1918, it finally passed… by ONE vote! The vote was then carried to the Senate where President Wilson made an appeal on the Senate floor – this was the first time that had happened. In his infamous speech he declared, “Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?”

You would think by then that they get it. Nope. The proposal fell short by two votes. It was voted on FIVE times between January 1918 and June 1919, each time was very close but not close enough.

Suffragists continued to pressure the President. A special session of Congress was called on May 21, 1919. The amendment passed the House once again with a vote of 304 to 89. On June 4, 1919, it was brought before the Senate. And finally, with a vote of 56 yeas, 25 nays, and 14 not voting, it was passed.

Women finally had the right to elect the people that would run our government.

Of course this is a condensed version of all that took place. I wish I had the time and space here to write more about the crucial events that led up to the ratification of this very important amendment; there is so much more information on this subject. But I’m writing an article, not a book. So with that, I will close with these words:

I believe it is a privilege to live in a Country where we are able to elect our officials. I not only have the right to vote but the duty to do so.

Not voting is a vote for the person you wouldn’t have voted for. Your vote does count. So hey ladies, let’s get out there and vote! Happy 100th Birthday, 19th Amendment!