On August 26, Americans celebrate the 100th anniversary of passage into law of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that “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.”On that day, 26 million American women gained the right to help decide how their country is to function in the future.
The women’s suffrage movement was officially launched during the first women’s rights convention in 1848. Over the following 70 years, suffragists—both women and men-tried every way possible to legalize women’s right to vote.
They launched a drive to pass a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote, a long and tedious process. In the meantime, some women tried to vote illegally and filed lawsuits when their attempts were rejected, hoping the judges would side with them.
When that failed, they worked on the state level, where they were much more successful: by the time the 19th Amendment became the law of the land, over half of all states, most of them in the West, had already granted voting rights to women.
After making its slow way through the Congress, in June 1919, the 19th amendment finally received the votes necessary to be sent to the states for ratification by the required 3/4ths of the-then-48 states. Tennessee became the last state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920.
In a famous speech from 1873, one of the main leaders of the Women’s Suffrage movement, Susan B. Anthony, looked to the opening words of the U.S. Constitution as a justification for the enfranchisement of women: "We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and established this constitution for the United States of America."
“It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens, nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed this Union,” she said.“And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people-women as well as men.”