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League celebrates 90 years of women voting

By Staff | Aug 26, 2010

19th Amendment

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. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

This week, the League of Women Voters will celebrate 90 years of women voting, in this 90th year of the League of Women Voters.

One of our country’s biggest social revolutions started with a tiny ad in a small town newspaper. It was an invitation to a conversation about the "rights of women." In 1848, most women could not earn wages, eat alone at a restaurant, own property, get a college education, or even speak at a public meeting. The ad invited the public to a meeting that would begin to unravel and rebuild social roles in America, and eventually around the world.

At the ensuing Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, only one woman — a young 19 year old — would live to cast her vote in 1920. For the years between, these stalwart believers never gave up, following Susan B. Anthony’s famous quote: "Failure is not an option."

Not in their lifetime were these brave suffragists, risking the wrath of their friends, families and spouses, to see women win the vote nationally.  In a mad seesaw of referendums, votes lost and won, slowly but surely America began to see the mood change. State by state slowly began to give women the vote, and finally after a more radical group of suffragists picketed the White House month after month, was thrown into jail, and word leaked out about their forced feedings and manacled condition, did President Woodrow Wilson put his presidential might toward encouraging a change to the Constitution. This would require approval by 36 of the 48 states.

State by state, votes were taken, finally coming to the conservative state of Tennessee, not expected to ratify. One legislator came from a hospital bed, another from his way to the hospital to see his dying infant, and then it came down to a dead heat but for one young brand new legislator, aged 22, who had recently been elected. Wearing a small red rose (the sign of those against women’s suffrage) a message via telegram was rushed to this young man. Reading the note from his elderly and ailing mother (Dear Son: Hurrah and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt!  I noticed some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the "rat" in ratification. Your mother) He followed her advice "Give Women the Vote," telling reporters later "I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification."

Seeing a number of tricks to overturn the positive vote, the Governor of Tennessee quickly mailed the ratification to Washington, and on August 26th, 1920, the Secretary of State declared the 19th amendment formally and finally ratified. Women across America had the vote. The fuse to women’s rights had been lit by the modern world’s first republic.

The founder of the League of Women Voters, Carrie Chapman Catt, involved for decades in the struggle summed it up: 480 campaigns in state legislatures, 56 statewide referendums to male voters, 47 attempts to add suffrage planks during revisions of state constitutions, 277 campaigns at state party conventions and 30 at national conventions, 19 biennial campaigns in Congress. A mighty army of activists had never given up… and had won. The rest is "herstory."