Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

What Does Women’s Suffrage Mean to You?

             Today marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was ratified on August 18, 1920. However, this achievement was reached after much work and many years, and the right to vote did not extend to all women.

            Women could vote in some of the colonies prior to 1776, but the right to vote for women was banned by constitutions in all colonies by 1807. The first step toward equal rights for women could have been taken by Abigail Adams in a private letter to her husband, John Adams, dated March 31, 1776. He was a member of the Continental Congress fighting for independence for America. More than 150 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified, Abigail’s letter included the following statement.

I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

            Abigail Adams’ threat of rebellion began to materialize in the mid-nineteenth century when organizations supporting women’s rights became more active. In 1848, a Declaration of Sentiments was adopted at the Seneca Fall convention. This declaration “called for equality between the sexes and included a resolution urging women to secure the vote.” Women tried all kinds of ways to gain equal rights, including legal arguments using existing amendments. However, the Supreme Court struck all of them down. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two leaders in the movement, “called for a new constitutional amendment that would guarantee women the right to vote. 

            Some of the states, mainly in the West, gave women the vote in the late nineteenth century. A suffrage proposal was introduced in Congress in 1878, but it was rejected in 1887. By the 1890s, the suffrage movement was working on an amendment to the Constitution, while they also worked on state and local levels. Lucy Burns and Alice Paul moved the suffrage proposal forward.

            When the United States entered World War I, the public began to see women’s suffrage differently. The National American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Carrie Chapman Catt, supported the war effort and made the argument that women should be rewarded with equal rights for their patriotic service in wartime. The National Woman’s Party was quick to emphasize the contradictions of Americans fighting for democracy in foreign lands, while “limiting it at home by denying women the right to vote.” Public opinion was swayed by the two organizations, and President Woodrow Wilson announced his support for the suffrage amendment in 1918.

            The women’s suffrage amendment passed in the House of Representatives on May 21, 1919, and in the Senate on June 4, 1919. Congress then submitted the amendment to the states for ratification. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee was last of the required 36 states to ratify the amendment and thus secure adoption. After fighting for such an amendment for decades, the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment was certified on August 26, 1920. It is stated clearly:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or bridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

            The Nineteenth Amendment made it illegal for the federal or any state government to deny the right to vote to women. However, states found other ways to stop minority men and women from voting, such as poll taxes.

            Women received the right to vote 100 years ago, and now we have women mayors, governors, representatives, and senators. Several women have been included on national tickets for the position of vice president. Just like men, some of the women leaders and representatives have served the people well – such as the governor of South Dakota, while others simply look like idiots – such as Maxine Waters.

            In 1973, Congress designated August 26 – the day that the Nineteenth Amendment was officially certified – Women’s Equality Day. In the words of then-President Richard Nixon, this was “the first step toward full and equal participation of women in our Nation’s life.” 

            Yesterday President Donald Trump signed a proclamation that declared August to be National Suffrage Month. He also issued a posthumous pardon for Susan B. Anthony who “was arrested in 1872 for voting in an election at a time in America when only men could vote. She was indicted, convicted of illegal voting, and sentenced to pay a fine of $100 and court costs.” Trump gave a “full and complete pardon” for Anthony, who died in 1906. 

            My hope is that all women will recognize the efforts and sacrifices made by our foremothers who fought for the right for women to vote. If we fail to vote in the elections, we show ingratitude to them and to our Heavenly Father for the blessing of women having equal rights with men.

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