History of the Women’s Vote

This piece was originally published in October 2020.

With the recent death of feminist icon and supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the role of women in politics and government has never been recognized more. Nor has the power of women to create lasting change ever been more certain than it is in today’s society.

Yet women were not always as in control of their fates, or their local governments as they used to be. 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

How did women achieve such a momentous right? How did the actions of our ancestors impact the role that women have in government and social change today? 

The History Of Women’s Suffrage 

While many people are under the impression that the women’s suffrage movement only began in the early 20th century, the campaign for women’s suffrage actually began almost a century before. 

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, women began to protest the role of housewife and mother that society had forced them to take. In “retaliation” women began to contribute to various humanitarian and spear-headed several social justice focus groups, such as anti-slavery. 

Following the passing of the 14th and 15 amendments, the constitution now protected the rights of all men, no matter their race or social class. Yet, there was still no amendment that protected the rights of women. Following this, women once again took up the torch of liberty in an attempt to gain all members of the female citizens the right to vote. 

One of the greatest achievements for the women’s suffrage movement came in 1890. The two major American women’s societies, the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association, merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Elizabeth Cady Stanton had the honor of being the organization’s first president. Now the women of the nation had one unified organization to speak for them and to fight for the right to vote among all citizens, no matter their gender. 

The fight for women’s voter equality finally reached a major victory in 1910 when several states in the Western part of the nation began to extend the vote to women, following the example of states like Idaho and Utah who had given women the right to vote at the turn of the century. Despite this progress and this unavoidable change, states in the East and some Western states like California refused to grant women the same right. 

World War I was the turning point in the suffragists’ movement for many reasons. While the war did slow down the movements of the campaign, it did help to show the resilience and patriotism of women. With men away to fight in Europe, women had to step up and take a larger role in society than they had ever experienced before, caring for families while also working and supporting the war effort. Their work and dedication to their nation proved that they were just as deserving of the vote as any man. 

On August 18, 1920, history was made. The 19th amendment was ratified and finally granted women the right to vote and millions of women across the nation went out and voted for the first time ever that November. 

It was a hard fought victory and one that paved the way for all women to pursue their goals and the careers of their choice, especially politics. 

Women & Politics Today

Women have come a long way since the ratification of the 19th amendment and their roles in public society, and the future of our country, have only grown with time. 

“Through the tireless work of female leaders, the past hundred years have seen women become both the firm backbone and moral conscience of our nation.” says Jacob Deklerk, 2023. 

Many women have become pillars of change in society and have proven time and time again that women are capable of leadership and creating lasting change. The increasing number of female governors and attorney-generals is proof of not only women’s ability to lead, but also the people’s faith in their leadership. 

2016 was a momentous year for women around the world, not just women in or aspiring to enter politics. In 2016, the Democractic party nominated Hillary Clinton as their party’s presidential candidate, making her the first female to receive a major party nomination for president. Despite her loss, Clinton’s achievement still inspires young women today and proves to the nation that women really can do anything they set their minds too. 

Other inspiring political women today include former First Lady Michelle Obama, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and of course Senator Kamala Harris who has made history as the first women of color and child of American immigrants to be nominated for a major party ticket as the VP nominee of Joe Biden. 

The future for women in politics is bright and it is up to the young women of today, the women of Gen Z, to ensure that progress of our ancestors does not stop, but continues to reach new levels. One way that all women can be a part of their government, even if they don’t intend to pursue a career in politics, is to take a class in political science. 

“I would without a doubt recommend that all female college students take at least one political science course during their academic career because our democracy depends on women attaining a deep passion for civic engagement.” says Jacob Deklerk, 2023. 

For all women to have a basic understanding of our government and our democracy is one step in ensuring the active involvement of women in local and national politics. Another way women can become involved is to go out and vote. Voting is a basic American right that is open to all people of the country and is one of the easiest ways to have your voice heard and create change in your country. 

Women have fought for the right to be heard and be pillars of change and leadership in their communities for hundreds of years. One hundred years ago, women made history and have continued to do so since then. Our ancestors proved to the world that women are capable of anything men can do. 

The female leaders of our nation continue to prove to women everywhere that you should never doubt your abilities and that you should never let anything like race, gender, sexuality, etc., impede your ability to lead and create lasting change. 

Katie Hayes ’21 is Managing Editor for The Hub. She can be contacted at hayesc@emmanuel.edu.