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Women’s suffrage: Passage by House in 1918 paves way for constitutional amendment

Photo courtesy Tony Baggett

Women in the U.S. weren't officially allowed to vote until August of 1920.


Women’s rights have had a rocky history throughout the world and, specifically, within our own country. It’s only been a little over 100 years since women have been granted the right to vote in the United States.

On Jan. 10, 1918, during the midst of the first World War, a women’s suffrage amendment granting women the right to vote was passed by the House, becoming a monumental victory for women in the country. Although this first attempt did not make it through the Senate, the amendment was reintroduced in 1919 and passed through Congress in May 2019. The states then approved voting rights for women and in August 1920 the 19th Amendment was ratified changing the course of history.

Women’s rights

The women’s rights movement can be traced back to 1840 when a world anti-slavery convention inspired a group of American women to hold a women’s convention in the U.S. (National Women’s History Museum). Subsequent years included fighting to pass laws that would grant women basic freedoms, specifically property rights granting women the right to own their own land.

Women across the country and from different races rallied together to fight the common cause. The group even developed an alliance with the abolition movement in 1850, garnering attention from the likes of Frederick Douglas and notable women rights speaker, Sojourner Truth.

Some other speakers of this time included well-known activists Antoinette Brown and Susan B. Anthony.

Unfortunately, the suffrage movement came to a standstill in 1861 when the Civil War broke out. Women instead focused on helping with the war efforts.

It would be several years before the issue of voting rights would rear its ugly head.

Voting rights

The right to vote entered into the spotlight in 1868 when the 14th Amendment was ratified focusing on the rights of citizens, equal protection under the law, due process, and related requirements of the states. At the same time, the 15th Amendment was proposed to give African-American males the right to vote. Females were ignored in both amendments and disagreements were lobbied toward the American Equal Rights Association.

The 15th Amendment was passed in 1870, pushing women’s voting rights to the background. During this time, Susan B. Anthony and five other women are arrested for voting in the 1872 elections.

General rights for women would become the main focus for the next few decades with the introduction of the Women Suffrage Amendment in 1878 and the founding of the National Council of Women in 1888.

It would take several decades and a small group of women, specifically one woman, Jeannette Rankin to stand up to the powers that be in order to grant the voting rights we as women have today.

Jeannette Rankin

Rankin was born on June 11, 1880 in what was then the territory of Montana ( She got her start in politics when she was a student in Washington state, becoming involved in a local women’s suffrage movement. After some time in the movement, she became a field secretary for the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Her job took to her several states where she and others were rallying and campaigning for women’s suffrage. But her most monumental accomplishment would come in November of 1916 when Rankin surprised everyone by winning a House seat and becoming the first woman in American history to join the Congress.

She won not only because of her efforts toward women but other critical issues, such as the welfare of children and the prohibition of alcohol.

In 1918, Rankin opened a can of worms once again when she proposed the suffrage amendment which included the right for women to vote. Although the amendment passed, it did not win the Senate until it was brought up again a year later. Less than a year after that, it was ratified and women won full voting rights.

If it wasn’t for this amendment, who knows where women would be today or how the presidential elections would have been different.

No doubt, the 2016 elections would have turned out differently (a woman running for the presidency) and currently with a woman set to become the first female vice-president. We owe it to the trailblazers who made this happen.



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