Women's Suffrage and the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution - dummies

Women’s Suffrage and the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

By Michael Arnheim

Did women first get the right to vote in the United States as a result of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920? Yes and no. The Nineteenth Amendment gave the right to vote to all women in the nation over the age of 21. However, women had the vote in New Jersey between 1776 and 1807. Wyoming Territory gave women the vote in 1869. Colorado followed suit in 1893, and Utah in 1896.

The drive for votes for women across the nation began in earnest with the formation of the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. This organization lobbied every Congress between 1869 and 1919. In 1915, a woman’s suffrage bill was brought before the House of Representatives but was defeated, 204 votes to 174.

In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson put his weight behind a Constitutional amendment extending the vote to women. On January 10, 1918, a bill proposing this amendment passed the House with just one vote more than the two-thirds required. In the Senate, the proposed amendment lost out by two votes that September. When it was presented to the Senate again in February 1919, it was only one vote short of the requisite two-thirds majority.

President Wilson was anxious to get the amendment passed in time for the election of 1920, in which he was planning to run for a third term. He called a special session of Congress to consider the proposed amendment. This time it passed the House with 42 votes to spare, and the Senate also accepted it with a victorious margin of 2 votes.

The nineteenth amendment was quickly ratified on August 18, 1920, by the three-fourths of the states required by the Constitution, but a few states held out. The last states to ratify it were eight southern states. Mississippi ratified it only in 1984. The Nineteenth Amendment was certified by Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby on August 26, a date which is celebrated in the United States as Women’s Equality Day.

The wording of the Nineteenth Amendment was borrowed from the Fifteenth Amendment and reads in full:

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.