A few days ago (August 18th), women across the United States should have had a big party. It’s unlikely that many did. But they should have… because August 18, 2013 marked the 93rd anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment.
Nineteenth Amendment, you mutter. Yes, that’s the part of the Constitution that gives a woman in the United States the right to vote and hold office. It was a significant milestone in the push for equal rights for women.
The idea that women were equal to men wasn’t an overnight development nor did the issue gain support uniformly across the country. The seed for the idea was planted in 1840 when Elizabeth Stanton met Lucretia Mott at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London where they were not seated as delegates because they were women.
Eight years later (1848), the two women held the Seneca Falls Convention, a meeting that is largely regarded as the official start of the women’s rights movement. Two years later Susan Anthony, the famous temperance and labor leader, joined them.
The movement focused on voting rights as a key to getting equality, and it was not just an American issue. Internationally, in the late 19th century, women gained limited voting rights in Sweden and Finland and full voting rights in New Zealand. In most Western countries, women’s suffrage only came after World War I with the notable exception of France (1944) and Switzerland (1971). Things are still happening in the 21st century. Did you know that in 2008 women were given the right to vote in the first national elections in Bhutan?
The change in women’s drive to full equality in the US continues slowly to this day. In the 113th Congress, women hold 20% of the seats in the Senate and 18% of the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Given the fact that 50% of the U.S. population is female, this representation is disproportionately low.
Women in Your Family
Consider how much you really know and understand about the women in your own ancestry. How many of them crossed the plains to homestead claims with uncertainty, threats, and the vast wilderness in front of them? Who was the first in your family to fight for her rights? To advocate for her equal partnership? These unrecognized warriors in the women’s movement deserve the acclaim as well.
Today women routinely participate at higher rates in national elections than men in the United States. While progress has been made, I wonder if the women’s suffrage movement has been forgotten by historians, and even more so, by women? Do our daughters fully appreciate the lesson that women won the vote? They were not given it.
Recently I asked 25 women in my local community; “What do you think of when I say ‘women’s suffrage?’” I was distressed to find a significant number of women had no idea what I was referring to. When I explained it, all of these women said they would teach their daughters about the suffrage movement and how it is relevant today.
Would they have taken that road had I never asked the question? I don’t know.
Here’s my call to action for all of you. Do not forget this time. Make a point of teaching this lesson. Tell the history and the stories of women in your family. They deserve to be remembered for what they did, and the women of our future need to know.
The chart below highlights some of the milestone events that led to the passage of the 19th Amendment.
Timeline of Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States
Genealogist Jen Baldwin is the owner of Ancestral Journeys, specializing in the Rocky Mountain Corridor. She writes for a variety of publications, speaks regionally on genealogy related topics, is the creator and co-host of #genchat on Twitter, and owns Conference Keeper. She also is co-creator and Co-Chair of the NextGen Genealogy Network and is the Director of Operations for The In-Depth Genealogist. You can connect with Jen on her website or on social media.