August 26, 2020, marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the amendment that finally recognized women’s right to vote. Although women should have already been included in the U.S. Constitution when it was adopted in 1789, it took suffrage workers 131 years to get the 19th Amendment ratified.
The women’s suffrage movement began during the summer of 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention in upstate New York. This was the first women’s rights convention in the United States. Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped organize the convention because she was passionate about women’s equality. In her opening speech, Stanton declared:
We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed — to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love.
Why should women be controlled by political leaders they didn’t vote for? Why should they pay taxes to a government they didn’t elect? And why should they follow laws that were not representative of all citizens?
Elizabeth Cady Stanton wasn’t alone at the Seneca Falls convention. Many of the people who attended, including Frederick Douglass, were leaders of the slavery abolition movement. Last month, I interviewed Mary Logan Rothschild, Ph.D., professor emeritus of women’s studies at Arizona State University, who explained that the abolition and women’s suffrage movement were intricately entwined:
Susan B. Anthony was an abolitionist and cared deeply about the abolition of slavery. Initially, she didn’t see women’s issues as important in comparison. She joined the feminist movement because her mother and sister had attended the Seneca Falls convention and convinced her that women’s rights and ending slavery were tied and needed to be attacked together.
The connection between civil rights and women’s rights are just as important in 2020 as they were in the 1800s. According to the Census Bureau data, women in general are paid just 82% of what men make. When you add race and ethnicity to the equation, the wage gap gets larger for many women: For every dollar a white male earns, African American women get paid 62 cents, Latina women receive 54 cents, and Native American women receive 57 cents. But all women are affected by this pay gap: Asian American women get paid 90 cents compared to the white man’s dollar, and white women are paid 79 cents.
Why bring up the pay gap? We live in a capitalist society, where, to quote one of my favorite Wu-Tang songs, “cash rules everything around me.” Wage inequality hampers people’s access to housing, food, education, and health care. We need representatives who support economic security, which is why it’s imperative that we all vote for people who will support us.
Susan B. Anthony’s Act of Defiance
Susan B. Anthony was considered a radical when she had eight other women join her at the poll to vote in the 1872 presidential election. Anthony was the only one arrested, since she had organized the peaceful protest. She was charged for “knowingly, wrongfully and unlawfully [voting] … without having the right to vote.” Anthony pleaded not guilty, and had to stand trial.
Susan B. Anthony was not allowed to testify during the trial. When the judge ruled she was guilty and asked her if she had anything to say, Susan B. Anthony had a very strong reply:
… in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights … are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually, but all of my sex, are, by your honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjection under this so-called form of government.
Susan B. Anthony’s defiant act was just the beginning of suffrage radicalism. At the turn of the 20th century, suffragists like Alice Paul and Lucy Stone organized rallies demanding the right to vote. They stood outside the gate at the White House with posters that said, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” The protesters were arrested and became political prisoners. The prisoners went on a hunger strike and were force-fed by prison guards. Alice Paul was declared a psychotic so she could be secluded in a psychiatric ward to prevent further protest.
A Turning Point
The women’s suffrage movement succeeded on August 26, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment. We all owe a huge debt to the suffrage workers, who literally put their lives on the line so women could be acknowledged as citizens and equal to their male counterparts.
We are at a critical turning point in this country. There is a health crisis that is killing thousands of people a day. We need to honor our ancestors, as well as ourselves, by voting in this year’s election. When I spoke to Dr. Rothschild, she reminded me that the Affordable Care Act passed by just one vote in Congress. When I asked her if we needed to be as radical as Alice Paul and Lucy Stone, she said:
For some people, it’s hard to be more radical. We all work in different ways. There isn’t only one form of social action. We can get where we need to go if we work together. Do whatever you can do. You have to vote in the primaries, and you definitely need to vote in November.
There a list of candidates who Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed, both at the state and federal level. We must stand together and vote for candidates who support equal access to health care, equal access to employment, and equal access to justice. In Arizona, you have until October 5 to register for the November general election, and you can register to vote online here!