100 years ago today, the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, finally allowing women the right to vote in the United States. It is puzzling and embarrassing how a country which began on the ideas of liberty, justice, and equality could take 144 years to allow half of its citizens the right to have their voice be heard.
(It is also important to note while we celebrate this day, that it still didn’t mean the right to vote for many American women of color. They would have to overcome the repression of the Jim Crow voting laws of the south for nearly another half century. )
It took decades and decades of hard work, perseverance, toughness, and creativity for women to earn the right to vote. This work was not only by women, but by some brave men who took risks to support the advancement of their female counterparts.
It is important to understand that getting the right to vote meant so much more than just participating in elections. The ballot box became the weapon to fight against many of the repressive, stupid, and downright mean laws against females in this country.
Here are some things that many don’t know about life for women in America 100 before they got the right to vote:
– It was nearly impossible for any woman to access birth control. (Margaret Sanger tried distributing it in 1916, and was immediately arrested.)
– Divorces were incredibly difficult to get, even if your husband beat you. South Carolina didn’t even legalize divorce until 1949.
– It was illegal in many states for women to wear pants. You read that right….a woman could get arrested for “dressing like a man.”
– Women were not allowed to join the active military in most positions, and if they did they were not paid.
– Women were not allowed to keep their maiden name in many states. In fact, Hawaii didn’t make this legal until 1976!
– In most states, women were not allowed to serve on juries.This didn’t change nationally until 1961.
– It was very difficult, if not illegal for women to get credit cards or bank loans well into the second half of the 20th century.
So let us celebrate today vigorously, as it is a big deal. However, remember that even with the right to vote, the battle was really just beginning- and is unfortunately still not done.
May women continue to progress. May men be their allies, as when the rights and opportunities for women expand and improve, the world gets better for us all.
P.S. Ladies- 77 days until you get to thank those who fought for your right to vote the best way possible, by using it.
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