This year, the United States marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which secured women’s right to vote. Free events commemorating the milestone are planned around the region. Find some upcoming events below.
by Amy Canfield
“Disaster and ruin would overtake the nation.”
The United States would be turned “into a state of war, and . . . every home a hell on earth.”
It would “disrupt the family . . . [and] destroy the home, which is the foundation of the Republic.”
These hyperbolic statements were from men opposed to women gaining the right to vote.
One hundred years later, we read these words with a bit of laughter and a sprinkling of contempt. Destroy the home? Ruin the nation? Seems like a lot of fear over what many of us consider a basic right. But it was this sort of thought that caused the fight for women’s suffrage to take as long as it did.
In August 2020, we will be commemorating the centennial of women nationally having the right to vote. Certain states, Idaho and Washington included, had already approved women’s voting rights. We also know that just because women legally had the right to vote after 1920, not all women had the same access to the ballot. Racism prevented women of color from exercising this vote, just as it had for black men even with the passage of the 15th Amendment.
Yet, even with the flaws in its implementation, the 19th Amendment deserves a great deal of recognition. There is much that remains unknown or untaught about women’s suffrage, and my favorite part of the centennial is that people are working to learn more and we are trying to tell the story in broader ways, including problems within the movement itself. The centennial has people talking about and thinking about women’s history, about voting rights and citizenship, in a time when all of those subjects are still surprisingly controversial.
So, why does women’s suffrage still matter 100 years later? Acknowledging voting rights for half of the population did not bring about the ruin of the nation or the home, as predicted by anti-suffragists, nor did it usher in vast changes to politics and government, cleansing both of the corruption and scandal that had propelled more women to fight for the right to vote. It didn’t ruin us, and it didn’t fix us completely. So, why does it still matter?
It matters because it gets to the heart of who we are as a nation. The story of women’s suffrage is one of struggle and perseverance. This wasn’t a right just “given” to women after a few decades of polite asking. Women fought for this right for generations. Women were jailed and tortured for it. Women sacrificed much for it. The fight over women’s voting rights makes us deal with important questions in our nation’s history. What is citizenship? Whose voices matter? Who gets rights and who gets to decide that? What is democratic representation? Is voting a right or a privilege? The Supreme Court ruled in 1875 it was a privilege and argued that while women might be citizens of the nation based on their birth, that did not convey, nor had the Founding Fathers meant for it to convey, any voting rights.
How can we reconcile our belief that our nation stands for democracy, equality and liberty, when so much of our history has been marked by denying those aspects to certain groups?
Women’s suffrage matters, and commemorating the centennial of the 19th Ammendment matters, because it forces us to grapple with our nation’s past and who we are as a people. We should be proud that we as a nation acknowledged women’s voting rights in 1920, but we should be clear on how and why women achieved this. Women voting did not fix larger problems, nor did it usher in equal or equitable rights. However, women’s suffrage matters as it marked a turning point in views on gender, power and rights.
Alice Paul, a noted suffragist, argued that “America is not a democracy,” since it denied millions of women the right to vote. With voting rights still questionable and still under attack for certain groups, her warning rings out still today. Why does women’s suffrage matter? Because it symbolizes who we were, who we are and who we could be.
- Noon Tuesday, March 3 — University of Idaho history Professor Kathy Aiken presents “Idaho: Early Suffrage State, Late 19th Amendment Ratification” in Room 112 of Sacajawea Hall at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston.
- 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 3 — Film screening and discussion of “Iron-Jawed Angels” at LCSC Center for Arts & History, 415 Main St., Lewiston.
- Noon Thursday, March 5 — Lucienne Beard, executive director of the Alice Paul Institute, will give the Women’s History Month keynote address, “Alice Paul: Crusader for Equality,” about an early-20th century suffragist instrumental to the movement, in Room 112 of Sacajawea Hall at LCSC.
- 7 p.m. Thursday, March 5 — Aiken and UI assistant professor Rebecca Scofield will present “Seeking Suffrage: The Idaho Story” and discuss how ratification affected women, its consequences throughout the state and how Idaho politics delayed its ratification. The lecture is at the Haddock Performance Hall, University of Idaho, 1012 S. Deakin St., Moscow.