One hundred years ago, American suffragists stood at the threshold of passage of the 19th Amendment. Supporters had worked for the previous 70 years to educate the public about the validity of women’s suffrage.
The suffrage movement began in 1848, when the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other activists led the suffragists in circulating petitions and lobbying Congress to enfranchise women.
By 1917, the leadership passed to two organizations: the National American Woman Suffrage Association, under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, and the National Woman’s Party, under the leadership of Alice Paul.
The National American Woman Suffrage Association undertook campaigns to enfranchise women in individual states, and lobbied President Woodrow Wilson and Congress to pass a woman suffrage constitutional amendment. The National Woman’s Party used protest tactics, which included picketing the White House and Congress.
The two organizations’ combined efforts finally succeeded in ratifying the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, enfranchising women, in 1920. It became the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, the single largest extension of democratic voting rights in the nation’s history. Its passage was achieved peacefully, through democratic processes.
Much has been accomplished to advance equal rights for women in the intervening years, but much still remains to be done.
Years later, the first steps toward passage of a women’s history month celebration came when President Carter issued the first presidential proclamation declaring the Week of March 8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week. That same year, U.S. Rep. Barbara Mikulski, who at the time was in the House of Representatives, and Sen. Orrin Hatch co-sponsored a congressional resolution for National Women’s History Week 1981.
Their co-sponsorship demonstrated wide-ranging political support for recognizing, honoring, and celebrating the achievements of American women.
It seems unfathomable that until that time, history was mostly exclusively his story with little about her, despite the fact that women make up 51% of the human population.
Within a few years, thousands of schools and communities were celebrating National Women’s History Week, supported and encouraged by resolutions from governors, city councils, school boards, and the U.S. Congress.
Yearly, the National Women’s History Project spearheaded a national effort that included thousands of individuals and hundreds of educational and women’s organizations.
By 1986, 14 states had declared March as Women’s History Month. The momentum was used as the rationale to lobby Congress to declare the entire month of March 1987 as National Women’s History Month.
In 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. A special presidential proclamation is issued every year to honor the achievements of American women.
As the nation approaches the centennial anniversary of securing a woman’s right to vote, no woman has to date occupied the White House as the leader of the free world. And although women hold 25% of the nation’s state legislature seats, they constitute only 19% of U.S. House seats and 21% of U.S. Senate seats.
Hillary Rodham Clinton cracked but didn’t break the glass ceiling in 2016, winning the popular vote but not the Electoral College, which went to President Donald J. Trump.
Will a woman finally break through in 2020? It would be a tribute to the courage of the suffragists and the generations who followed. It would also require a highly qualified and willing candidate who welcomes voters into a tent that’s big enough to reunite a deeply divided nation.