In the history books, the ratification of the 19th Amendment is straightforward. It happened on August 18, 1920. Icons like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought for it. There were protests. There were signs. There were frilly white dresses. And then, millions of American women got the right to vote.
If you know all that, you might ace a pop quiz on women’s suffrage.
But if you peel back the layers, and look more closely at the history, you see that August 18, 1920, wasn’t the start or end of the story — and that the battle for women’s suffrage was, in fact, complicated, protracted and racially tinged. And that it is a battle still being fought. Yes, the 19th Amendment elevated women’s position. But true equality — and the ability for women to control their lives, work and bodies — remains elusive.
Understanding history is more important than ever. Earlier this year, as we began planning a special podcast series, 100 Years of Power, to mark the centennial of women’s suffrage, we certainly had no idea that a global pandemic would fundamentally alter our lives. Nor did we anticipate national Black Lives Matters protests would force Americans to confront ugly truths about how fair this nation really is.
But perhaps we should have. After all, it’s all happened before. In 1920, women won the right to vote in the wake of the devastating and deadly Spanish Flu Pandemic. And back then, just like now, vocal outrage over power — who holds it and who doesn’t it — triggered a reckoning and a call to action that resulted in a Constitutional amendment….even if that amendment didn’t immediately create the seachange that Anthony, Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells and countless others hoped it might.
We plan to celebrate during August by holding up our hands, an international call for attention that also evokes the indelible stain of election ink used on forefingers in many countries. It’s a symbol of democracy in action.
Yes, there is unfinished business. But there is progress — as evidenced by Eleanor Roosevelt, Shirley Chisholm, Sandra Day O’Connor, Nancy Pelosi, and the soon-to-be-announced 2020 female vice-presidential nominee. And just like 1920, this year is an important election year. In the words of the late John Lewis: “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society.”
In every election, women must choose to use it. Our vote matters. #100yearsofpower.
Listen to the podcast series
100 Years of Power, Part 1: Battle for Suffrage
How Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton led a rancorous fight, at times at odds with Lucy Stone and Sojourner Truth. With historian Ellen DuBois.
100 Years of Power, Part 2: Slow Burn of Progress
From Eleanor Roosevelt to Shirley Chisholm, women begin to win control over their lives and bodies. With historians Susan Ware and Gina Lauria Walker and advocate Nell Merlino.
100 Years of Power, Part 3: What the Future Holds
In 2020, six diverse women run for president, and Nancy Pelosi takes the House. With experts Molly Ball, Kelly Dittmar, Ronnee Schreiber and Glynda Carr.
Thanks for the support!
— Ali Velshi (@AliVelshi) August 10, 2020