On August 18, our nation commemorated the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, declaring that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
In 1979, I registered to vote for the first time. I’ve voted in every local, state and national primary and general election since. I do so because I take nothing for granted and in my own small way, I pay tribute to a lot of determined women (and men). Some of them are well known and others I doubt many have heard of, who would not take NO for an answer.
Women’s rights has its roots in Native-American culture. However, the larger, more organized, and visible, fight for the right to vote, more commonly referred to as the women’s suffrage movement, gained strength in the 1840s with familiar names such as Susan B. Anthony, long credited with being a leader in women’s rights movement.
National conventions almost two centuries ago, such as the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention, were formed to raise the issue of voting rights. But, within the movement, there were many women who, while working to gain a voice, still faced the larger denial of their humanity during a time of significant change in the nation. For many Americans, the denial of voting rights continued long after the amendment became law.
Women like Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, a Native-American; Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren, an Hispanic-American; Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, a Chinese-American; and Ida B. Wells, an African-American, were different in complexion but united for a cause—the right to fully participate in a representative democracy.
Ida B. Wells became somewhat of a heroine to me. At an early age, I had developed a love for journalism. I read a lot as a child and in the pages of a book on African-American leaders, I learned that Wells was the co-owner and writer for several newspapers in the 1890s, traveling the nation and using the pages of newspapers to give voice to the serious issues of the day. She was a black female journalist ahead of her time.
Speaking truth to power, Wells would not be bound by the institutional norms of the 19th century. Even while supporting the suffrage movement, she criticized it for not being inclusive and refused to be relegated to a segregated section during voting rights events.
Wells, and thousands of other women, talked the talk and walked the walk by organizing, marching, and eventually helping the nation usher in the landmark change to the Constitution, giving millions an opportunity to exercise this American right.
You can learn more about the women’s suffrage movement at womenshistory.si.edu. If you need assistance with voting information, contact the Federal Voting Assistance Program at FVAP.gov or call 800-438-8683.