Women’s Equality Day
August 26, 2017
Dear League Members and Supporters,
We all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. Today we thank so many of them and celebrate the 97th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
The League especially thanks our founder, Carrie Chapman Catt. Who was she? Read on for a little history lesson of an amazing woman, or stop now and skip to my last two paragraphs. I know it’s Saturday!
Carrie graduated from Iowa State Agricultural College in 1880 and was the only woman in her class; she taught at a country school to earn money to go to college. She was the first woman to speak in public at Iowa State since before her, it was considered improper for a woman to address strangers. She worked with Susan B. Anthony to try to win the state of South Dakota for woman’s suffrage and failed. She traveled to twenty nine counties in Colorado to promote woman’s suffrage and the state was won by votes of the only group allowed to vote, men; only one county she visited voted against the amendment. Susan B. Anthony hand-picked Catt to succeed her as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and after Anthony’s death, Catt decided not to try and win suffrage state by state, but instead organized tens of thousands of women, who could not vote themselves, to pass a federal Amendment to the Constitution.
The proposed amendment was simple and direct. It said;
“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 of sex.”
The Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 had given African American men the right to vote; now fifty years later, all women were trying to achieve the same right. This Amendment was never presented to U.S.Congress in any other form. ALL women were to be included from its inception.
It is obvious that passing an Amendment to the Constitution is extremely difficult. First the proposed amendment has to clear each house of Congress by a 2/3 majority. After years of failure, the majority in the Senate was finally won for suffrage with two votes to spare.
Next, the suffragists had to get ¾ vote of the state legislatures to approve.
Several midwestern states passed the proposed amendment very quickly and most states in the deep south as quickly rejected it…Virginia, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland. North Carolina(which did not ratify until 1971) and Florida (which did not ratify until 1969. There were 48 states then. So to lose those nine Southern states when 36 states were needed to vote “yes”, was close to disaster! Why did all the southern states oppose? They did not want to give women of color the right to vote. In fact, when the issue came up before the U.S Congress, one southern legislator said he would vote yes for only white women.
Carrie Chapman Catt said that it was all women or none.
In August, 1920 suffrage won the final and 36th state needed, which was Tennessee; the legislature passed the proposed amendment by one vote; a freshman Harry T. Burn.
Often in our history one vote makes a big difference. Women’s suffrage became a national law…the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
For our sisters of color, the League continued to battle with others for another 44 years until the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Some story, right?
For 97 years, generations of League women and men have fought for positive change, citizen education and civic engagement in our society. And we have NEVER supported a political party or a specific candidate. Most change doesn’t happen overnight. Each incremental victory has been a hard fought battle with obstacles that would discourage most ordinary citizens. However, if I’ve learned anything in my years associated with League, it is that our members are anything but ordinary.
We have and will continue to fight the good fight for our positions and educating our fellow citizens on unwieldy and complicated issues. We look to the future knowing challenges and obstacles are there, but equally are opportunities and progress!
So, THANK YOU, Carrie. And most all, thank you to all of you!
Please pass a thank you on to someone’s shoulders you are standing on today!
Pamela S. Goodman
League of Women Voters of Florida
We would love to have you join us! https://www.lwvfl.org/become-a-member/