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Guest blog: 100 years of women’s suffrage (yes, that’s good)

September 2, 2020

Katie Berkedal, Program DirectorBy Katie Berkedal, Program Director

Hello friends!

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote. Women’s suffrage is the largest expansion of democracy in the history of our country.

Please read with us the following contributed piece by Mary Nugent, president of the local League of Women Voters chapter, to help commemorate this historic centennial:

In this 1919 photo, Former Wisconsin State Senator David G. James, Republican from Richland Center 1908-1912 and the father of suffragette Ada James, holds Wisconsin’s ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He is surrounded by 10 suffragettes. Photo from Wisconsin Historical Society

As the president of the League of Women Voters of the La Crosse Area, I have been submerged in the history of both the passage of the 19th Amendment a hundred years ago as well as the 100th anniversary of the founding of the league. We should never forget the significance of both anniversaries and the long, sometimes violent, struggle that led to the ratification of one and the birth of the other.

 

While the 19th stated, “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,” it did not directly give women any more power or change their status. The power came from the ability to make their voices heard through voting. That’s where the significance of the league came in.

 

Nationwide, women organized to teach each other how to use this newfound power for their good and for the good of society. Millions of women were now able to cast their votes.  Poverty, race, illiteracy, and societal attitudes excluded many others. The fight to have women voices heard was not over; norms had to be shattered, mindsets broken and rebuilt.

 

Slowly and by piecemeal, women used the ballot to force well-overdue changes. Native Americans were granted citizenship and eventually the right to vote, restrictions on Chinese naturalization were lifted, and voting barriers that hobbled people of color were broken. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a giant step forward, but still more work needed to be done. The fight continued to make ballots available in languages other than English and to afford LGBTQ people with legal status. Women won the right to control their own finances, life and health.

 

All victories accomplished because women voted. I’m proud to say the league was in the courts, on the lobby floors and in the streets, advocating not only for women but for society.

 

The more I learned about our history, the more I realized how fragile these advances in human rights are. And no matter how far we think we’ve come, it’s really never far enough.  Women still do not have economic, political or social parity. I see our voting rights being chipped away under the guises of security, budget, or efficiency.

 

So, as women of all shapes, sizes and stripes, we need to assert our power of the vote and fight for equality for all people. Fight for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and urge the Senate to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act to counter the disenfranchisement of racially diverse communities.

 

Change is hard, often messy, but change that leads to “empowering voters and defending democracy” is worth the struggle.

 

~ Mary Nugent