Sacrifice, Suffrage, and the Struggle for ERA: Celebrating International Women’s Day 2020

By Sabrina Völz

2020 marks the 100th anniver­sary of the 19th Amend­ment to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion that grant­ed Amer­i­can women the right to vote. That is cer­tain­ly rea­son to cel­e­brate! But before you break open a bot­tle of sparkling wine, let’s review a few facts so we can put that momen­tous achieve­ment into con­text for our read­ers less famil­iar with U.S. history.

Suf­frage, the right to vote, was not extend­ed to women at the same time it was grant­ed to blacks in 1870. The first for­mal attempt to pass an amend­ment for woman suf­frage – and there would be many – was intro­duced in 1878. For the next 40 years, that amend­ment was put to a vote in each ses­sion of Con­gress. Yes, 40 years! Let that sink in for a while…. Then, in 1918, the 19th Amend­ment final­ly passed the House and the Sen­ate in the fol­low­ing year and was rat­i­fied on August 26, 1920. But these are just a few of the details:

After that long strug­gle, how­ev­er, many women did not actu­al­ly take advan­tage of their right to vote in the 1920 and 1924 elec­tions. Appar­ent­ly, they thought they already had achieved equal rights. Does that sound famil­iar? It should. It is exact­ly what some of the peo­ple who oppose the Equal Rights Amend­ment are say­ing in 2020.

In Jan­u­ary 2020, Vir­ginia became the 38th state to rat­i­fy the Equal Rights Amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion. When it orig­i­nal­ly failed to get a 2/3 major­i­ty of state leg­is­la­tors to pass the amend­ment, it was con­sid­ered dead. After all, the dead­line set by Con­gress expired in the 1980s, so why drudge it up after all these years? It turns out that it’s the prin­ci­ple of the matter:

On this Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day, let’s sup­port women’s suf­frage and equal rights not just for Amer­i­cans, but for all women around the world. There are still coun­tries – such as Afghanistan, Pak­istan, and Kenya – that espouse legal or de fac­to guardian sys­tems, mak­ing vot­ing near­ly impos­si­ble for women. In the words of the great Amer­i­can suf­frag­ist and women’s rights activist, Alice Paul: “When you put your hand to the plow, you can’t put it down until you get to the end of the row.” So don’t kid your­self: There still is much work to be done. And pass­ing ERA does matter!

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