My grandmother (my mother’s mother) was born on November 16, 1909. She was born about 39 years after the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing the right of black men to vote. It wasn’t until she was nearly 11 years old that women earned the constitutional right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
I think a great many people do not know how women succeeded in gaining the right to vote. The path to enfranchise women was wound at times inextricably yet painfully at odds with the path black men traveled for the same right. The demand for the right to vote began with women adopting the platform that all men and women are created equal. In the end, however, what won the day was women adopting the arguments against women voting — that a “true” woman concerned herself only with home, husband and children not politics — into arguments for women voting — “true” women would bring a “pure” voice to the political landscape by injecting it with the morality it needed. It is a painful (and perhaps shameful) truth of the United States’ past that women were allowed universal suffrage because people of influence believed that women’s votes would ensure temperance, white supremacy and religious order. World War I and the need to move women out of the home and into the labor force ultimately sealed the proverbial deal by convincing the last of the holdout states that women were “just as patriotic” and “deserving of citizenship” as men. (See, here.)
There were states that acted on their own. Wyoming was the first state to grant women the right to vote and the first to elect a female governor (in 1876, no less). Utah and Idaho were among other states that granted women the right to vote in the early years. But, it took the rest of the country nearly fifty years to follow suit.
It’s amazing in some ways to think that 1920 was less than 100 years ago. It’s amazing to think that my grandmother lived — LIVED — in an era when her mother could not vote. So today, as I cast my ballot, I will send silent and heartfelt thanks to those who made voting possible for my grandmother and mother before me, for me today and for my daughter someday all too soon.