When the Constitution was adopted “We the People of the United States…” did not include women. Women could not vote and had no existence in the Constitution.
At the 1848 women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, the movement for women’s right to vote under the U.S. Constitution began its 72-year battle.
It was first introduced in Congress in 1878 as a Constitutional Amendment by California Senator Aaron A. Sargent at the behest of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
While the American women’s voting rights movement consisted mainly of civil disobedience many of the women were arrested, imprisoned, and beaten. Though women had to do jury duty and pay taxes, they could not vote.
Opposition to voting by women was widespread and the amendment did not see the light of day again until 1914. In May 1919, two-thirds of Congress voted in favor of the amendment, it was sent to the states for ratification, and finally in 1920 women got the right to vote. However, this only applied to white women.
Native American women didn’t get the right to vote until 1924 with the passage of the Snyder Act (aka the Indian Citizenship Act) which made Native Americans U.S. citizens for the first time. Federal policy prevented Asian Americans from voting until 1952. And it was not until 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was passed that African Americans were guaranteed the right to vote.
Even though women finally had the right to vote, women still did not have equal rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. Although the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced to Congress in 1923 it was not heard until 1972. Thirty-five states had ratified by 1979 when Phyllis Schlafly and people like the Koch brothers used their influence to hamper progress toward passage of the amendment.
The fight for the ERA has been even longer than that of the voting rights amendment – 98 years and counting. The final three ratifications required for the ERA to become part of the U.S. Constitution were obtained from Nevada in 2017, Illinois in 2018, and Virginia in January 2020.
Currently the national archivist is holding up publication of the amendment. Lawsuits have been filed to stop the ERA from being added to our Constitution.
In 1971, Bella Abzug introduced a resolution in Congress to designate August 26th as Women’s Equality Day to commemorate adoption of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Shamefully, we are still fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment, which would grant women full legal equality guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.
It’s hard to believe that in the 21st century women must still fight to correct their omission from the Constitution and be considered full equal citizens under the U.S. Constitution.
Editor’s note: The U.S. Congress established Aug. 26 as Women’s Equality Day in 1973. Becky Sayler wrote this article for ERA Task Force AZ. Learn more at erataskforceaz.com.