History matters: Lessons from the Woman Suffrage Movement


On this day, in the midst of World War I, the House passed a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote by a count of 274 to 136. Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana who, a year earlier, had become the first woman to serve in Congress, implored her colleagues to support the legislation: “How shall we answer their challenge, gentlemen: how shall we explain to them the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted for war to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?” The Senate, however, failed to pass the amendment in the 65th Congress (1917–1919), so the measure was once again reintroduced in the House in the 66th Congress (1919–1921), passing on May 21, 1919, by a vote of 304 to 90. The Senate concurred shortly afterward. The 19th Amendment then went to the states, where it was finally ratified in August 1920. http://history.house.gov/HistoricalHighlight/Detail/35873

As today’s press reminds us, women are in the political and societal spotlight at this juncture – the Women’s March and Me Too are indicators of a shift in public attention to the majority population.  What interests me more is the vastly increased number of women who have thrown their bonnets in the ring to run for public office.

And yet, what surprises, even disappoints me, is the fact that there is so little mention of the fact that this political engagement is the logical, inevitable – if delayed – response to a movement that shaped our politics a century ago.  2018 marks one hundred years since the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the monumental achievement of the Woman Suffrage Movement – a time to learn and celebrate the accomplishment and to reflect on the profound impact of that bold struggle.

Volumes have been written about the history, the women, the organizations, the protests.  Needless to say, Wikipedia offers a starting point with tips on related resources. The MNopedia article about the Woman Suffrage Movement in Minnesota by Eric W. Weber, shared on MinnPost, offers an excellent introduction to what was happening on the ground in Minnesota a century ago –  https://www.minnpost.com/mnopedia/2012/09/minnesota-woman-suffrage-association-fought-womens-right-vote.  Earlier posts on this blog offered a Minnesota slant on the movement.  https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/woman-suffrage-movement/

Learning and thinking about the Suffragettes – their long struggle, their vision, and their ultimate success – offers a necessary source of creative energy and vision.  This democracy depends on a vision realized and reinforced by a history of individual initiative, freedom of speech, collaboration and truth — character epitomized by the Woman Suffrage Movement.  We ignore the history of the women’s right to vote at our peril.

You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own. Michelle Obama

P.S.  If you happen to be traveling to Our Nation’s Capitol you may be interested in know: https://www.archivesfoundation.org/women/?utm_campaign=2018Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_source=February&utm_source=National+Archives+Master&utm_campaign=cb44e8e451-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_11_10&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_267af3e1d5-cb44e8e451-53582223&mc_cid=cb44e8e451&mc_eid=ecfb769805

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