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Thursday, August 18, 2011

The 19th Amendment Turns 91

Today is the 91st anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, granting the right to vote to all U.S. citizens, regardless of sex. The movement for women's suffrage largely originated in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention, where the right to vote was described as an "inalienable right." Suffragists employed several different methods to meet their objectives on the federal, state, and local levels, including demonstrating, lobbying elected officials to pass state legislation granting suffrage, giving speeches, and going on hunger strikes.

They also tried to get laws that limited voting to male citizens overturned in court, but that strategy was unsuccessful. In 1878, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Minor v. Happersett (21 Wallace 162) that the 14th amendment did not include the right for women to vote as one of its privileges and immunities to citizens. It was also the first year in which an amendment was proposed in Congress that would extend the franchise to women nationwide.

Throughout the late 19th century, the women's rights movement slowly increased its appeal, and the role women played during World War I finally convinced President Wilson to back an amendment to the Constitution in 1918. The 19th amendment was passed in the House of Representatives on May 21, 1919, and the Senate followed suit shortly afterward. Tennessee became the necessary 36th state to reach the three-fourths of states needed to agree, with a very close vote of 50 to 49 in its House of Representatives on August 18th, 1920. The ratification was officially certified 8 days later.

Sources:
Deborah L. Rhode, Nineteenth Amendment, in Encyclopedia of the American Constitution 1808-1809 (Leonard W. Levy & Kenneth L. Karst eds., 2000).

National Archives & Records Administration, Featured Documents: The Constitution and the 19th Amendment.

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