By Therese Ayers
USAG Benelux Equal Employment Opportunity
August 26 is designated in the U.S. as Women’s Equality Day. Instituted by U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug and first established in 1971, the date commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment, the Woman Suffrage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave U.S. women full voting rights in 1920.
The first women’s rights meeting was held at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. The Woman Suffrage Movement begun with that pivotal meeting and weakened during and after the Civil War. For practical political reasons, the issue of black suffrage collided with woman suffrage and tactical differences divided the leadership.
Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone founded the American Woman Suffrage Association, which accepted men as members, worked for black suffrage and the 15th Amendment, and worked for woman suffrage state-by-state. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association, which included only women. They opposed the 15th Amendment, because for the first-time citizens were explicitly defined as male and worked for a national constitutional amendment for woman suffrage.
Frances Willard’s Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the growing Women’s Club movement after 1868, and many other social reform groups drew women into other organizations and activities though many worked for suffrage. These women often applied their organizational skills learned in the other groups to the suffrage battles.
Stanton, Anthony and Mathilda Jocelyn Gage published the first three volumes of their history of the suffrage movement in 1887 after winning women’s vote in only a few states. In 1890, the two rival organizations, the NWSA and the AWSA, merged, under the leadership of Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt, into the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
After 50 years, a leadership transition had to take place. Mott died in 1880. Stone died in 1893. Stanton died in 1902. Her lifelong friend and coworker Anthony died in 1906.
Women continued to have active leadership in other movements, including the National Consumer’s League, the Women’s Trade Union League, movements for health reform, prison reform and child labor law reform. Their work in these groups helped build and demonstrate women’s competence in the political realm but also drew women’s efforts away from the direct battles to win the vote.
Large suffrage marches and parades in 1913 and 1915 helped bring the cause of woman suffrage back to the center. The NAWSA also shifted tactics. In 1916, the organization unified its chapters around efforts to push a suffrage amendment in the U.S. Congress.
In 1915, Mabel Vernon, Sarah Bard Field and others traveled across the nation by automobile, carrying half a million signatures on a petition to the U.S. Congress. The press took more notice of the “suffragettes.”
In 1917, three years after establishing woman suffrage in Montana, Jeannette Rankin was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and became the first woman to hold national office.
In 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, sending it to the states. On August 26, 1920, after Tennessee ratified the amendment by one vote, the 19th Amendment was adopted.
The observance of Women’s Equality Day not only commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment, but also calls attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equality. The Army observes this historic day by amplifying its appreciation of women’s significant contributions.
U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart’s Equal Opportunity Office will host a voter registration drive, 11:30 a.m., Aug. 26, at the Kelley Theater. All community members are welcomed to attend this celebration for women’s right to vote by registering or just stop by to enjoy a slice of cake. For questions regarding EO, please contact Sgt. 1st Class Pierre Boynton, garrison, EUCOM and AFRICOM EO adviser, at 596-3756.
Click here to learn more about the history of women’s service in the Army.