The Nineteenth Amendment and Women’s Struggle for Equality

American World War II wartime poster- by J. Howard Miller (1943)

By Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

Nineteenth Amendment

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


Introduction
Today many young people take the fact that they have the right to vote for granted. In a recent poll by the Education Week Research Center from September 2018, only 28% of youth ages 18-24 said they would definitely vote in the upcoming election. This seems to point to the fact that many young people (particularly women and minorities) are not fully aware of the many hardships their forebears underwent to win the right to vote. This article offers a brief discussion of the history of the nineteenth amendment that granted women voting rights. The article also offers some educational resources that may assist teachers with lessons surrounding the nineteenth amendment and women’s suffrage.

A Brief History of Women’s Suffrage
The United States Constitution (Adopted in 1789) left the question of women’s suffrage undefined. As a result, all states at that time denied women the right to vote with the exception of New Jersey, who eventually revoked the right in 1807. Afterwards, there were small pockets of organizations and movements dedicated to women’s rights, but the movement became officially organized at the Seneca Falls Convention in New York in 1848. From that time on, the women within the suffrage movement fought a long hard battle at the state and national level to receive the right to vote.

The Minor V. Happersett Supreme Court case of 1875 unanimously ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not grant women the right to vote. Up until that time there were an increasing number of states that granted women the right to vote, however there were still some that disenfranchised women. The Nineteenth Amendment essentially overruled Minor V. Happersett. Senator Aaron A. Sargent originally introduced the amendment to congress in 1878, however it was not submitted to the states for ratification until 1919, 41 years later. Not all states supported the amendment, only three fourths of the states ratified it. In short, in comparison to the history of the United States, women were only recently granted the right to vote. Please explore the lessons and resources below and also respond to the discussions at the conclusion of the article.       

Lesson Plans
Lesson Plan: 19th Amendment
19th Amendment- NEA Lesson
Women’s Suffrage | Teaching Tolerance
Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment- Teaching History.org
The Road to Suffrage
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave women the right to vote in 1920
Teaching the 19th Amendment- Lesson Plans
Women’s Suffrage: Their Rights and Nothing Less
When Life Gives You Beyoncé, Teach with Lemonade
Women of Color and Feminism: A History Lesson and Way Forward

Teacher Resources
The History of Women’s Suffrage
Primary Documents in American History- 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
The Woman Suffrage Movement- National Women’s History Museum
Woman Suffrage Timeline (1840-1920)
Facts About the Suffragettes- National Geographic for Kids
Annenberg Classroom – Nineteenth Amendment
Make Women’s History Month Come to Life with Comics!

Video Resources
Women’s Suffrage-PBS
Sound Smart: Women’s Suffrage | History Channel
Women’s Suffrage: Crash Course US History #31
Courage in Corsets- PBS
Women’s Suffrage- History Channel
Fighting for the Vote- Women’s Suffrage in America Part 1
Secrets Of A Suffragette (Women’s Rights Documentary) | Timeline

References
Youth Politics: A Result of a National Survey
Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
Common Interpretation- The Nineteenth Amendment
The Nineteenth Amendment In 1920 women secured the right to vote
Suffragette Movement
10 things you (probably) didn’t know about the Suffragettes
Sojourner Truth 1797-1883
Why Black Feminism & Womanism?
Womanism
Womanist – Alice Walker’s Term for Black Feminist – ThoughtCo

Discussion Questions
1. What are contemporary ways that certain groups may be disenfranchised in today’s society?
2. Have you incorporated lessons on women’s rights and/or voting into your curriculum?
3. What ways do you feel women’s right are connected to civics and citizenship education?
4. In what ways can teaching youth about the history of voting rights in the US motivate them to participate more in the democratic process?
5. How might one teach the difference between mainstream feminism and black feminism? Why was it necessary to have two distinct movements?

7 Comments

  1. This is a very important article to help put in perspective that women need to vote. Many women fought for our right to vote and we need to use it. My statement is also directed at me because I need to register to vote and I am 21. I have not been exercising my right to vote while I need to. It is insane that only 28% of the youth use their right to vote. We are the future of America and we need to vote. If we don’t then what is the point of a democracy. We have to vote to keep our freedoms that I feel we barely have in the first place. I feel as if our freedoms in America as a whole are getting taken away and we cannot change that if we are not voting.

  2. Until this article I didn’t realize that such a low percentage of people exercised their right to vote. When I was turning eighteen, one of the first things that I did was complete my voter registration because I believed that it is what everyone does at that time in their life. To now know that many don’t exercise their right to vote is astonishing, this gives me the burning question of why? The 19th amendment gave us a voice in this country, and I don’t think many realize how long our ancestors fought for this right because to many of us now, it just seems natural. This article gives me a clear view on how we received the right to vote as women, and the overwhelming fact that it honestly wasn’t too long ago that our ancestors were fighting for this right. As that is, I believe that everyone needs to exercise their given right to vote in this country as everyone should speak up and use their voices.

  3. I am shocked that women did not maintain the right to vote until the 1900s. It took 41 years to decide to review the constitution and add the 19th amendment. As a woman, I have to stop and reflect on the progress made towards equality and change of gender roles over time. The movement of women’s primary role of being a silent housewife to having positions high in government and hopefully presidency as well in the United States. This topic is important for students to know and understand where we have grown and how long it took for grand progress to be made, along with the Civil Rights Movement, our country has been slow to accept change for the better. Students should be well involved in the political climate and strides that have already been made.

  4. It is clear that there is still a fight for gender equality in this country and many other parts of the world for that matter. I believe the most interesting part of the article was the fact that the nineteenth amendment was not submitted for ratification until 41 years after introduction in 1878. It is a very obvious sign of the lack of care or urgency on the side of our government (men) in this country during that time. Women are by no means treated completely equal though I like to think some strides have been made. I do agree though that we do take for granted the fight of those in the past like women and African Americans for suffrage and just as a whole, appreciating our democracy. Unfortunately, it sometimes take events like war or 9/11 to reinstall that patriotic, ownership of the country and the rights we are given that others did not or still do not have.

  5. This article is very important because I feel like college students do not really care to vote. It is interesting to read how hard women in the past worked in order to get the right to vote and now that we have it I feel like it isn’t taken seriously. I always vote but I see why some don’t because it seems like even if we do vote we will not be taken seriously and it won’t make that much of a difference. As a college student I think we assume the world doesn’t think we are ready yet so therefore our vote would be unnecessary. I believe more college students should take voting more seriously.

  6. As a young woman myself I agree young people, especially women, take the right to vote for granted. After all of the women before us fought long and hard for the right to vote so many of us do not show our appreciation for their efforts by voting. After all of their efforts the least we could do is vote. I feel like the biggest reasons young people don’t vote are: 1. they don’t feel like they know enough about politics to vote and 2. they don’t feel like their vote will make a difference. We need to appreciate our right to vote, so many others don’t have the same right. Voting is one of the most important things you can do as an American.

  7. The nineteenth amendment gave all citizens the right to vote, and it amazes me that not all women who are able to vote are actually exercising their civic responsibility. According to polls by the Education Week Research Center it states that only about 28% of youth between the ages of 18-24 say they will vote in the next election. If one were to look back on the Women’s Suffrage Movement and understand how many women of the time fought long and hard for years to gain women that right to vote I think more people would vote. They were treated unfairly, and it seems that with the decreasing number of women voting it projects that women today are not realizing how hard people fought for the future of women in the voting world. This article provided me with an abundance of articles, videos, and lessons that would be useful in the classroom to help teach Women’s Suffrage and the 19th Amendment. “The Road to Suffrage” lesson is a great and detailed lesson that would require the students to look at a timeline that led up to the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920. This is a great activity for students to really understand from beginning to end how hard people fought and the whole process. I think too many people today are taking for granted the rights they have been given through the suffering of those who came before us. One could argue that with the way our government behaves today many people may have the “why bother” mentality. How can we get eligible voters today that they CAN make a difference?

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