“Votes for Women!” was a simple slogan for a big change. American women had to fight for the right to vote. They marched, handed out papers, and spoke out. Finally, lawmakers listened. Congress passed the 19th Amendment to protect women’s voting rights. And on August 18, 1920, the law became official!
Tuesday marks 100 years since that moment. People are remembering the suffragists who made it happen. There are many well-known names. Those include Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Other women and men joined those leaders to bring about change.
April Young Bennett has written a book series about these past activists. It’s called “Ask a Suffragist.” Bennett told News-O-Matic about some challenges women faced before the amendment. “There were many women who had great ideas to make our country better,” she said. “They would send letters to lawmakers.” But most women couldn’t actually choose their leaders. And “lawmakers didn’t have to listen to women,” Bennett said. “Women couldn’t vote them out.”
Women in some states already had the right to vote. But the 19th Amendment protected the right in all the states. It said no one could be stopped from voting just because they were female. “Now women had the power to vote for people who would listen to their ideas,” Bennett said. She added that more women could “even run for office themselves.”
“But the work wasn’t finished,” Bennett added. There was an election in November of 1920. Some groups worked to get women ready to vote. But other people continued to fight against the idea. Some officials found ways to make it harder for certain groups to vote. This was true for women and especially true for Black women. That’s because there were many practices to keep people of color from voting. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 worked to fix this.
Bennett’s books look at what we can learn from the suffragists today. And it turns out, there’s a lot. “Defending the right to vote is an ongoing struggle,” Bennett said. “People still try to stop people from voting, through discriminatory laws. We all need to make sure everyone’s right to vote is protected.”
The issue goes beyond voting too. People can work to get more women in government. Bennett pointed out that most lawmakers in Congress are men. “We’ve never had a female president,” she added. One state made history for equality. “Last year, Nevada became the first state to have as many women as men in its Legislature,” Bennett explained. “Before that, it had never happened. Not even once.”
All these stories are reminders about why voting rights are important. “The vote is powerful,” Bennett said. “That is why suffragists fought so hard to win it.” Still, a lot of people who can vote… don’t. In the 2016 presidential election, around 60% of eligible Americans voted. That’s about six out of every 10 voters.
Americans have other chances every year though. The 2020 election is on November 3! “We need to appreciate the vote,” Bennett said. “And when our turn comes to become voters, we need to use our power to make our world better.”
Updated August 17, 2020, 5:02 P.M. (ET)
By Ashley Morgan
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