Celebrating the 19th Amendment: It’s Complicated

While it’s fitting that we celebrate the anniversary of the women’s vote on the eve of what many call the most important presidential election in American history, it’s equally important to recognize the complicated history of the Suffrage movement.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, and while we celebrate women finally getting the right to vote, the fight for their enfranchisement was a decades-long and often complicated battle across multiple party lines – many of which carried on even after the amendment’s passage.

While the traditional “beginning” of the Suffrage movement is credited to the Seneca Falls Convention of 1948 – led by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Caddy Stanton – Native American studies scholar, Stephanie Sellers, says in an interview with Vox that Stanton and other activists were influenced by the social structures of matriarchal Indigenous communities, who were subsequently written out of this history.

The movement was further complicated by both racial and class divisions often working at odds to each other. In the same Vox report, scholar Martha P. Jones notes how Black women throughout the 19th century were instrumental in advancing the cause of both sex-based and racial equality – but were often frozen out by white, middle-class women. White suffragists, Jones adds, often appealed to white supremacy as a justification for granting white women the right to vote before the enfranchisement of Black persons. 

The same exclusionary tactics also applied to other women of color, including Asian Americans, Latinas, and the Indigenous population. And even after the passage of the 19th amendment, laws and regulations enforced across the country kept many women of color from voting.

While it’s fitting that we celebrate the  anniversary of the women’s vote on the eve of what many call the most important presidential election in American history, it’s equally important to recognize the complicated history of the Suffrage movement – and to understand how the battle for equal rights for all persons continues.


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