By Anne Perusek, SWE Director of Editorial and Publications
The adoption of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 26, 1920 was a victory in the long struggle for women’s rights. Following decades of concerted effort that included marches, letter-writing campaigns, speeches, editorials, civil disobedience, jail, and even being force fed, women in the United States finally won the right to vote.
It may be hard to imagine, but less than 100 years ago, women in the United States and elsewhere lacked the rights taken for granted today. From having education and a career, owning property and bank accounts, deciding whether to marry or have children or to participate in the democratic process by voting — these aspects (and more) of self-determinism were denied to women.
Contrast the passion of the suffragists with current data on voter turnout and the difference is stark. According to figures released last year by the U.S. Census Bureau, turnout for the 2014 congressional elections — 41.9 percent — was at its lowest mark since 1978, the year the bureau began tracking voting and citizenship status.
One hundred years ago, in 1916, the suffrage movement was at a turning point. Founded by Alice Paul, Ph.D., the National Woman’s Party had galvanized support and made the bold decision to picket the White House. No other group had ever done so.
From June of 1917 until the spring of 1919, more than 500 women were arrested for picketing and given harsh sentences. While in jail, Alice Paul and Rose Winslow initiated a hunger strike, which was taken up by others. Subsequently, they were brutally force fed. Winslow recorded her experience on notes smuggled from jail. She wrote: “We are making this hunger strike so that women fighting for liberty may be considered political prisoners … God knows, we don’t want other women ever to have to do this over again.”
Given the convictions and sacrifices of these foremothers, any current excuse for not voting is especially weak by comparison.
The best way to thank these courageous foremothers is to exercise the right to vote in the upcoming elections. Please follow SWE’s social media and the soon-to-be-released Fall issue of SWE Magazine for details on voter registration and more on the suffrage movement.