Sunday, June 3, 2012

19th Amendment Passed Congress in 1919

Garrison Keillor's excellent daily email announces today (June 4) that "On this date in 1919, the 19th Amendment passed the Senate and gave American women the right to vote." Actually, the right to vote wasn't obtained for another year and three months, when Tennessee was the last required state to ratify the 19th Amendment, in August 1920. Keillor's summary is well-drafted:
Susan B. Anthony drafted the original amendment, with the help of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and it was first formally introduced in 1878. It sat in committee for nine years before it went before the Senate in 1887 and was voted down. Over the next decades, several individual states approved women's voting rights, but a Constitutional amendment wasn't considered again until 1914. It was repeatedly defeated, and an anti-suffrage movement campaigned against it, claiming that it was unfeminine for women to venture outside their natural domestic sphere. But in 1918, Woodrow Wilson threw his support behind the suffrage movement. Women had entered the workforce in large numbers during World War I, and in a speech that President Wilson gave in September 1918, he said: "We have made partners of the women in this war. Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of right?" The amendment passed both Houses of Congress the following May.
The question that Keillor does not address is: Why did Wilson endorse the suffrage amendment in 1918? He opposed it in the election of 1916. The suffragists said that year: "He kept out og war, and he kept us out of suffrage." Wilson reversed himself in 1917 on the war, and in 1918 on suffrage. The reason for Wilson's reversal was ostensibly the partnership of women in the war effort. But a more plausible reason is that public opinion had become solidly pro-suffragist because of the brutal treatment of women in the prisons to which they were taken and force-fed after they took up a silent vigil in front of the White House. This vigil in turn was started immediately after Wilson insulted a delegation of women in January 1917 when they came with 250 memorials from women's groups around the country using Inez Milholland Boissevain's death to argue that the President should revisit his opposition to suffrage. More on Inez Milholland at