August 26th is Women’s Equality Day.
I have to admit to having mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I’m happy to see anything that acknowledges that women deserve the same rights (both legally and culturally) as men. On the other hand, it’s hard not to be dismayed by the fact that we apparently need a day to remind us of this fact. To me, Women’s Equality Day is less about celebrating how far we’ve come and more about realizing that we’ve still got a very long way to go.
Women’s Equality Day is technically meant to commemorate the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This is the amendment that brought universal suffrage to this country. Until then, some states allowed women to vote and other didn’t. A female citizen of Wyoming was allowed to cast her ballot while a woman in Pennsylvania could be arrested and jailed for attempting to exercise the same right.
Oddly, most states allowed women to run for public office but they didn’t allow them to the vote for themselves. The first woman to ever run for President — Victoria C. Woodhull in 1872 — spent election day in jail specifically so she wouldn’t vote for herself. Woodhull, by the way, is a personal hero of mine.
So, when did women finally gain, under the U.S. Constitution, the right to vote in every state as opposed to just some?
The 19th amendment was officially certified on August 26th, 1920.
The guaranteed, Constitutional right of women to have a say in their government is less than a 100 years old.
In order for the 19th amendment to become a part of the Constitution, 36 states were required to ratify it. The 1st states to ratify the amendment were Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin who all did so on June 10th, 1919. My homestate of Texas was the 9th, ratifying on June 28th, 1919. The 36th state to ratify the amendment was Tennessee on August 18th, 1920. The last state to ratify was Mississippi who got around to officially ratifying the amendment on March 22nd, 1984.
It’s difficult for me to understand and imagine what it must have once been like for women like Victoria Woodhull, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Belva Lockwood (and many others). These women devoted their lives to and risked both ridicule and criminal prosecution for the rights that I take for granted. I cast my first vote in the 2004 presidential election and I’ve voted in 2 general elections since then. All three times, it was something that I did because it was what everyone does on the 1st Tuesday of November.
Sometimes I wonder if I would have had the strength to fight for these rights that I now take for granted. Honestly, it’s hard to say for sure. Sometimes, it’s easier to just accept injustice than to risk being on the outside. I’d like to think that I would fight but traditionally, women are not raised to fight and we’re made to feel as if we’re somehow to blame whenever we do.
For most of recorded history, women have been raised and encouraged to be dependent. In return for being dependent, we’re given small gifts that are meant to somehow pass for a greater reward. Far too often, we accept this because it’s what we’re used to and it’s what we’re secure with. We’re told that men will take care of us as long as we’re willing to sacrifice our own individual ambitions and desires.
And, sad to say, a lot of women — even today — have somehow managed to justify that sacrifice.
It’s a sacrifice I’ve never been willing to make and for that, I may never be allowed to have what I’ve always been told equals safety and perfection. But whenever I feel like I can’t go on or when it seems like it would just be so much easier to sacrifice my own dreams and just conform to someone else’s idea of who I should be, I remember Victoria C. Woodhull who chose to go to jail as opposed to accepting the idea of being a second-class citizen. I remember Woodhull and all the other strong women of the past who fought for me to have the chance to be something more than just a supporting ingenue in someone else’s play.
To me, that’s what Women’s Equality Day celebrates.
And that independence is what I plan to celebrate every day for the rest of my life.