Monday, November 2, 2020

The 19th Amendment: Women’s Right To Vote


By Kristy McCaffrey

The 19th Amendment was passed into law on August 26, 1920, when the U.S. Secretary of State certified that it had been ratified by the required 36 states.

It stated: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. 

The true meaning of this amendment, however, was less clear. Laws reserving the ballot for men became unconstitutional rather than guaranteeing any woman the vote.

When women appeared in the fall of 1920 to register to vote they faced many obstacles, racism being the biggest. Although the 15th Amendment prohibited states from denying the vote based on race, by 1920 such practices as poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses had kept many Black men from casting their ballots. Added to that were the less obvious tactics of intimidation and threats of lynching.

Still, many Black women showed up to vote in 1920, but were turned away when they “failed to comply with the constitutional tests.” In some places such as Savannah, Georgia, officials enforced a rule that women couldn’t vote because they were not “entitled … because of state law which requires registration six months before an election.” This ruling meant that no women in the state of Georgia could vote in the 1920 election, Black or white.

But there were successes. In St. Louis, Missouri, a teacher named Fannie Williams set up a “suffrage school” where women could teach one another how to pay poll taxes and pass literacy tests. It was reported that nearly every woman in the city, Black or white, registered to vote that season. In California, Illinois, and New York, where women’s suffrage had become law before the 19th Amendment was ratified, many Black women were able to cast their vote.

Today, however, despite the 15th and 19th Amendments, many American women aren’t able to vote. A woman’s access to the polls is still largely determined by where she lives, and due to past segregation policies, this still affects lower income women of color.




Julie Lence said...

Informative blog, Kristy. I liked the part about the schools teaching women taxes and how to read so they could vote. Excellent!

Kristy McCaffrey said...

There are so many subtle nuances to all of these issues. We must all stay informed.