Previously known as Suffrage Day, Women’s Suffrage Ratification Day, or Women’s Emancipation Day, August 26th marks the day when (white) women gained the right to vote with the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Celebrating Women’s Suffrage:
The 19th Amendment was a massive win for women’s rights because it granted women ‘full’ citizenship with the ability to vote. Being codified in the U.S. Constitution ensured the right to vote could no longer be denied or modified based upon sex, ensuring women’s suffrage across the nation.
Reproductive Health and Rights
Prior to the 19th Amendment, women were prohibited by law from engaging in activities including owning or inheriting property, signing contracts or serving on juries.
These laws restricted the opportunities available to women, and marriage was promoted as the sole route to gaining financial security. With marriage came the obligation of childbearing and rearing, which was viewed as the wife’s duties in addition to running the home.
The 19th Amendment was foundational in women being recognized as full citizens with the ability to determine their own futures. With the right to vote ensured, women were able to support and advocate for more opportunities, including employment outside the home, obtaining education, owning a bank account, and divorce laws.
Having the power to vote allowed women to begin making their own decisions about marriage, having children, obtaining education, and employment opportunities. The right to vote was a catalyst in forming a formal reproductive rights movement and the political fight for bodily autonomy (ability to make decisions for ourselves) and agency (ability to act on our choices).
Modern access to a wide array of safe contraceptives, preventative reproductive health screenings and education around sexual health have all been shaped by the 19th Amendment.
Acknowledging the exclusive nature of the 19th Amendment
When we talk about women gaining the right to vote with the passing of the 19th Amendment, it’s important to know that this was specifically for white women only. Even men did not share the right to vote equitably across race and class at this time.
In fact, African Americans were not awarded voting rights until 1965 with the passing of the Voting Rights Act. This act compelled the Attorney General to enforce the voting rights of African Americans in addition to prohibiting literacy and other testing measures to grant individuals the right to vote.
Similarly, other marginalized communities have had to fight for recognition as full American citizens to obtain the right to vote.
Shifting focus to Equality
Even with the right to vote secured, the fight for gender equality still continues.
Modern celebrations of August 26th focus around bringing attention to current women’s issues and taking action, just as activists before us.
Recent events, like the Dobbs decision, continue to demonstrate the importance of having the ability to vote in ensuring we are able to make decisions about our lives for ourselves.
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