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Getting the Vote: Reflecting on the U.S. Women’s Suffrage Movement 100 Years Later

By Rubén Vázquez, VP of Racial Justice and Public Policy
June 28, 2019
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This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment that prohibits “states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex.” In other words, this amendment gave women the right to vote. The amendment was then ratified by two-thirds of the states and officially adopted into the United States Constitution in August 1920. For many people, this signaled the conclusion of the women’s suffrage movement. It was a movement that began in 1878 by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and lasted 42 years until the amendment was passed.

Excluded from the Right to Vote

It is important to note that although the 19th Amendment was a huge accomplishment for many women, it only granted white women the right to vote. African American, indigenous and other women of color were still excluded.

A Broken Allyship: Abolitionists and Suffragists

Votes for Women photo of white suffragettes

Before the Civil War, black and white abolitionists and suffragists were joined together in a common cause and were closely allied together. But in time, white women leaders of the suffrage movement decided that in order to be successful, they would need to gain the support of white men and women in the South. By the late 1800s, they began to push black women away from the movement and distance the suffrage movement from the abolition movement. Black women leaders such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Maria W. Stewart, Henrietta Purvis, Harriet Forten Purvis, Sarah Remond and Mary Ann Shadd Cary joined forces to continue to push for equality, not just based on gender, but also on race.

Marginalized at Women’s Suffrage Meetings

The mainstream suffrage movement continued its racially discriminatory practices and even condoned white supremacist ideologies in order to garner southern support for white women’s voting rights. Consequently, African American women became increasingly marginalized and discriminated against at women’s suffrage meetings, campaigns and marches.

Later Claiming Racial Inclusivity

As the suffrage movement moved into its final phase in the early decades of the 20th century, white women realized the need to have “support” from black women. Local and national white woman suffrage organizations began to invite black women in as active members. This allowed them to claim racial inclusivity. Yet, the actions and policy statements of their leaders reflected a very different racial reality.

Recognizing the History

So, as we celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment and the accomplishments of women such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, we must remember that these rights also came at the expense of women of color and indigenous women. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that local governments were stopped from engaging in tactics that kept African Americans (men and women) from the right to vote. And even today, systemic voting disenfranchisement, like voter-ID legislation, is keeping citizens of color from casting their votes.

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