Nineteenth Amendment

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Nineteenth Amendment

Suffragists march in a 1912 rally in New York City. In 1920, after decades of struggle for the right to vote, the Nineteenth Amendment's ratification granted female suffrage. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Suffragists march in a 1912 rally in New York City. In 1920, after decades of struggle for the right to vote, the Nineteenth Amendment's ratification granted female suffrage.

The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

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. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Nineteenth Amendment was enacted in 1920, after a 70-year struggle led by the women's suffrage movement.

The groundwork for the suffrage movement was laid in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, now considered the birthplace of the women's movement. Here Elizabeth Cady Stanton drafted the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, which demanded voting rights, property rights, educational opportunities, and economic Equity for women.

Rather than face the difficult task of obtaining approval of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution from an all-male Congress preoccupied with the question of Slavery, the suffragists decided to focus their attention on the separate states and seek state constitutional amendments. The state-by-state effort began in 1867 in Kansas with a Referendum to enfranchise women. The referendum was defeated, but that same year the western territories of Wyoming and Utah provided the first victories for the suffragists.

The movement then suffered a series of setbacks beginning in January 1878 when the voting rights amendment was first introduced in Congress. The full Senate did not consider the amendment until 1887 and voted to defeat the bill. The suffragists continued their state-by-state strategy and won a referendum ballot in Colorado in 1893 and Idaho in 1896.

The suffragists mounted a final and decisive drive in the second decade of the 1900s with victories in Washington in 1910 and California in 1911. The following year Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon gave women the right to vote, and in 1913 Illinois also passed measures supporting suffrage as did Montana and Nevada in 1914. Women in eleven states voted in the 1916 presidential election. By this time the United States was also involved in World War I, which brought national attention to the suffrage movement as well as to the important role women played in the war effort. During the war, an unprecedented number of women joined the depleted industrial and public service workforce. Women became an active and visible population of the labor sector that benefited the national economy. By the end of 1918 four more states—Michigan, Oklahoma, New York, and South Dakota—had approved women's suffrage.

With the requisite two-thirds majority, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the amendment in January 1918. The vote was initially postponed, and the amendment was later defeated in October 1918 and again in February 1919. On June 4, 1919, almost 17 months after its introduction by the House of Representatives, the amendment was finally passed by the Senate. Having already considered and debated the voting rights issue for several years, the states ratified the amendment quickly. In August 1920 Tennessee became the thirty-sixth and last state necessary to ratify the enactment. With ratification complete, the Nineteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution on August 18, 1920.

Further readings

Brown, Jennifer K. 1993. "The Nineteenth Amendment and Women's Equality." Yale Law Journal 102 (June).

Clift, Eleanor. 2003. Founding Sisters and the Nineteenth Amendment. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons.

Hillyard, Carrie. 1996. "The History of Suffrage and Equal Rights Provisions in State Constitutions." BYU Journal of Public Law 10 (winter).

Lind, Joellen. 1994. "Dominance and Democracy: The Legacy of Woman Suffrage for the Voting Right." UCLA Women's Law Journal 5 (fall).


Anthony, Susan Brownell; Equal Rights Amendment; Women's Rights.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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