On the nineteenth of May, 1919, a Joint Resolution of the 66th Congress of the United States of America proposed an amendment to the Constitution “extending the right of suffrage to women.” The actual language was simple: “The right of citizens of the United States shall not be denied by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
The House of Representatives passed the 19th Amendment by a vote of 304-90. The Senate approved it 56 to 25. Thirty-six states were required to ratify the amendment for it to become law.Wisconsin did so immediately. So did Illinois and Michigan. Tennessee was the 36th state. and the Constitution was amended.
Interestingly, the other 12 states were quite slow to ratify. Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and Mississippi took the longest. Mississippi did not actually ratify it until March 22, 1984.
In contrast, the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by both Houses of Congress in 1972 with a ratification deadline of March 22, 1979 (later extended by Congress until June 30, 1982) It received 35 of the needed 38 ratifications (five states later rescinded their ratification.) While the language of the ERA also seemed simple: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” the resistance was not. The amendment failed.
In 1971, at the behest of Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY), the US Congress, in a Joint Resolution, designated August 26 each year as “Women’s Equality Day.” The date was selected to commemorate the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment and the 1970 nationwide demonstration for women’s rights. It is a symbol of the continued fight for full equality of women, and each year the President of the United States issues a Proclamation.
Last year, in his Proclamation, President Obama noted, “When women are given the opportunity to succeed, they do … But too often, the women and girls who lift up our Nation achieve extraordinary success only after overcoming the legacy of unequal treatment.” He furthered noted, “On Women’s Equality Day, we continue the righteous work of building a society where women thrive, where every door is open to them, and their every dream can be realized.”
This year, two women completed the rigorous training to become the first female Army Rangers. We also have two women campaigning to be their party’s candidate for the Presidency of the United States. If one of them succeeds, we may no longer need a Women’s Equality Day. Perhaps some day in the future, young women will be puzzled by the fact that women ever had to fight for equal rights and protection under the law. Let’s hope that doesn’t take another 94 years.