June 4, 2019 — One hundred years ago today, the United States Congress approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right of women to vote. The 19th amendment went into effect in August 1920, after it was ratified by the required ¾ of the states. It 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.
Although the amendment guaranteed women across the nation the right to vote, women’s suffrage had been already spreading throughout the western territories before its passage.
In 1869, the territory of Wyoming became the first to guarantee women the right to vote.
According to Christopher Klein at History.com,
The neighboring territory of Utah quickly followed Wyoming’s lead by passing women’s suffrage in February 1870. The Western territories of Washington and Montana passed similar measures in the 1880s. . . .When Congress threatened to keep Wyoming out of the Union if itdidn’t rescind the provision, the territory refused to budge. “We will remain out of the Union one hundred years rather than come in without the women,” the territorial legislature declared in a telegram to congressional leaders.
Congress relented, and Wyoming became the first state to grant women the right to vote when it became the country’s 44th state in 1890.
Turns out, Congress was right to worry that other jurisdictions would follow Wyoming’s lead and grant women full voting rights. As Klein notes,
Colorado approved it in 1893, and Idaho did the same three years later. Congress had disenfranchised women along with outlawing polygamy in Utah in 1887, but women regained the right to vote when the territory became a state in 1896.
After 1910, they were joined by Washington, California, Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Dakota and the territory of Alaska. (Even before the passage of the 19th Amendment, Montana elected a woman, Jeannette Rankin, to the U.S. House of Representatives
When Congress passed the 19th amendment in 1919 and sent it to the states for ratification, women had full voting rights in 15 states.
By August 1920, 35 states had ratified the amendment, and women’s suffrage was just one state shy of becoming law of the land.
All eyes turned to Tennessee, where opponents of women’s suffrage began wearing red roses while supporters wore yellow.
On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment when 24-year-old state representative Harry Burn, who wore a red rose pinned to his lapel, switched his vote after reading a note from his mother in favor of women’s suffrage.
Last month, members of the U.S. House of Representatives wore yellow roses to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the amendment’s passage in that chamber.
Throughout the year, various museums, government institutions, nonprofits, and private groups will commemorate women’s suffrage with special programs, events, and exhibits.
The Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission, established by Congress in 2017, serves as a clearinghouse for information about this historic milestone. A timeline of the women’s suffrage movement is available HERE; educational resources from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History are available HERE; contemporaneous coverage of the debate over women’s suffrage as reflected in the pages of the Atlantic is available HERE; and an interview with IWF’s own Heather Higgins, a member of the Centennial Commission, is available HERE.