Tomorrow begins Women’s History Month. How much do you know about the history of women’s suffrage?
Let’s play “Two Truths and a Lie” and find out. Can you identify which of the following statements is not true?
A. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to adopt the 19th Amendment, reaching the required 3/4 threshold for ratification.
B. Before the 19th Amendment, women in some states had the right to vote.
C. Even now, 100 years after women secured the right to vote, we still lack full legal equality with men.
Let’s evaluate these statements one at a time:
A. TRUE! On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to adopt the 19th Amendment, reaching the required 3/4 threshold for ratification. The 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on May 21, 1919, and by the U.S. Senate on June 4, 1919. Since there were only 48 states then (Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states), only 36 (or three-fourths of 48) were required for ratification. Today, a Constitutional amendment would require 38 states to be ratified.
With women from the suffragist and anti-suffrage camps descending on Nashville, the state capital, the Amendment passed in the state Senate. All eyes were on the state House, where a young representative broke the tie (at his mother’s behest), and Tennessee became the 36th state to pass the 19th Amendment. Two days later, the Secretary of State declared that the 19th Amendment was part of the U.S. Constitution.
B. TRUE! Before the 19th Amendment, women in some states had the right to vote. A number of western states and territories granted women the right to vote before August 18, 1920. Wyoming was the first territory to guarantee women voting rights in 1869. Utah, Washington, Montana, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, California, Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, New York, Michigan, Oklahoma, and South Dakota all offered women voting rights before they were Constitutionally protected. Several states allowed women to vote in presidential elections only. Montana’s Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, was elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican in 1916, before most American women could vote.
C. LIE! It is not true that women in 2020 still lack full legal equality with men. Women have full legal equality: Various laws today protect women’s rights and prohibit sex-based discrimination in education and the workplace. Women now make up more than half (57%) of the graduates earning bachelor’s degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The same goes for master’s degrees (57%) and doctoral degrees (53%). Progressive organizations and politicians often share the misinterpreted wage-gap statistic that women make 80 cents on the dollar to what a man makes. But this statistic lacks context: When women’s choices (whether to take time out to raise kids, flexible schedules, college majors) are factored in, the wage gap shrinks to about 2 cents on the dollar. The women who fought for the right to vote often faced real barriers, and we do them no honor by claiming—wrongly—that little has changed.
Women have a lot to celebrate today. Check out IWF’s resources on the centennial anniversary: We have a book, “Women Who Won the Vote,” highlighting the suffragists. We offer a “How to Talk to Kids about Women’s Suffrage” PDF for parents, grandparents, and teachers.