On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. Still, even after being ratified by 36 states, the amendment was not a given. Suffrage opponents launched a fierce campaign to nullify the ratification. Eight chaotic days followed, but the “antis” were unsuccessful. On August 26, 1920, the US Secretary of State, Bainbridge Colby, signed the document, making the 19th Amendment an official part of the US Constitution. That day, August 26, is known as Women’s Equality Day.
This year marks the Centennial of Women’s Equality Day, and it was observed all over the country with the noontime ringing of bells. In Ozaukee County, LWV member Nancy Conway Haacke organized a commemoration at St. Mary’s Church in Port Washington. At 2:30 pm the church bells were rung to symbolize the victory of votes for women. Choosing 2:30 was a way to highlight that it took two thirds of the states to ratify the 19th Amendment. Over 70 women, men and children, including several LWVOZ members, and local news reporters, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel were present at the event in Port Washington. Many were dressed in white, the color so often worn by the suffragists.
After the bells were rung Nancy gave a short history of the suffrage movement, telling a little about its beginning in 1848 and its main leaders. She explained the colors used by the suffragists in their banners, sashes and clothing. Purple is the color of loyalty, steadfastness to a cause. Gold is the color of life and a light which guides purpose. White is the emblem of purity.
The program continued with all present reading in unison the 19th Amendment:
“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 the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
The program ended with Nancy’s cousin, James Russell, playing an excellent rendition of “American the Beautiful” on his trumpet.
Although August 26 is known as Women’s Equality Day, regretfully not all women were able to vote after that amendment was passed in 1920. Black women, like black men, were kept from voting with poll taxes and literacy tests. Native Americans were only granted the right to vote in 1924, and Asian Americans in 1952. In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed, removing discriminatory barriers that kept many people of color from voting. Still, in 2013 the Supreme Court removed some provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which has led to some attempts at voter suppression. Voting is a right granted to all US citizens in the Constitution, and ensuring that all citizens are able to vote is one of the main missions of the League of Women Voters.