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By Rachel Swack and Xiaojing Zeng

Given that most women today have been able to vote their whole lives, it is easy to forget that it hasn’t always been that way. It wasn’t until 1920 that the United States finally passed the Nineteenth Amendment, which states that, “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.”

For decades leading up to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, suffragettes such as Ida B. Wells, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, and Alice Paul organized protests, endured violence, and dedicated their lives to organizing for equality.

Throughout the 1800’s and 1900’s, many western states legalized full women’s suffrage within their borders. However, many Americans saw the need for something stronger than local and state laws, and decided to push for a constitutional amendment that would guarantee women’s suffrage on a national level. Republican Senator Aaron A. Sargent initially proposed a constitutional amendment in 1878, but it was rejected by the Senate and stalled progress for 30 years.

Finally, on June 4, 1919, with support from both Republicans and Democrats, Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment. Throughout the next year, 36 states ratified it and it became a part of the American Constitution on  August 18, 1920.

The momentum of the 1920s gave women the inspiration and strength to be heavily involved in future battles for equality. For example, many women were important players in the Civil Rights Movement, often representing themselves in legal battles or leading organizations relevant to the cause. At the time, voter disenfranchisement and violence often prevented women of color from having their voices heard, but the positive outcomes of the Civil Rights Movement furthered suffrage for all. Women’s efforts to break down these barriers contributed greatly to the elimination of voter suppression in a broader sense.

​Today, the voices of women in politics have grown significantly. After seven decades of arduous protests, pickets, and parades, women in this age are not only able to cast a ballot, but also obtain positions of leadership in municipal, state, and national governments. However, it is important to keep in mind that women are still widely underrepresented in politics. Following the elections of 2014, zero out of 50 states have gender parity in their state legislature. In 2015, only 20% of the U.S. Senate and 19.3% of the U.S. House of Representatives were composed of women. When compared to other nations around the world, the United States ranks 95th in terms of gender parity. This puts the United States behind countries such as Rwanda (ranked #1), Ecuador (ranked #9), and Mexico (ranked #19). The comparisons exemplify the fact that although tremendous progress has been made, we, as a democratic country, still have much left to accomplish.

This year marks the 96th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. To celebrate this moment in history, Representation2020 is kick-starting our #SummerofSuffrage project. 

As we approach the date on which each state ratified the amendment, the Representation2020 team will release suffrage-relevant facts and figures relating to the specific state (or states) that are being celebrated. The #SummerofSufferage series will create an interactive and memorable experience highlighting these victories that will remain even after the project ends.

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