Sullivan Celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution
August 18, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 19th Amendment granted American women the right to vote, a right known as women’s suffrage. On August 26, 1920, the amendment went into effect, bringing about the largest expansion of democracy in the nation’s history and ending almost a century of protest.
During America’s early history, women were denied some of the basic rights enjoyed by male citizens. For example, married women couldn’t own property and had no legal claim to any money they might earn, and no female had the right to vote. The campaign for women’s suffrage was a small but growing movement in the decades before the Civil War.
It was not until 1848 that the movement for women’s rights began to organize at the national level. In July of that year, reformers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York (where Stanton lived). More than 300 people—mostly women, but also some men—attended, including former African-American slave and activist Frederick Douglass. In addition to their belief that women should be afforded better opportunities for education and employment, most of the delegates at the Seneca Falls Convention agreed that American women were autonomous individuals who deserved their own political identities.
A group of delegates led by Stanton produced a “Declaration of Sentiments” document, modeled after the Declaration of Independence, which stated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What this meant, among other things, was that the delegates believed women should have the right to vote.
Following the convention, the idea of voting rights for women was mocked in the press and some delegates withdrew their support for the Declaration of Sentiments. Nonetheless, Stanton and Mott persisted—they went on to spearhead additional women’s rights conferences and they were eventually joined in their advocacy work by Susan B. Anthony and other activists.
With the onset of the Civil War, the suffrage movement lost some momentum, as many women turned their attention to assisting in efforts related to the conflict between the states. In 1869, Stanton and Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) with their eyes on a federal constitutional amendment that would grant women the right to vote. That same year, abolitionists Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell founded the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA); the group’s leaders supported the 15th Amendment and feared it would not pass if it included voting rights for women. (The 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870.) The AWSA believed women’s enfranchisement could best be gained through amendments to individual state constitutions. Despite the divisions between the two organizations, there was a victory for voting rights in 1869 when the Wyoming Territory granted all female residents age 21 and older the right to vote. (When Wyoming was admitted to the Union in 1890, women’s suffrage remained part of the state constitution.)
In 1890, the NWSA and the AWSA merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). The new organization’s strategy was to lobby for women’s voting rights on a state-by-state basis. Within six years, Colorado, Utah and Idaho adopted amendments to their state constitutions granting women the right to vote. In 1900, with Stanton and Anthony advancing in age, Carrie Chapman Catt stepped up to lead NAWSA.
Pushed out of national suffrage organizations, Black suffragists founded their own groups, including the National Association of Colored Women Clubs (NACWC), founded in 1896 by a group of women including Frances E.W. Harper, Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. They fought hard for passage of the 19th Amendment, seeing the women’s right to vote as a crucial tool to winning legal protections for Black women (as well as Black men) against continued repression and violence.
The turn of the 20th century brought renewed momentum to the women's suffrage cause. Although the deaths of Stanton in 1902 and Anthony in 1906 appeared to be setbacks, the NASWA under the leadership of Catt achieved rolling successes for women’s enfranchisement at state levels.
Between 1910 and 1918, the Alaska Territory, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington extended voting rights to women. Also during this time, through the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women (later, the Women’s Political Union), Stanton’s daughter Harriot Stanton Blatch introduced parades, pickets and marches as means of calling attention to the cause. These tactics succeeded in raising awareness and led to unrest in Washington, D.C.
In 1918, President Wilson switched his stand on women’s voting rights from objection to support through the influence of Catt. Wilson also tied the proposed suffrage amendment to America’s involvement in World War I and the increased role women had played in the war efforts.
When the amendment came up for vote, Wilson addressed the Senate in favor of suffrage. As reported in The New York Times on October 1, 1918, Wilson said, “I regard the extension of suffrage to women as vitally essential to the successful prosecution of the great war of humanity in which we are engaged.” However, despite Wilson’s newfound support, the amendment proposal failed in the Senate by two votes. Another year passed before Congress took up the measure again.
On May 21, 1919, U.S. Representative James R. Mann, a Republican from Illinois and chairman of the Suffrage Committee, proposed the House resolution to approve the Susan Anthony Amendment granting women the right to vote. The measure passed the House 304 to 89—a full 42 votes above the required two-thirds majority. Two weeks later, on June 4, 1919, the U.S. Senate passed the 19th Amendment by two votes over its two-thirds required majority, 56-25. The amendment was then sent to the states for ratification.
Within six days of the ratification cycle, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin each ratified the amendment. Kansas, New York and Ohio followed on June 16, 1919. By March of the following year, a total of 35 states had approved the amendment, just shy of the three-fourths required for ratification. Southern states were adamantly opposed to the amendment, however, and seven of them—Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia—had already rejected it before Tennessee’s vote on August 18, 1920. It was up to Tennessee to tip the scale for woman suffrage.
The outlook appeared bleak, given the outcomes in other Southern states and given the position of Tennessee’s state legislators in their 48-48 tie. The state’s decision came down to 23-year-old Representative Harry T. Burn, a Republican from McMinn County, to cast the deciding vote. Although Burn opposed the amendment, his mother convinced him to approve it. Mrs. Burn reportedly wrote to her son: “Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.” With Burn’s vote, the 19th Amendment was fully ratified.
On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment was certified by U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby, and women finally achieved the long-sought right to vote throughout the United States. On November 2 of that same year, more than 8 million women across the U.S. voted in elections for the first time. It took over 60 years for the remaining 12 states to ratify the 19th Amendment. Mississippi was the last to do so, on March 22, 1984.
- History of the 19th Amendment
- The 19th Amendment
- U.S. Government for Kids: the 19th Amendment
- The Great Unfinished Fight: A Conversation on the History and Legacy of the 19th Amendment (American Bar Association webinar, Aug. 24)
Promotion and retention of women is an important part of our diversity and inclusion efforts at Sullivan. We have a long tradition of promoting and supporting women attorneys at the firm, and our Women’s Initiative strives to provide a warm and welcoming community that encourages women attorneys in meeting their professional goals.
One of the key Women’s Initiative efforts is mentoring and professional development support for women attorneys. We bring in outside speakers to provide formal training on networking, communication and implicit bias, and the Women’s Initiative sponsors mid and senior-level female associates to attend leadership and networking training programs. In our "Get to Know the Women Partners" series, a female partner within the firm shares her story of her career path in an informal program that all attorneys are welcome to attend, and makes herself available for more junior attorneys to discuss how to advance their legal careers. Our female associates meet regularly for "brown bag lunches" to share stories and help the firm develop ways to encourage women in the firm and in the industry as a whole, and the Women’s Initiative sponsors social events for female associates and partners to get to know each other better and help foster informal mentoring and support.
|Mary Robinson, Merrill Lynch, and Nicole Crum, Chair, Women's Initiative||Washington, DC office ||New York office |
Below: Sullivan's Women's Initiative holiday gift drive for the Women of Rosie's Place (Boston) and First Step (New York), December 2019
Below: Women's Casino Night and Networking Reception, November 2019
Organizations Committed to the Inclusion of Women
- The Boston Chamber of Commerce Women’s Network The firm is actively involved in the Chamber’s Women’s Network, including serving on the Women’s Network Advisory Board and sponsoring mid and senior-level associates through the Network’s Women’s Leadership Program, which provides emerging female leaders training on leadership and networking skills. The Network aims to connect women of all career levels throughout the Boston business community and strengthen their professional networks.
- The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession The Commission presents the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Distinction Awards and supports issues of interest to women attorneys.
- Direct Women Project The DW Project works to increase the number of women attorneys on the Boards of Directors of major U.S. corporations and institutions. The DW Project operates the Sandra Day O’Connor Board Excellence Awards and the Direct Women Board Institute.
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