100 years of women voting, yet the battle is still not over

By: - August 19, 2020 11:04 am
Gov. Tony Evers and Kathy Evers signing executive order creating committee for 100th anniversary of 19th Amendment

Gov. Tony Evers signs order on celebrating 100th anniversary of Wisconsin being the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. (Photo courtesy of Evers’ Facebook, April 2019.)

One hundred years ago Tuesday, the United States ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote. Some women, that is.

Wisconsin has bragging rights as the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment on June 10, 1919.

While it is a day to celebrate women’s suffrage, it is important to note that even as the landmark amendment was enshrined, there were groups of women who were either denied the right to vote or faced extreme obstacles at the polls.

“This was an enormous victory for women in the United States and it took more than 70 years of struggle to achieve and that it was only a starting point,” said Wisconsin First Lady Kathy Evers in a video marking the occasion — which she filmed while wearing a mask, naturally.

“The 19th Amendment did not guarantee all women the right to vote,” her husband, Gov. Tony Evers, added, “Most indigenous people were not able to exercise the right to vote in 1924 with the passage of a Native American Citizenship Act, many Black men and women were unable to vote until after the Civil Rights Act in 1965.”

Groups across the country have been working on highlighting the issue of suffrage for persons of color. 

Black women like Sojourner Truth, Mary McLeod Bethune, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell and all of the founding members of the then recently organized Delta Sigma Theta Sorority fought two battles — one for their gender and another for their race within that gender,” states the New Georgia Project, which is highlighting the contributions made by Black women during this era that are often ignored, as it works to inspire a new generation of voters. “The truth is that it would take most Black women almost five decades more to gain the right to vote.”

“Many historians talk about the suffrage movement continuing at least until 1965,” when the Voting Rights Act passed,” Veronica Chambers, the New York Times lead editor on its project commemorating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage noted. “The timeline of how long women in the U.S. have had political power and independence is not as long as we tend to think it is.”

Other women disenfranchised until much later included Native Americans and Chinese women. In recent years, good government groups have focused on battles to maintain the right to vote for all in the face of such obstacles as voter ID, limits on  opportunities to cast a ballot, closing polling locations in minority neighborhoods and other methods of voter suppression that Republicans in national and state government have put in place.

Women suffragettes picketing in front of the White House
Women suffragists picketing in front of the White house. The first picket line – College day in the picket line line, 1917. (Photo: US government)

In Wisconsin, First Lady Evers is chairing the Wisconsin 19th Amendment Centennial Committee and spearheading its celebration on Aug. 26. Given that the planned celebration will also be virtual, she is asking people to join her in wearing white (the color of women’s suffrage) and ringing bells across the state on that day at noon, and sharing videos and photos with the hashtags #WomensVote100 and #WIVotesForWomen.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has created a Women’s Suffrage Tool Kit. It contains a wealth of history, including such gems as this: “1846 — Wisconsin Constitutional Convention delegate James Magone of Milwaukee asks that the word male be left off of the constitution before the word suffrage. Other delegates laugh, and the idea is abandoned.”


First Lady Kathy Evers (official photo)
First Lady Kathy Evers (official photo)

Wisconsin women were also given the right to vote in school board elections in a bill that passed the Legislature in 1886, according to the Historical Society tool kit. However when Reverend Olympia Brown of the Universalist Church in Racine tested the law as applying to school matters in a municipal election the next year, she was not allowed to vote. After losing a subsequent lawsuit, Wisconsin women lost their right to vote in school matters for more than a decade, at which point a new act allowed women to vote, albeit in separate ballot boxes.

Kathy Evers has been announcing nominees by the committee to be designated  “Women Who Inspire.” The most recent was Sharlen Moore from Milwaukee. Other women who have been recognized for current and historical roles are on the committee’s website including social activists and trailblazers Vel Phillips, Ada Deer, Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Belle Case LaFollette.

“The Committee’s ‘Women Who Inspire’ feature allows us to celebrate the women who make our state stronger every day with their ambitious hard work, inspiring leadership, and dedication to building better communities,” said Kathy Evers. “These women are doing critical work to move our state forward, not unlike the Suffragists 100 years ago, so it is fitting that we recognize their good work as we celebrate this milestone.”

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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.