On August 26th, Americans marked the 95th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, after a long and hard-fought battle by suffragists. With its passage in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment declared it unconstitutional for any effort to disenfranchise any voter on the basis of sex. In 1971, Congress christened August 26th as National Women’s Equality Day to mark the passage of the Amendment and to celebrate the winning of the right to vote for female voters.
I think it’s extremely important to celebrate the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, without which female voters would still be denied a political voice. We should not forget America’s roots. At the founding of this country, the right to vote was limited to land-owning White men; the subsequent two centuries have seen a progressive expansion of civil rights (including voting rights) to encompass marginalized American groups, and this country has been made the better for it. The Nineteenth Amendment was — and is — a crucial victory in the larger war to establish and defend voting rights for disenfranchised groups, and fully deserves our celebration.
But, while the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment did indeed create equality for female voters, it only established ballot box access for some female voters. When we brand August 26th as “Women’s Equality Day”, we forget that voting rights were not won for all women on August 16th, 1920. For many of this nation’s women of colour, voting rights would take up to a half a century longer to be realized; and for many of today’s women of colour, equal ballot box access remains stymied.