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 power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
On August 18, 1920, Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which was adopted on August 26, 1920, also known as "Women’s Equality Day."
In honor of the passage of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, we would like to highlight a number of resources that are available here at the Law Library for you.
We are going to focus on 3 different resources that are available to subscribers via Westlaw or HeinOnline: Neil Siegel, Why the Nineteenth Amendment Matters Today: A Guide for the Centennial, 27 Duke J. Gender L. & Pol’y 235 (2020); The Georgetown Law Journal Special Edition, and Sandra Day O'Connor, The History of the Women's Suffrage Movement, 49 Vand. L. Rev. 657 (1996).
In Why the Nineteenth Amendment Matters Today: A Guide for the Centennial, Professor Siegel posits that while organizations and individuals are honoring the “Susan B. Anthony” Amendment, that
all Americans--citizens, legislators, lawyers, judges, and constitutional law scholars--might do more than honor their shared past. They might be encouraged to think about why the story of the Nineteenth Amendment matters to Americans living today. That story includes more than a half-century of social movement contestation over whether permitting women to vote would destroy or democratize the American family and the American constitutional structure.
Professor Siegel further proposes that the importance of 19th Amendment is that “Certain issues disproportionately affect women.”
As examples of such, he touches on unequal pay for equal work, lack of family- and self-care leave, and the slightly more controversial issues of affordable contraception and abortion restrictions. While Professor Siegel acknowledges that not everyone agrees on those issues, his overarching point is that it is important for women’s voices should be heard on them.
He concludes, in part, that “The primary reason the Nineteenth Amendment matters today is that the struggle for gender equality is far from over.”
Professor Siegel tied together history of the 19th Amendment, the imperfections of some of the mothers of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, especially in relation to race relations, and brought the discussion into the 21st Century.
This conversation between the Suffrage movement of the 1800s and the 21st Century is also continued in the Special Edition of the Georgetown Law Journal, commemorating the 19th Amendment, in conjunction with the ABA Commission on the 19th Amendment.
In her forward to the edition, Judge M. Margaret McKeowen notes
In celebration of the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, it is my pleasure
to introduce a special issue of The Georgetown Law Journal. This issue brings
together a series of articles that examines the legacy of the Nineteenth
Amendment and the ongoing push for equality.
The 19th Amendment Edition of the Georgetown Law Journal has 4 articles: Thin and Thick Conceptions of the Nineteenth Amendment Right to Vote and Congress’s Power to Enforce it, by Richard L. Hasen, and Leah M. Litman, Reconstructing Liberty, Equlity, and marriage: the Missing Nineteenth Amendment Argument, by Nan D. Hunter, The “Welfare Queen” Goes to the Polls: Race-Based Fractures in Gender Politics and Opportunities for Intersectional Coalitions, The “Welfare Queen” Goes to the Polls: Race-Based Fractures in Gender Politics and Opportunities for Intersectional Coalitions, by Catherine Power and Camile Gear Rich, and The Pregnant Citizen, from Suffrage to the Present, by Reva B. Siegel.
Additionally, the editors have included Searching for Equality: The Nineteenth Amendment and Beyond, the transcript of a conversation between Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge M. Margaret McKeowen, which took place at Georgetown University Law Center on February 10, 2020, as part of the ABA’s 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment.
While we are not going to be discussing the 4 law review articles, I enjoyed both the transcript of the conversation, as well as the conversation itself. One of the most striking moments was when Justice Ginsburg discussed opportunities her mother would have had if she had lived in a different time. It was also interesting to hear the conversation about equity in gender roles and how Mr. Ginsburg was designated as “The Supreme Chef” because of all of the spouses of the Justices, his cooking skills were the most favored. Apparently, the cookbook compiled by the Justices’ spouses is one of the best-selling books in the Supreme Court bookshop. What an interesting echo to The Woman Suffrage Cookbook of 1886.
Judge McKeowen’s forward also cited the 3rd of the articles we are highlighting today, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor’s The History of the Women's Suffrage Movement, 49 Vand. L. Rev. 657 (1996).
The Justice refers to this article as an essay, which is based on a speech that she gave on the 75th Anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1995.
Justice O’Connor’s essay gives an excellent history of the woman suffrage moment, beginning with Abigail Adams’ 1776 plea that the patriots “remember the ladies” in framing the charter of our new nation.
Finding Mrs. Adams’ plea ignored, Justice O’Connor determines that
In permitting each state to determine the qualifications of voters for Congress, the Constitution implicitly endorsed laws, then existing in virtually every state, that prohibited women from voting. Although neither the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights explicitly denied equal rights to women, it seems fair to say that the Framers envisioned no role for women in the new American government.
Justice O’Connor continues to explain the different gender roles of the early 19th century, and discusses how seeds of change were sown in the mid-1800s with women’s enthusiasm in participation in the abolitionist movement. She discusses supporters of woman’s suffrage, like Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth, Cady Stanton, and Frederick Douglass, in discussing the intersectionality of race and gender, as “The Civil War and the emancipation of former slaves brought the suffrage question to the forefront.”
The essay continues, “Taken together, the Fourteenth and Fifteen Amendments caused women to wonder if they were indeed fully citizens of the United States.” Justice O’Connor then discusses various legal challenges in the suffrage movement. Such as, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s decision to run for Congress 1866. No one challenged her right to run, she received 24 votes. Next up is Victoria Woodhull’s 1871 petition to the House Judiciary Committee arguing that the recent constitutional amendments applied to women as well, claiming that “under Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, women are citizens of the United States and are thus granted the same rights and privileges of citizenship as men, including the right to vote.”
We now know that not only did the committee reject the petition, but, the Supreme Court rejected that argument as well. Susan B. Anthony, who was famous enough to be recognized by just her first name, tested things further by attempting to vote and being convicted for it.
In this essay, Justice O’Connor breathes life into figures from history that make it into some American history books, but, not all.
When she turns to a discussion of the states, in pointing out that women did have the vote in western states like Wyoming and Utah, Justice O’Connor also highlights Ohio’s Florence Ellinwood Allen (for whom we named the new Ellinwood Allen room in the Library) who was the first female supreme court justice in American history, and later appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the 6th Circuit Court as the first female federal appeals court judge. Justice O’Connor notes that there was a movement to nominate Judge Allen to the U. S. Supreme Court, but, with a nod decides “that idea was apparently forty-odd years before its time.”
Justice O’Connor further discusses both the progress that has yet to be made and progress that has been made in gender equity since 1920. She discusses Title VII, and Reed v. Reed, her own appointment to the bench, and the appointment of Justice Ginsburg.
Justice O’Connor concludes her essay by knitting together the beginning with Mrs. Adams’ admonition to “remember the ladies” with the many steps toward progress and the steps that are yet to come.
If you are interested in reading this essay, or any of the articles highlighted here in celebration of the Centennial of the 19th Amendment, please feel free to contact library staff and we will be glad to provide those to you.