Reprinted from The Wall Street Journal by Ellen Carol DuBois on July 31, 2020.
For American women, the battle for the right to vote was long and hard-fought, pitting three generations of suffragists against the nation’s political and economic establishment. When the vote was finally won, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920, many women looked forward to profound social change. The activist Maud Younger thought she was about to witness “the dawn of women’s political power in America.”
Others had more modest expectations. “I did not expect any revolution when women got the ballot,” recalled labor leader Rose Schneiderman, who rose to fame with her speech memorializing the victims of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in Manhattan. “But women needed the vote because they needed protection through the laws. Not having the vote, the lawmakers could ignore us.” Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the Black journalist and activist, wished that her friends Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony “could have been here to see the day when a woman’s ballot will count equally with a man’s.”
As we mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, it’s natural to ask if those expectations have been met. What impact did the official entry of women into American political life end up having on the country and on women themselves? What new dimensions of the movement for women’s equality opened up once the franchise had been secured? …