By Stephanie Milne-Lane,
Processing Archivist and Records Manager
The ushering in of a new year brings with it thoughts of what the future might bring. But 2020 is unique in that it likewise offers an opportunity to reflect and commemorate. 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, which guaranteed and protected a woman’s constitutional right to vote. While many western states, including Washington (1910) and Oregon (1912), had secured voting rights for white women (at this time in Oregon, Native women and first generation Asian female immigrants were not naturalized citizens and therefore could not vote), it would take several more years and a concerted effort for a national equal suffrage amendment to come to fruition.
Coalition building and unrelenting hard work eventually led to the United States Congress passing the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919. However, in order to place the amendment into the Constitution 36 state legislatures had to ratify the amendment. On August 26, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment thereby securing equal voting rights for eligible women. Despite the 19th amendment maintaining “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,” barriers stood between women of color and the ballot box. Voter discrimination at the federal and state level prevented Native, Asian, and African American women from voting in elections for decades. It wouldn’t be until the passage of The Voting Rights Act of 1965 — some 45 years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment — that states were forbidden from imposing discriminatory polling laws. With this in mind, as we recognize the importance of the 19th amendment throughout 2020, it is equally important that we understand its limitations.
Opportunities abound to immerse yourself in the suffrage centennial year. There are a plethora of state and local exhibits you can explore online or in person. In Salem, the Oregon State Archives has the Woman Suffrage Centennial Web Exhibit where you can explore memorabilia and documents that relate to the woman suffrage movement in Oregon. The Hatfield Library also has resources relating to the suffrage movement, including the HBO movie Iron Jawed Angels as well as numerous print resources. Additionally, Willamette’s Archives & Special Collections is home to a Suffrage Era Scrapbook that has been digitized.
Whether you choose to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment with an exhibit, movie, or book, we encourage you to remember the women leaders who lobbied, marched, and protested for the right — before and after 1920 — to enter the voting booth.
Aljazeera. n.d. “Who got the right to vote when? A history of voting rights in America.” Accessed on January 8, 2020. https://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/2016/us-elections-2016-who-can-vote/index.html
Graham, Sara Hunter. 1996. Woman Suffrage and the New Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Series: Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 1789 – 2013, Record Group 11: General Records of the United States Government, 1778 – 2006, U.S. National Archives. Accessed January 8, 2020. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/596314
Oregon Secretary of State.n.d. “Origins of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Oregon.” Accessed January 6, 2020. https://sos.oregon.gov/blue-book/Pages/explore/exhibits/woman-intro.aspx.
Sneider, Allison L. 2006. Suffragists in an Imperial Age: U.S. Expansion and the Woman Question, 1870-1929. New York: Oxford University Press.
The Oregon Encyclopedia. 2019. “Woman Suffrage in Oregon (essay).” Last updated July 10, 2019. Accessed January 6, 2020. https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/woman_suffrage_in_oregon/#.XhTWUxdKii4.
Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill. 1995. “A Short History of the Woman Suffrage Movement in America.” In One Woman, One Vote, edited by Marjorie Pruill Wheeler, 9-20. Troutdale, Oregon: NewSage Press.