On this day in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, effectively granting women the vote. The original Constitution had given the individual states the power to set the qualifications for suffrage. This power was limited by the Fifteenth Amendment, which stipulated that “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 race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Women’s rights activists, especially Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who drafted a Constitutional amendment granting women suffrage, had seen it as a logical corollary to suffrage for freed slaves, but had failed to get sufficient Congressional support.
Beginning in 1910, a succession of western states began to grant women full suffrage. This movement accelerated with the rise of the Progressive Party in 1912. The Progressive Party Platform pledged to push for women’s suffrage:
The Progressive party, believing that no people can justly claim to be a true democracy which denies political rights on account of sex, pledges itself to the task of securing equal suffrage to men and women alike.
Although the newly formed third party and its candidate, Theodore Roosevelt, lost the presidential election in 1912, the Democrat who took office—Woodrow Wilson—was persuaded by 1918 to back the cause. Many people credit Carrie Chapman Catt, then head of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), with winning key political support when her organization publicly backed US entrance into World War I. NAWSA’s move reassured many who had feared women’s political attitudes would change the nation’s politics. Wilson responded with a tribute to women’s support of the war effort in his 1918 State of the Union message:
And what shall we say of the women,—of their instant intelligence,
quickening every task that they touched; their capacity for organization
and cooperation, which gave their action discipline and enhanced the
effectiveness of everything they attempted; their aptitude at tasks to
which they had never before set their hands; their utter self—sacrifice
alike in what they did and in what they gave? Their contribution to the
great result is beyond appraisal. They have added a new lustre to the
annals of American womanhood.
The least tribute we can pay them is to make them the equals of men in
political rights as they have proved themselves their equals in every field
of practical work they have entered, whether for themselves or for their
Wanting to settle the suffrage issue before it could become a point of contention in the elections of 1920, Wilson pushed Congress to act. In 1919 the necessary two-thirds majority in both houses had been achieved, making it possible to submit the amendment to the states for ratification. The three-quarters majority of ratifying states was achieved when Tennessee voted to approve the amendment on August 18, 1920.