I was reminded of this fact by a posting that today (June 4) 1919 the US Senate passed the Women’s Suffrage bill. Full ratification happened a little over a year later when the 36th state, Tennessee, ratified the amendment. The suffrage movement started in 1848, led to decisive legislative change in 1920 and in 2012 we have more than 50% of the vote being cast by women.
I find it revealing to look back at the arguments made against women’s suffrage. The liquor industry campaigned against suffrage on fears that women would favor temperance. The manufacturing industry feared women would put into place expensive workplace safety restrictions. Women consistently support the health and well-being of their societies. It’s interesting to note that Californian women took the early lead in the suffrage fight then helped mobilize the rest of the country. In the end, it was the participation of women in the World War I effort that tipped the scales of public opinion in favor.
But the truth is that societal change takes time. Women are more than 50% of voters and college graduates but still lag in economic participation. Similarly we have a African-American president but blacks still face tremendous bias. The lesson to me is that we are now in the details. And the detail work can be hard and frustrating. Further progress will not be a single dramatic act like suffrage or the civil rights act but education and clever tactics to combat insidious biases and eliminate the other cultural barriers.
I remember reading the biographies of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony as a schoolgirl. I find them even more inspiring now from an adult perspective – a great energizer for the work ahead of us.