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“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.”

19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Photo: National Women’s Party Protest, 1917

The California Civil Rights Law Group celebrates the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. Women’s Right to Vote was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919–and ratified on August 18, 1920.

A Victory for Civil Rights…but an Incomplete One

In 1900, Black suffragist Mary Church Terrell spoke eloquently of the current state of voting rights:

  “The elective franchise is withheld from one half of its citizens, many of whom are intelligent, cultured and virtuous, while it is unstintingly bestowed upon the other, some of whom are illiterate, debauched and vicious, because the word ‘people,’ by an unparalleled exhibition of lexicographical acrobatics, has been turned and twisted to mean all who were shrewd and wise enough to have themselves born boys instead of girls, or who took the trouble to be born white instead of black.”

The passage of the 19th Amendment was cause for celebration, but it did not guarantee any woman a vote. What it did was make it unconstitutional to reserve the ballot for men.

Many women still had to navigate a labyrinth of state laws that obstructed them from the polls; laws based upon age, citizenship, residency, and mental competency. In many parts of the country, legislation such as poll taxes and literacy tests designed to oppress Black men and women also prevented them from voting.

Community organizing led by Black women actively fought against these systemic barriers to exercise their right to vote. Immediately following the passage of the 19th Amendment, in St. Louis, Missouri, teacher-turned-organizer Fannie Williams set up a “suffrage school” at the city’s Black YWCA. Here, Black women taught one another how to pay poll taxes and pass literacy tests in order to register to vote. Newspapers reported that nearly every woman in the city, Black or White, registered.

It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the right to vote was secured for all people of color. However, people of color, especially Black Americans, still face widespread systemic voter suppression. Voter ID laws, the shuttering of certain polling places, and attacks on the ability to cast mail-in ballots continue to disproportionately disenfranchise communities of color.

The California Civil Rights Law Group celebrates the achievements of the Women’s Suffrage movement and stands with all those who fight against the voter suppression that continues to attack our democracy.

“Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.”

Susan B. Anthony