A Century of Liberty - Women's Long Struggle to Vote in the United States

By Jennifer Allen

“Never underestimate the power we women have to define our own destinies." ~ Emeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) in Suffragette

August 26 is Women's Equality Day. This date is special because 100 years ago, in 1920, the 19th amendment was added to the US Constitution, which gave women the right to vote in the United States.

I'll admit that as a young kid, I had no idea that women could not vote before this. I always remember going with my mother to the voting booth and sitting outside as she pulled the curtain closed and ticked those little tabs to pick her favorite political candidates on the ballot. She'd never say (even to my dad) who she picked either. Mom was always very proud of her choices like it was one of the few things she had complete control over, and she was never in the mood to brag about it either. I still respect her for it, and still have no idea to this day who she voted for in each presidential election before 1988.

It's kind of embarrassing, but my realization of women's suffrage comes from an unlikely place: the Disney film adaptation of Mary Poppins. A subplot in the film shows the matriarch of the Banks family, Winifred, spending a lot of time involved with the “Votes for Women" campaign in London which was in full swing in 1910 when the movie takes place. I remember my 4 year-old self being completely confused at the concept and having to ask my mom about it afterwards. She described to me the Cliff Notes version of it, or at least enough of a description for my young brain to figure out.

This was also probably one of my first true turning points when I realized what Feminism truly was. You have to understand that I was raised by a mother who was a homemaker; a woman who never finished college and felt she wasn't skilled (or pretty) enough to re-enter the workforce. This was the same woman who had an IQ of 154, encouraged me to love comic books and games, and told me every time she could that I could be anything I wanted as long as I worked hard at achieving it. She was a walking contradiction in a sense, but I can also see where she was coming from.

Once I hit college I did take a few Women's Studies classes including a course on Women in Modern US History. It's here that I was introduced to a more thorough understanding of Women's Suffrage as a whole. What struck me as odd was that the first documented instance of women being able to vote in America was actually not in 1920 but in 1869 in Wyoming before it became a state. The first Indigenous nation to give women voting rights was the Iroquois as far back as the 17th century. The first woman in colonial America to be able to legally vote was Lydia Taft in 1756. Hawaiian women could vote as of 1840 due to a loophole in the Kingdom's Constitution at the time.

Suffice it to say, many seeds were already in place for Women's Suffrage in the United States to flourish. While the first name many think of is Susan B. Anthony in terms of Women's Suffrage, there have been many other advocates who have made their mark in history to make this possible. Notable pioneers for Women's Suffrage in their respected countries include Marie Stritt, Catherine Helen Spence, Gina Krog, Emmeline Pankhurst, Emily Davison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Jane Brigode. All of them have helped shape the world in a way that helped make women's rights just a little bit brighter.

“I should like to see the time come when women shall help to make the laws. I should like to see that whiplash, the ballot, in the hands of women." ~ Mark Twain

Here in America, it's become so easy to take this simple right for granted since it has been 100 years. It seems so commonplace now and easy to forget. All of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh granted women the right to vote in 1947 after Independence (though the Sikhs had already granted this right as early as 1925). Even that seems like a distant memory… and yet we just recently witnessed Saudi Arabia finally give this right to women in 2015. This realization is a hefty reminder that we as American women who have now had this choice since 1920 should not take it for granted.

The best way to truly celebrate what freedom we have is to walk up to your voting office in November and exercise that right which was given to use so long ago. Perhaps you will even feel the sensation my mother would feel each time she pulled back that heavy curtain after placing her own votes all those years ago.

Be proud. Be strong. Remember that each of you can make a difference thanks to all of the hard working women before us who made this possible.

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Jennifer Allen works at Saathee and is also a Podcaster, Blogger, Photographer, Graphic Artist, Gamer, Martial Arts Practitioner, and all around Pop Culture Geek.