Today, August 26th we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, the day the 19th Amendment granting all women in the United States the right to vote was finally made part of the US Constitution. The designation of August 26th as Women’s Equality Day was proposed in 1971 by Bella Abzug, representative from the 19th Congressional District in Manhattan. After seventy-two years of seemingly endless marches, petitions, speeches, and writings the 19th Amendment was finally ratified by the 36th state, which happened to be Tennessee. Thanks to a last minute change of heart by a young Representative, Harry Burn, the Amendment was ratified and sent by Governor Roberts of Tennessee to US Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby, (above right) whose task it was to sign the Proclamation and declare the 19th Amendment to be part of the United States Constitution.
The New York Times reported that Secretary Colby received the packet from the Governor of Tennessee stating that state had ratified the amendment, but refused to allow any suffrage leaders to witness the signing.
“The signing of the proclamation took place…without any ceremony of any kind, and the issuance of the proclamation was unaccompanied by the taking of movies or other pictures, despite the fact that the National Woman’s Party… of the general suffrage movement had been anxious to be represented by a delegation of women and to have the historic event filmed for …permanent record.”
Was Colby afraid that the differing factions of the movement would quarrel at the ceremony and make a scene? He was later gracious in his congratulations of “their efforts in the face of discouragement,” but when he was asked to recreate the ceremony in the presence of movie cameras he again refused, stating that “the proclamation of the ratification…was more important than feeding the movie cameras.”
And when a woman suffrage delegation led by Carrie Chapman Catt, President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, was received and congratulated by President and Mrs. Wilson later that day, Alice Paul and members of the National Woman’s Party were not invited, despite the fact that their valiant efforts had spurred the President to change his stance and advocate for their cause.
Still, there was much to celebrate. Carrie Chapman Catt proclaimed: “This is a glorious and wonderful day. Now that we have the vote let us remember we are no longer petitioners…but free and equal citizens. Let us do our part to keep it a true and triumphant democracy.”