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 on August 18th 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, whose job it was to sign the Proclamation and declare the 19th Amendment to be part of the United States Constitution.
The signing of the proclamation took place without any ceremony of any kind, and its issuance was unaccompanied by the taking of movies or other pictures, despite the fact that the National Woman’s Party and the National American Woman Suffrage Association had both been anxious to be present and to have the historic event recorded. After the tumultuous fight for ratification in the Tennessee statehouse Colby probably wanted to avoid any further obstructions or disturbances. He was later gracious in his congratulations of the suffragists’ “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 played a significant role in getting 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.”
Happy Women’s Equality Day!