Ninety years ago, the United States was a different place. There were 107,000,000 people living here; life expectancy was 54 for men, and 55 for women; the average annual salary was $1,236, and gangland crime was rampant in major cities. The Ford automobile was mass produced and one could be had for $290 — although it took 13 days to reach California from New York due to the lack of paved roads. And, on Aug. 26, 1920, women were granted political power for the first time. After 72 years of a determined battle fought by American suffragists, women won the right to vote with the 19th amendment.
“Women have come a long way,” said Rachel Krinsky of the League of Women Voters, “they fought hard for their right to vote, and today, they fight for places in office.” The League of Women Voters was formed immediately after the passage of the 19th amendment by those who fought for suffrage.
Women had waged a long and tireless battle. Although the United States Constitution never mentioned whether women could or could not vote, society determined they could not. “The Woman’s Rights movement grew out of the abolitionist and temperance movements,” said Krinsky.
In 1848, women suffragists, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, met in Seneca Falls, NY to discuss women’s rights. That convention was the first of many, said Krinsky. Women hoped that the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery would help their cause. “The suffragists had great hopes that the passage of the 14th and 15th amendments would give the vote to women as well,” said Krinsky. However, she said, women were left disappointed when the 14th amendment, passed in 1868, granted former slaves their rights — with the right to vote being granted specifically to African American males.
As the 20th century approached, the role of women changed drastically. They were working more, and getting an education. By the time America entered World War I, their aid in the war effort brought their cause to the forefront.
“Marches, parades and protests took place all over the country,” said Krinsky, “[it was] their arrests and brutal treatment in jail [which] drew sympathy from the general public.”
The 19th amendment entered the Senate in 1918. The wording was the same as had been submitted by Susan B. Anthony beginning in 1875. In June of 1919, it was approved by the Senate and sent to the states for ratification. A two-thirds majority was required and achieved in 1920.
In the past 90 years, women have made rapid progress. They have advanced further, holding various positions of power as well as running for office.
“Many tend to forget that women’s suffrage was the first successful non-violent protest movement in America,” said Rockville Centre Mayor Mary Bossart. “Success, and all the changes it brought, was not an all-at-one-time event. But it has been quite rapid.”
Bossart said that she has always had encouragement from her family, whether it was attending law school at night or running for public office.
“Finding the balance between family life and active commitment to the community is not always easy, but it is possible,” Bossart said. The barriers today, are few, she added, and therefore the responsibility is great. “We all have the responsibility to use our talents to care for ourselves, our families and our communities.”
“There are still obstacles to overcome though,” said Malverne Mayor Patricia McDonald, “we have a lot farther to go.” McDonald said she hopes to see more women represented in the assembly and in the Senate.
“Women have a lot to offer in many different ways, and I feel very privileged to be where I am today,” she said. “I give thanks to those women that persevered 90 years ago to push for this and to give us not only the right to vote, but also to be involved in government.”
“Women have broken through the glass ceiling and have realized impressive achievements in diverse and important areas,” said Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray. “Young women are destined to build upon these historical triumphs, taking hold of the future in their own hands, crafting an even brighter and broader legacy for future generations.”