On 90th Anniversary, Honoring the Trailblazers for Women’s Suffrage
When Texans visit Washington, DC, and come to my Senate office, they often take a guided tour of the U.S. Capitol. Of all the historic treasures visitors see on the tour, one of my favorites is a statute that sits in the majestic Rotunda, beneath the vaulted Capitol Dome. Carved into a massive block of marble are the portrait busts of three great American heroines: Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The monument honors their tireless efforts - along with the work of so many other Americans - to extend to all women the right to vote.
It is hard for us to imagine it now, but less than 100 years ago, American women could not legally vote. As I documented in my book, Leading Ladies, the suffrage women enjoy today was the result of more than 70 years of struggle.
Some of the earliest pioneers of the women’s suffrage movement, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, first met at an international anti-slavery conference in 1840. They forged a friendship when the women were forced to sit behind a curtain in the balcony while the men conducted convention business down below. Mott and Stanton shared a desire for economic and political equality for women. Together, they conceived of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, which essentially jumpstarted the fight for women’s rights.
Susan B. Anthony, who was already active in the temperance movement, eventually became a suffragette because she realized that until women were able to own property and vote, they would not be able to wield real political influence. Anthony met Stanton shortly after the Seneca Falls Convention, and the two became lifelong partners and powerful leaders in the fight for women’s rights.
In many ways, Stanton was the voice for all women’s struggle for suffrage. She wrote and spoke eloquently and prolifically, producing many of the philosophical works that underpinned the movement. Anthony’s persistence was largely responsible for the introduction of a women’s suffrage amendment in Congress for the first time in 1878, and then again every other year until it finally passed forty-one years later.
On January 9, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson announced his support for a constitutional amendment to grant women the right to vote. Finally, on May 21, 1919, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the amendment, and the Senate followed suit on June 4. On August 26, 1920, U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and women in America finally won the right to vote.
Sadly, none of the women who began the struggle for women’s suffrage lived long enough to applaud the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. They never realized their own dreams to vote. But on November 2, 1920, many other women did, and they cast their very first ballots in that year’s presidential election. And because of the efforts of Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and all the suffragettes, generations of women have been emboldened and empowered to set even loftier goals-and to achieve them.
On November 2, 2010 - exactly 90 years after women voted legally for the first time - women from across our nation will cast their ballots in this year’s elections. And there are scores of women candidates who are running for Congress, the Senate, and governor. Many of them will be elected to join ranks with the 17 women currently serving in the U.S. Senate or the 74 women in the U.S. House of Representatives. As the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas, I am proud to see other women following the trail and achieving goals that seemed impossibly out of reach less than a century ago.
Today, American women are working to shape our government and society in new and significant ways. As we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, I am grateful to the American heroines who fought for suffrage and helped expand women’s rights and opportunities.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas and is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.