“The most common way people give up power is by thinking they don’t have any” –Alice Walker
Women’s Equality Day celebrates the day all women were granted the right to vote. Tuesday, November 2, 1920 was the first time, after almost 100 years of fighting that, “millions of American women exercised their right to vote.” The Women’s Suffrage Movement legitimized a women’s right to vote in 1848, with its key mission to officially enfranchise all American women. Very few states across the country gave minimal voting access to women, but in light of the slight progress, their dedication did not waver. After many speeches, parades, and signed petitions, the 19th Amendment was signed into the constitution, and our government acknowledged for the first time that women, like men, deserved access to the same rights and responsibilities as citizens.
Although the 19th Amendment stated, “the rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” that right was not extended to people of color. There were many barriers put in place on a state level to prevent African Americans from voting, especially African American women. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and other restrictions were used to block access to voting. When those tactics didn’t work, they were threatened with violence. Many African Americans fought and died over the span of 40 years to win the right to vote freely without barriers or repercussions. In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson signed into effect the Voting Rights Act outlawing the “discriminatory voting practices” that excluded many people of color. This marked the moment when all women had unequivocal access to the voting booth.
Voting isn’t the only area where women have hard fought for their rights. In 1833,Oberlin College was the first college to admit women. During this time, a lot of courses were restricted for men, leaving women to take “The Ladies Courses,” which were geared toward motherhood. It wasn’t until the mid-1900s when women finally began to catch up with men in terms of higher education attainment. And now, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, women make up 57 percent of degrees awarded per year. A report released from the White House Council of Economic Advisers in 2014 indicated that women, “are increasingly becoming more educated and make up a larger portion of the country’s workforce, they consistently earn less than men, even when they have similar levels of education.” This report also indicated, “Women make up 56 percent of workers in the 20 lowest-paid jobs, and just 29 percent of those in the 20 highest-paid jobs.” So, there’s obviously still work left to do.
Women have made great strides in the fight to equality: “Today more women are educated, celebrated and making change. In Rio, U.S. women outpaced men, taking home more Olympic medals than their male counterparts – 61 to be exact. A women is even running for president.” Although Women’s Equality Day was originally founded to celebrate women’s succession into citizenship, the discussions that surround it are vast. People use this day to celebrate the huge victory the Women’s Suffrage Movement afforded women, but it is clear that there is still much more to be done to gain true equality. Today we fight for equal access in corporate America, #equalpay, and equal opportunity to contribute and advance in the workplace. Company policies that pay for maternity leave and encourage women to take on leadership roles create an accepting environment where women can flourish and want to stay in the workplace. Here’s to the women NOW, to the women BEFORE us, and to the women who will prevail AFTER us.
Hat tip to Katie Gragnaniello for her contributions to this post.