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WITT: Thanks to women who paved the way to a better future

Today marks the 100th anniversary of women securing the right to vote in this country.

Aug. 18, 1920, was the date on which Tennessee, the last state required to pass a Constitutional Amendment, voted in favor of the 19th Amendment.

At that time, passage required a yes vote from 36 of the 48 states.

Tennessee passed the amendment by one vote.

To be perfectly clear, their right to vote was not “given” to them. Women all across the U.S. worked and fought tirelessly to secure a right that should have been theirs from the very beginning.

Those women, spread across the breadth of the country, formed organizations and numbered in the millions.

They collected signatures on petitions to Congress and the president in the hundreds of thousands, from both men and women who believed that the time was long past for women to be able to exercise a basic Constitutional right that had long ago been granted to men, including to men who had once been enslaved.

The 15th Amendment granting voting rights to “citizens” regardless of “race, color or previous condition of servitude” was ratified 50 years before women were specifically included amongst those allowed to vote in national elections.

Perhaps the second greatest failure of the founding fathers was the failure to enfranchise women, their first failure being to allow slavery to continue.

That second failure rested primarily with a Democrat Congress and a Democrat president, both of whom resisted this call to equality for nearly the full eight years that Wilson held office, even though attempts to gain suffrage for women had been ongoing since before the Civil War.

Suffrage issues were taken up again after that war when Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Women Suffrage Association.

As the 20th century dawned, woman suffrage groups blossomed with more being formed and activities intensified.

It is somewhat ironic that the U.S., viewed as one of the most progressive countries in the world, was very late in recognizing this basic right for women.

At least 11 countries preceded the U.S. in recognizing this right, starting with New Zealand in 1893 and then Australia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Austria, Germany, Poland, Russia and the Netherlands.

Even in this country, several states granted women suffrage before it became a national law, beginning with Wyoming in 1869 (before it was even a state) and followed by Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, California, Kansas, Oregon, Arizona and Illinois, and several additional states permitted women to vote, but only in local elections.

Kentucky had a checkered history regarding women voting.

In 1837, women were allowed to vote in school elections only. In 1902, this right was repealed and then re-instated in 1912.

1920 was a rather momentous year in America because not only was the 19th Amendment ratified, the ACLU was formed, co-founded by Helen Keller, and the latest Sedition Act was repealed.

The Sedition act, enacted during the period that the U.S. was at war, was a particularly scurrilous act because people were imprisoned for simply speaking out against our involvement in the war.

Though the women of the early 20th century fought valiantly for rights, the road has not been cleared entirely. Their efforts and sacrifices should be recognized.

Today, women compose 50.8 percent of the American population yet comprise only 23.2 percent of the House of Representatives and 26 percent of the U.S. Senate.The times they are a-changin’, though ever so slowly.

But special thanks to those women of that time who paved the way to a better future.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.