It’s still a thrill, 32 years after I first registered to vote in the presidential election between encumbent Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. (Yeah, I know, I’m old).
I’ve voted in nearly every election since then – not just the presidential ones – in the three different states in which I’ve lived. Whether it was a close race for a high-stakes office, or Congressional/Senatorial/ state legislative offices, or local bread-and-butter bond referenda, or school board members…it doesn’t matter. It’s the same feeling. I look around at the folks in line with me, all of us fulfilling our civic responsibility, and I feel proud. Proud of us, proud of my country. I also feel blessed, because I’m a woman, and it wasn’t always this way.
Until 1920, my great-grandmother, and the women before her, had no say in who our elected officials would be. These officials were men responsible for the laws, policies, and fiscal stability of our country; they could declare war and make treaties, all without having to answer to half the population they served.
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, extending the franchise to women, was passed on August 26, 1920. In some states, women already had had the right to vote in their local elections, but it was a hotly debated issue. It took many decades and a lot of committed people to make this happen. Both men and women.
The image at right is too tiny to see the actual words, so here’s the key sentence:
The right 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.
You know something interesting about the passage of the 19th Amendment? It came down to one man. Once the Amendment passed the House and Senate, the states then had to ratify it. Thirty-six states were needed in order for the amendment to be ratified. So thirty-five states passed it, and only one more was needed. Everybody with a stake in the amendment, whether pro or con, flocked to Nashville, Tennessee. And it wasn’t for the Grand Ole Opry.
Harry Burn, 24 years old and a Tennessee state legislator, had voted against women’s suffrage in the past. His mother urged him this time, however, to vote for women’s voting rights. The vote in the Tennessee legislature was almost dead even. When Mr. Burn saw that voting against the amendment would tie the vote 48 to 48, he cast his ballot for the amendment. (Another version of the story says he broke the 48 to 48 tie, so I’m not exactly sure which it is).
There was a little legislative arm-twisting and procedural delays attempted by the anti-suffrage folks right after that, but within a week, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify to 19th Amendment, granting American women the right to vote. Aren’t you glad Mr. Burn listened to his mother?
Thank you for voting today! If you aren’t from the United States, or aren’t eligible to vote here, I still want to thank you for your support of our elective process. It’s by no means perfect, and we’ll all be glad when this one is over, but it’s a right that we all cherish.
Until next time,