I remember the sense of envy that hit me four years ago when my AP Government teacher asked: “So, who can vote this year?” The three or four seniors in the class raised their hands, but I was only a sophomore and it struck me that I would be missing out on a historic opportunity.
This was the second time President Barack Obama was running, and I wanted the chance to vote to re-elect our nation’s first Black president. I had just turned 15 but in that moment, I wanted to be one of those voting seniors—and those four years to the next election seemed incredibly far away.
Well, a lot has changed in our world, but those four years have passed impossibly fast and I realize I have the opportunity to vote in another historic election—the first one where a woman is a candidate for a major party. (I’ll leave my opinions about Donald Trump to the side for now because I would rather focus on something more inspiring).
Today is the 96th anniversary of women’s suffrage, the day in 1920 that the 19th Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution. It’s jarring to realize that 96 years ago, I would not even have been allowed to vote—not because of my race or age, but because I am a woman.
This moment is so bittersweet. Sweet because finally women are being represented on a monumental scale, and bitter because it is galling that our society has just NOW gotten to the point where a woman can run for president.
Growing up in this day and age, it is easy to overlook our past and not even consider a time when certain people weren’t allowed to vote. It takes something historic, like the first woman nominee, to realize the right to vote has not always been a given.
Women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone fought for their right to be considered citizens under the 15th amendment, which gave Black men the right to vote: “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 race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
I see the word “citizens,” not “men,” but it was clearly understood that women were not considered citizens.
Suffragettes understood this imbalance and fought for their enfranchisement. They led the charge for women to be treated equally. They fought for decades to give women a right that men accepted as God-given.
Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, said:
To get the word male in effect out of the Constitution cost the women of the country fifty-two years of pauseless campaign…During that time they were forced to conduct fifty-six campaigns of referenda to male voters; 480 campaigns to get Legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters; 47 campaigns to get State constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into State constitutions; 277 campaigns to get State party conventions to include woman suffrage planks; 30 campaigns to get presidential party conventions to adopt woman suffrage planks in party platforms, and 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses.
Millions of dollars were raised, mainly in small sums, and expended with economic care. Hundreds of women gave the accumulated possibilities of an entire lifetime, thousands gave years of their lives, hundreds of thousands gave constant interest and such aid as they could.
The 19th Amendment, which had to be approved by Congress and 36 states, cleared its final hurdle when it was approved by Tennessee in August 1920: “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.”
It’s interesting to note that Mississippi didn’t ratify the 19th Amendment until 1984—about the time my mom voted in her first presidential election. It’s also depressing to realize that women didn’t really turn out to vote in the same numbers as men until 1980, so I hope we never start to take this precious right for granted.
Still, coming from fighting for our constitutional rights to having a woman run for president—well that’s something the suffragettes would be proud of.
I’m 19, finally getting to exercise my 19th Amendment right by voting for the first female nominee ever. I’d say this one is going down in the history books.