The problem with a year of celebrating the 19th AmendmentRoundup
tags: suffrage, womens history, 19th Amendment
Andrew Joseph Pegoda teaches women’s, gender and sexuality studies; religious studies; and first-year writing at the University of Houston.
The centennial of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has arrived, and people are preparing to celebrate this milestone granting women the right to vote. But we should also reflect on how our entire conception of women’s rights in America, centered around such seminal moments, is deeply skewed. And skewed in a way that makes achieving meaningful equality and voting rights in 2020 more difficult. Rather than pivotal moments, we need to understand the struggle for women’s rights as a centuries-long battle of slow gains (and occasional losses), driven by activism at all levels of society.
Typically, Americans understand feminism in the United States as having come in waves: First-wave feminism began in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention and with women’s efforts to end enslavement, and ended in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Second-wave feminism started in the 1960s with the motto “the personal is political” and ended in the 1970s. During this time, women fought to enter the workplace and demanded respect and visibility, while fighting for birth control and abortion rights. Third- and fourth-wave feminism started in the 1990s and have been less organized but continued the focus on women’s rights, often with attention to issues of class and race.
But this approach obscures far more than it explains. Nowhere is this clearer than in understanding the 19th Amendment and women’s suffrage. Most Americans believe that women did not have any voting rights in the United States until 1920. But this is not true. Instead, women’s voting status varied from state to state from the Colonial period to 1920 and even afterward.
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