When most people think of women’s suffrage or the 19th Amendment, they can associate the name Susan B. Anthony with the concept but know little else about the idea or the long and intense struggle that encompassed this dramatic shift in the role of females. Before researching for this blog post, I admit I am guilty as well; but, after reading a great deal of material on the subject, I am bothered by the fact that many of these women are not better-known or more greatly revered.

The story of the fight for equal gender rights begins with the birth of our country. As her husband took part in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, the future First Lady of the United States Abigail Adams boldly wrote what is now known as the “Remember the Ladies” letter. As a woman who was passionate about politics she implored John Adams to “Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” With her forward thinking and her witty sense of humor Abigail had an agenda separate from her husband. Know for being opinionated, she wanted to illustrate that take part in public affairs, she declared the evils of slavery, she believed in the importance of educating women, and she spoke out against laws which prevented women from owning property. She went against the grain of societal norms and is considered to have been instrumental in shaping the course of the presidency of John Adams.

In the early 19th century, the women’s rights movement made little progress; however, some women began to speak out about abolition. Through their involvement in this political debate and the hand full of public speaking engagements, women began to create a voice for themselves. It was through this fight for racial rights that the fight for women’s rights began to take shape. In 1840, at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, two women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, were refused seats because of their sex. At the convention, the frustrated women met and began an important friendship. During their time in London, the women discussed a convention for issues concerning women. Eight years later on July 13, 1848, the women were having tea with Lucretia’s friends Martha Wright, Mary Ann McClintock, and Jane Hunt. Their conversation drifted to the discontent they felt with restrictive roles and rights of females. That day the women planned the Seneca Falls Convention which was the first public gathering of people to discuss relevant women’s issues. Stanton was chosen to draft the Declaration of Sentiments, which was fashioned after the Declaration of Independence and is considered the ” basis for attaining the civil, social, political, and religious rights of women.” At the convention,100 of the 300 attendees signed the declaration. Word spread quickly about these women and their ideas. Newspapers published mixed opinions about the convention and the ideas it promoted. Even politicians began to comment on the cause. Although it was not always flattering, the voice was growing.

In 1851, through a mutual friend Stanton was introduced to the politically outspoken women’s rights supporter and secretary of the Daughters of Temperance, Susan B. Anthony. The women quickly formed one of the most important and enduring friendships in the course of women’s history. Together the women traveled the country giving speeches and political rallies in the name of gender equality. In 1869, the women formed the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. Stanton served as president and Anthony as vice president. On November 18, 1872, Anthony was arrested  for casting a vote in the 1872 presidential election. The case was tried by the US Supreme Court during which Anthony argued that the language of the recently passed Fourteenth Amendment allowed “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” the right to citizenship therefore the right to vote in federal elections. She was also denied the right to testify on her own behalf and subsequently received the punishment of a $100 fine which she never paid and the government never attempted to collect.

After working with suffragists and politicians throughout the country, the women convinced United States Congressman  Aaron A. Sargent to introduce a bill into Congress giving women the right to vote. In January of 1878, it was introduced and rejected. The bill was revised and reintroduced numerous times throughout the next four decades, and the women’s movement became stronger.  Stanton died on October 26, 1902 and Anthony died on March 13, 1906. Neither woman lived to see the 19th Amendment passes. Forty-one years after the original drafting, on August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, ending the fight for voting rights but was only a small step in the fight for gender equality.

In 1971, Bella Azbug, a women’s activist and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, introduced legislation for Women’s Equality Day in Congress. A joint resolution was subsequently passed. Since then, every President has published a proclamation making this date a declared public observance. Although the passage of the 19th Amendment was a major victory for women, the purpose of this holiday is not only to remember this struggle but also to inspire women to forge ahead as they continue to persevere in the name of gender equality.

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