Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted many women the right to vote. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 35th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, and events across the country are being held remotely this month to celebrate.
However, while the 19th Amendment is often praised as granting women the right to vote, in reality, it only guaranteed this right for white women. Women of color were, and continue to be, systematically excluded from voting, even though many were integral to the 19th Amendment’s passage. Black women were marginalized in many feminist organizations due to these organizations’ desire to appeal to white southern women. After the 19th Amendment’s passage, Black women were systematically disenfranchised through policies such as poll taxes, deliberately difficult literacy tests, and grandfather clauses which required the grandfather of voters to have been eligible to vote in order for them to be able to do so. As the grandfathers of many Black women at the time were slaves, these women were rendered unable to vote. These practices persisted until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which enacted protections for voters of color. However, the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder stripped away many of these protections, thereby allowing states to implement measures such as Voter ID Laws which systematically disenfranchise people of color. These laws also harm transgender and non-binary people, many of whom face difficulty obtaining an ID that matches their name and gender identity.
Native American women were also not guaranteed the right to vote under the 19th Amendment, as they were not citizens at the time of its passage. Once these women became citizens in 1924, they faced many of the barriers that Black women faced when trying to vote. Latinas had to overcome these same barriers and an additional language barrier, as until 1975 voter registration materials were not required to be translated. Laws such as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and its extensions also systematically disenfranchised Asian women, barring them from obtaining citizenship. Women of color continue to face discrimination today due to language barriers, voter ID laws, and the pay gap which forces women to work longer hours –“leaving little time to vote” according to Maria Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino.
In celebration of the centennial, President Trump pardoned Susan B. Anthony, a major activist in the women’s suffrage movement who illegally registered and voted in New York in 1872. Anthony was arrested, found guilty, and fined $100 – which she refused to pay. Anti-abortion activists, who despite little evidence claim Anthony would have supported them, applauded Trump’s decision. However, historians have questioned whether Anthony would have wanted the pardon. “When you’re asking for a pardon, you’re saying I did something wrong,” stated Ann Gordon, a former professor who has edited a collection of Anthony’s papers. “She certainly knew how to get one [a pardon]. But she doesn’t think she did anything wrong and she firmly believes that all US citizens have the right to vote.”
Sources: Forbes 8/18/20; 2020 Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative; Vox 8/18/20; Fortune 8/18/20; USA Today 8/10/20; The Dallas Morning News 5/23/17; CNN 8/18/20