Dozens of Democratic congresswomen wore white to last night’s State of the Union address in honor of the American suffragette movement and the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The symbolic move references the white outfits 20th-century suffragists often wore to represent purity and nonviolence as they fought for women’s right to vote.
The Democratic Women’s Caucus announced the decision to wear white at a press conference ahead of the address. The move was intended as a demonstration of unity and support for women’s rights, reproductive freedom, and equality for all disenfranchised groups. Congresswomen also wore white to last year’s State of the Union, a statement organized by the House Democratic Women’s Working Group.
Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) called the white outfits a “sign of women empowerment and unity,” and said “It is important for everyone, including the president, to understand that we play an important role here in the Congress and elsewhere.”
2020 marks a century since the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which forbids abridging the right to vote due to sex. However, women of color did not gain equal voting rights until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
Many congresswomen also wore “ERA YES” pins provided by the Feminist Majority and ERA Coalition in support of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA would mandate equal legal rights regardless of sex, formally embedding gender equality in the Constitution.
Last month, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA, making it the crucial final vote of approval needed to add the amendment to the Constitution. In January, three state attorneys general filed a lawsuit to add the ERA to the Constitution, arguing that the ratification deadline is arbitrary and not required by the Constitution. Next week, the House of Representatives will vote on whether to rescind the deadline.
Sources: Time 2/5/20; CNN 2/4/20; The Hill 2/4/20