19th Amendment turns 90

August 23, 2010
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The following post was written by IL reporter Rebecca Berfanger.

This week and last week mark two anniversaries of women’s rights in the United States in the form of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (finally) giving women the right to vote. The amendment was ratified by the 36th state on Aug. 18, 1920, and the ratification was certified Aug. 26, 1920. Indiana was the 26th state to ratify the amendment in January 1920.

Women had been asking for the right to vote since at least the drafting of the U.S. Constitution. Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, is often credited for trying to convince her husband to “remember the ladies” in 1776. But women, as well as non-property owners, slaves, and other classes of people, did not receive this right in the original draft of the U.S. Constitution.

In the mid 1800s, regular women’s rights meetings began to take place following the Seneca Falls Convention in New York in July 1848. That and subsequent meetings included discussion on the right to vote for women, even though another seven decades would pass before that right was made official.

While hopefully this isn’t new information to most of our readers, it may have gone unnoticed that to get a firsthand look at the women’s suffrage movement, one need not travel farther than downtown Indianapolis.

The President Benjamin Harrison Home at 1230 N. Delaware St., Indianapolis, has an ongoing exhibit, “Bustles to Ballots” , that, according to the website, “features a display of the First Ladies from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama and a collection of women's suffrage artifacts acquired though a generous gift from the Lacy Family and the Lacy Foundation honoring the memory of Edna Balz Lacy. The suffrage collection is from the Cecelia E. Harris Collection.”

While I have been meaning to make it over there as a way to pay my respects to the women who came before me to ensure rights and opportunities that I try not to take for granted, I was intrigued by this description of the Harrison family’s contribution to women’s rights:

“(President Harrison’s wife) Caroline Harrison refused to donate any money to Johns Hopkins Medical University until they admitted women. She wrote them a check when they did so in 1891 and helped a committee raise $100,000 for the school. (Harrison’s daughter-in-law) May Saunders Harrison sat on the committee for the Women’s Building at the Columbian Exhibition in 1893. The Harrison women came from a background and family setting in which they were encouraged to be well educated.”

I also didn’t realize that President Harrison was the first president to hire a woman in a role that was not as a domestic servant: Alice B. Sanger started as the White House stenographer in 1889. There was also a female candidate running against President Harrison for the presidency.

In addition to the exhibit, which is open when the museum is open, there will be an event presented by the Indiana Women’s History Association with support from the League of Women Voters-Indianapolis. That event is Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. and will take place at the Propylaeum, just north of the Harrison Home at 1410 N. Delaware St. Historic interpreters will perform the stories of three generations of Indiana suffragists. See their website for more details.

Are you doing anything to commemorate women’s suffrage?

  • Indiana State University's Women's Equality Day
    Thursday, Aug. 26 marks the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. The Women's Studies Program and Interdisciplinary Programs invites everyone to attend a celebration of this event on Thursday, beginning at 4 p.m. in the library's events area. This program and reception will also celebrate the 2010 Awardees of the Charlotte Zietlow Women Faculty Research Grant. Dr. Zietlow, recognizing the gender gap in tenure, determined to do something about it and created the endowment that funds grants to support pre-tenure women faculty. For more information about this grant (application process for the next round will be Spring 2011), please visit http://www.indstate.edu/wmnstudy/awards.htm.
    Following the reception, consider staying on for a showing of a powerful movie, Iron-Jawed Angels, 6:15 - 8 p.m. Please urge your students to attend this film. Starring Hilary Swank as Alice Paul and Angelica Houston as Carrie Chapman Catt, this 2004 film forcefully portrays how many women put their lives at risk to give women what is now often taken for granted: the right to vote. Students are also welcome to attend the Women's Equality Day/Zietlow function.

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