This week, we celebrated Women’s Equality Day which marked the 89th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, extending the right to vote to include women.
Suffragists worked—and worked hard—for over seven decades to fight for women’s voting rights. They picketed the White House, silently holding signs that read “Mr. President, how long will women wait for liberty?” and “We shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts–for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments,” a quote from a speech that Woodrow Wilson had given himself.
President Wilson ignored the picketers, who were assaulted, both physically and verbally, and were arrested by the police on minor charges. To advocate for their cause, the women went on hunger strikes and were subjected to sleep deprivation in jail. Some were given worm-infested bread to eat while imprisoned, or force fed through a tube if they were on a hunger strike. They endured brutal beatings by police officers until public opinion turned and the president finally came forward to support women’s suffrage.
Too often, the struggle for women’s voting rights is framed as something that was “given” to women or something that suffragists vaguely “fought” for, without an examination or acknowledgement of the bravery and courage these women had in facing such obstacles. Today, we say thank you to those women, who stood strong in the face of true adversity to help ensure that their daughters and granddaughters would live in a more equal world.
And we do live in a more equal world, but there is still work to be done. Fundamental rights are constantly under attack, like the right to control your reproductive life. Or the right not to be evicted, fired or harassed simply because you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Or the right to play sports and receive equal treatment and opportunity as your male peers. Or the right to be free from violence in your own home. Or the right to make the same wages as your male colleague who does the same work as you.
These rights will not just be “given” to us; we will have to continue working hard for many years, like our foremothers did, to win them. Will you help us?