In 1920, Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, finally granting women the right to vote. The success was achieved a full 42 years after the amendment was introduced into Congress, and 72 years after the suffrage movement officially launched in Seneca Falls, New York.
The fight for suffrage, the fight for full citizenship and equality in law and practice, is an ongoing history of fragile alliances and schisms. The struggle for equality is a complex and painful project, and though much progress has been made over the last century, it is a project that is not even close to complete.
After the 15th and 19th amendments were passed into law, barriers such as voting taxes and “literacy tests” were used to prevent Black people from voting, an effort reinforced through violence. Some states prohibited Native Americans from voting until 1957. In 1925, Congress banned Filipinos from U.S. citizenship unless they have served three years in the Navy.
In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law to correct “a clear and simple wrong” by eliminating tactics such as literacy tests and installing supervision of states with a history of strategically disenfranchising Black voters.
Progress does not march a straight line.
In 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act, effectively removing federal oversight of problematic states and districts. Immediately, some of these states proposed changes to voting procedures such as voter identification laws.
Despite scant evidence of voter fraud in Pennsylvania, lawmakers here passed a voter identification law in 2012. The law was subsequently struck down by a state judge who “ruled that the law hampered the ability of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians to cast their ballots, with the burden falling most heavily on elderly, disabled and low-income residents, and that the state’s reason for the law — that it was needed to combat voter fraud — was not supported by the facts.”
And so the project continues.
In Pennsylvania, coalition of organizations are working to reform and improve elections called Keystone Votes. They advocated for four types of reform to make it easier to vote in Pennsylvania, which has notoriously outdated voting procedures. When more people are able to vote, our policies will start better reflecting the realities of our citizens. It is perhaps not a coincidence that Pennsylvania, behind the times when it comes to running elections, is also failing to support modern American families.
For example, a new state-by-state analysis of laws that support expecting and new parents conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families gave Pennsylvania a D minus. The grade is disappointing, but hardly surprising, given the lack of political will to pass the Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act, or protect pregnant workers from discrimination, or fix Pennsylvania’s broken equal pay law.
Ninety-six years after the 19th amendment was passed, women still do not enjoy equality with men. Our reproductive rights are under attack. We are paid less than men for comparable work. Violence against us goes unpunished all too often. All women are not treated equally, either. Pay inequity is stratified by race. Women of color are disproportionately affected by attacks on reproductive healthcare. Black women face police brutality and Black schoolgirls are disproportionately punished in school.
In Pennsylvania, only 18% of our General Assembly are women. Only seven of 253 lawmakers are Black women.
We will celebrate Women’s Equality Day by continuing to work for it, and we thank you for your support. Please vote.
The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.