What is the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution?

Mary McMahon

The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution reads:

The U.S. Capitol Building.
The U.S. Capitol Building.

Prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment, women in the United States did not have the right to vote, and a number of avenues of opportunity were closed to them. Women could not be lawyers, for example, and many states had sexist laws on the books prohibiting employment in a variety of industries to women. Many women naturally chafed against this, believing it to be extremely unfair, and they lobbied hard for the passage of an Amendment which would secure their right to vote.

As president, Woodrow Wilson supported the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
As president, Woodrow Wilson supported the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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The roots of the suffragist movement can be traced to the middle of the 19th century, when women first began meeting to organize marches and lobbying efforts on behalf of women's rights. Women also started publishing pamphlets and books outlining the basic arguments of the women's rights movement, and they worked in communities across the United States, providing social services to women and supporting movements which contributed to the overall cause.

Women were given the right to vote by the 19th Amendment.
Women were given the right to vote by the 19th Amendment.

In 1918, the suffragist movement stumbled upon a brilliant idea: while women could not vote, they could influence the votes of others. A mass campaign was organized with the explicit purpose of asking voters to vote against anti-suffragist candidates, and it proved to be successful, seeding Congress with people who supported the movement. When President Woodrow Wilson put his support behind the idea, the stage was set, and in June 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, referring it to the Senate. By 1920, the 19th Amendment had been ratified by the 36 states needed to add an Article to the Constitution, and women had the right to vote.

For American women, the 19th Amendment was a huge victory which allowed women to engage directly in the political process. With full voting rights, women could vote as a block on legislation which impacted their lives, and they started to become a force of their own in the American political arena.

The US Constitution.
The US Constitution.

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Discussion Comments


@dfoster85 - If you think about it, though, they *weren't* totally wrong that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, along with all the other things you mention, would destroy the family. It just didn't do it the way they thought.

The divorce rate *did* shoot through the roof when women were less dependent on men. But guess what? Society survived. Change happened gradually, a bit here and a bit there, sometimes state by state and sometimes for the whole country, and people got used to it. It turns out that children are much better off when they and their mothers are not trapped in homes that may be abusive.

I think we may be seeing the same sort of gradual change happening with gay rights and particularly gay marriage. Some small local changes, some major ones (like Don't Ask, Don't Tell), steps forward and steps back. I'll be very interested to see where the nation is on the issue in another ten years or so.


What a lot of people don't realize is that even before the 19th amendment passed, women could vote in a lot of local and statewide elections. They could also run for office and they served in a lot of places as school board members and so forth.

It wasn't just that men didn't think women were capable of making good voting decisions. It was a little more complicated than that. I think people were afraid of women having their own independent existence at all; owning their own property, working outside the home, voting on their own. People thought it would destroy the family, and they were wrong!

I read recently that Saudi Arabia will allow women to vote in local elections beginning in 2015. Now that's something to look forward to! Of course, Saudi Arabia is a monarchy, so I guess the king doesn't have anything to fear.

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