Congress’ Prohibition on Women Voting

January 12, 2019

On this day 104 years ago, the House of Representatives voted against giving women the right to vote. The January 12 tally wasn’t very close—174 voting to end the voting prohibition, 204 voting to uphold it—but change would soon arrive. 

Women had been fighting for decades to get the right to vote, with Susan B. Anthony going to jail for attempting to vote in 1872, and a group of women known as the Silent Sentinels protested in front of the White House nearly every day between 1917 and 1919. During the first year of protests, the police arrested hundreds of women, many of whom went on hunger strikes and had to be force fed in prison. On November 14 of that year, 33 women were sent back to prison for protesting for their right to vote, and the prison guards greeted them with brutal beatings and torture that historians called The Night of Terror. One of the woman was 73 years old. Many of the women were beaten unconscious. 

The protests stopped in 1919 when Congress voted in favor of an amendment to end the prohibition on women voting, but now the states had to ratify what would become the 19th Amendment. Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan became the first three states to ratify it on June 10, 1919, but 36 states were needed. More states slowly came on board, and Tennessee became the 36th state on August 18, 1920. Eventually all 48 states (Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states at the time) ratified the 19th Amendment, with the final seven states being Alabama (1953), Florida and South Carolina (1969), Georgia and Louisiana (1970), North Carolina (1971) and Mississippi (1984). 

“To get the word male in effect out of the Constitution cost the women of the country 52 years of pauseless campaign,” wrote Carrie Chapman Catt of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. “During that time they were forced to conduct 56 campaigns of referenda to male voters; 480 campaigns to get Legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters; 47 campaigns to get State constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into State constitutions; 277 campaigns to get State party conventions to include woman suffrage planks; 30 campaigns to get presidential party conventions to adopt woman suffrage planks in party platforms, and 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses…. Hundreds of women gave the accumulated possibilities of an entire lifetime, thousands gave years of their lives, hundreds of thousands gave constant interest and such aid as they could. It was a continuous, seemingly endless, chain of activity. Young suffragists who helped forge the last links of that chain were not born when it began. Old suffragists who forged the first links were dead when it ended.”

The older generation is often stuck in outdated traditions that make positive change more difficult to enact, yet people like the Silent Sentinels fought for the rights of all women. Still, the fight continues to expand the rights of all people so they are not discriminated against based on gender, class, race or sexual preference. The fight also continues to end cannabis prohibition, which Congress continues to resist in defiance of what the public wants. Just like the women who fought for more than half a century to get the right to vote, young people should continue to fight to make cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs a thing of the past. 

Street art by Herr Nilsson.

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