Monday, March 27, 2017

The 19th Amendment

    The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
    Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. 

The struggle for women’s rights was, and is, a long one here in the United States, but that is true for most of the world as well.  The history behind the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, traces back to the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, widely recognized as the first woman’s rights convention in the country.  Organized by the Quakers and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, it featured Lucretia Mott as speaker.[i]  The purpose of the convention, spanning two days, was to provide attendees with a forum to discuss the issues of equality and woman’s rights, as well as provide the initial opportunity to meet like-minded others.

The product of this convention was a “Declaration of Sentiments” signed by about 1/3 of the convention attendees (88 women/12 men).[ii]  Following the lead of our founders it begins with lines similar to our nation’s Declaration of Independence.  “When in the course of human events…” and goes on, as in the original declaration, to list about 14 grievances against men.  These became the cornerstone of the suffragette movement, and the feminist movement that followed.

Many of these women, especially those of the Quaker society, also were deeply involved in the abolitionist movement fighting to end slavery as an institution, and saw in that movement the similarity to their own enslavement.  In fact, Fredrick Douglas was a central figure in this convention.

     Providing women with a voice in government was a step in allowing them to achieve parity, but does it achieve equality?  That seems to be the question before us, as a nation, today.  I am not sure with so many opinions that a clear and universally accepted understanding of what equality means is possible, but as we continue to wrestle with this issue, perhaps that will change.

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