100th Anniversary of 19th Amendment

Women's Suffrage and the 19th Amendment
Posted on 08/18/2020

Photo by League of Women Voters, 1920 - http://edu.lva.virginia.gov/dbva/files/original/57260de85ec24fc10f971a60198a77bc.pdf, Public Domain


August 18, 2020 marks the 100th Anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the women’s right to vote.

The amendment reads:

"The right of 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."

In the early colonial days, if you owned property in America,  you had the right to vote. But most women didn’t own property or even have legal rights due to coverture laws.

According to Harvard Business Law Women and Law,  “During most of American history, women’s lives in most states were circumscribed by common law brought to North America by English colonists. These marriage and property laws, or "coverture," stipulated that a married woman did not have a separate legal existence from her husband. A married woman or feme covert was a dependent, like an underage child or a slave, and could not own property in her own name or control her own earnings, except under very specific circumstances.” Those circumstances might be a widow who inherited her husband’s property.

In 1756, Lydia Taft became the first woman to legally vote in the American Colonies, voting in a town meeting in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, following the untimely death of her husband. The vote was on whether the town should support the French and Indian War effort. 

It seems a single woman had more rights than a married woman since upon marriage a woman would become the property of her husband and lose all rights.

“An unmarried woman, a feme sole, had the right to own property and make contracts in her own name. Coverture arises from the legal fiction that a husband and wife are one person.”(Wikipedia)
Although it was uncommon for women to vote there have been early records of women voting in America.

In 1776, New Jersey was transitioning from a colony to a state and wrote into their new constitution a definition of who could vote.

“The new constitution defined eligible voters as “all inhabitants” over 21 years old who owned property worth £50 and had resided in their New Jersey county for at least 12 months. The language “all inhabitants” reflects a situation unique to New Jersey at the time: single women, both black and white, could vote, provided they satisfied the property requirement. While only five states’ early constitutions explicitly limited voting to men, New Jersey was the only state in which women actually voted (at least from 1776 to 1807, after which the first enfranchisement of women took place in what was then the Wyoming Territory in 1869).”

-Mental Floss Very Early Stories about American Women and Voting

Did you know?

“On October 15, 1872, St. Louis, MO, Registrar of Voters Reese Happersett stopped Missouri suffrage leader Virginia Minor from registering to vote. Minor sued Happersett and later appealed a Missouri Supreme Court ruling against her suit before the U.S. Supreme Court. On March 29, 1875, , the Court ruled that voting was not a privilege of citizenship. As a result, women's suffrage was not guaranteed until ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on August 18, 1920. “
- From the Census.gov/history Stats for Stories

The fight for women’s rights and suffrage began when Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were denied the right to participate in the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 because they were women even though they were delegates to the convention. They resolved to form an organization that would fight for women’s rights.

“In 1848, Mott and Stanton hosted the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women's rights convention in the United States. The convention published a Declaration of Sentiments based on the Declaration of Independence, that called for voting rights for women and other reforms.

Some key grievances included in the Declaration of Sentiments were:

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.

Source: https://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/elections/voting-rights-women.html

Leaders of the movement included Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone and Ida B. Wells among many more who fought for women’s suffrage.

If you haven't seen the movie Iron Jawed Angels it is a must see for anyone who wants to get fired up about women's suffering over suffrage. 

Defiant young activists take the women's suffrage movement by storm, putting their lives at risk to help American women win the right to vote. Director: Katja von Garnier


In 1848 a resolution was introduced proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would grant women the right to vote. But it took another forty years of protesting and agitating for women to finally be able to practice this unalienable right.  On August 18, 1920 the 19th Amendment was finally ratified.

The National Archives tells this story: “On the morning of August 18, 1920, a son received a letter from his mother that changed history.
The son was Harry T. Burn, a 24-year-old representative from East Tennessee. Just two years earlier Burn had become the youngest to be elected to the state’s legislature. Burn, who had been seemingly solidly in the anti-suffrage camp, received a seven-page letter from his mother asking him to support the amendment.
Burn had hoped the issue wouldn’t rest with him—he supported suffrage himself, but his constituents were opposed, and he faced an election that fall. Burn was torn, and when the issue came to vote he blurted out “aye,” without thinking, thus breaking the tie.
The Tennessee legislative had passed the amendment making it law of the land.”
Read more about the role of Tennessee in the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Virginia Ratified the 19th Amendment on February 21, 1952.

Capture of the 19th Amendment
A capture of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
National Archives

Today, we celebrate the tenacity of women who victoriously overcame oppression and gained what was rightfully theirs- the right to VOTE.  

Officers of Election
Photo of Officers of Elections for Northampton County, VA May Town Elections
May 19, 2020 Exmore, VA District 5: Ann Snyder, Connie Imler, Tress Parks Thank you for serving in Northampton County! 

If you are concerned about the security of the voting process consider serving as an officer of election for Northampton County, Virginia. You’ll be right in the action! For more information contact :

Terrence P. Flynn
General Registrar

Liz Smith
Assistant Registrar

Voter Registration
16404 Courthouse Rd
PO Box 510
Eastville VA 23347
Phone: 757-678-0480
Fax: 757-678-0453
[email protected]

Voter Registration and Elections

For a comprehensive timeline of Women's Suffrage Movement visit: Women’s Suffrage Timeline from National Park Service 

For more information about the 19th Amendment and Women’s suffrage see:
Online Exhibits about the 19th Amendment from the National Archives 

Please exercise your right to vote in the upcoming election on November 3, 2020! 

Jean Flynn
Website Content Coordinator
Northampton County, VA