Happy Election Day SpreadLovers! Hope you all made it out to the polls to exercise your civic duty.
With all the craziness around the presidential election every four years, it’s easy to forget about smaller, state-level elections in the off years. However it is important to remember that these elections are important too. Congressional elections can shift the makeup of Congress, and state legislatures can determine key policy issues at the state level.
Women and Voting
Recent studies have shown that that women turn out to the polls in higher numbers than men. As great as it is that women are able and ready to use their democratic voice, women’s suffrage is actually a relatively recent. The Nineteenth Amendment, which gave rights to vote regardless of sex, was not adopted until 1922, meaning that American women have been able to vote for less that a century.
Source: Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics
Despite the delay in the right to vote, American women were politically active long before the Nineteenth Amendment. In honor of Election Day, let’s take a look at what empowered women to fight for their civil rights to vote, and note many of the same things empower women today.
A large part of the suffrage movement was born from the temperance movement. Women who were advocating for prohibition knew that having suffrage would allow them to vote for politician and laws that furthered their values and morals. In the 20th century these views including making things like alcohol or child labor practices illegal. The National Women’s Party, founded by Alice Paul, used protesting methods inspired by the suffrage movement in England to point out injustices. Alice Paul and her followers famously were imprisoned and force fed food during a hunger strike.
Suffragettes were arrested and jailed during the Progressive Era.
Today, women still use their morals and values to motivate their political activism, championing causes like ending sexual assault, legalizing gay marriage and providing contraception to all. The Women’s March in Washington D.C. in January 2017 was a prime example of women banding together behind their values and morals.
Women’s march on Washington
As women began to be allowed into the workforce and earning wages in 1900, they became a vital part of the industrial economy. Exposure to industry also empowered women to reform parts of it. They demanded fair wages and just labor practices from employers. Movements to make industry more just empowered women and their political activism carried them closer to universal suffrage. Additionally, women’s role in the workforce during World War I was one of the definitive reasons that Woodrow Wilson ended up signing the Nineteenth Amendment. Working women supported the economy and country during the war, and obviously deserved the right to vote.
Today, more women are in the workforce than ever, and it’s is no surprise that like in the 20th century, working women are empowered to take charge of their lives and use their political voice. However, still only earning 97cents on the dollar, women still have a lot to fight and vote for.
Many of the women who were key players in the Women’s Suffrage movement were college educated. Florence Kelley, who started an abolitionist movement to rid America of sweatshops, held degrees from Cornell and Northwestern University. Alice Paul was educated at American University, University of Pennsylvania and trained in law. Colleges became a place where educated women got together and became inspired and empowered. It’s also where they learned necessary skills to be politically active and enact change.
Alice Paul in her cap and gown.
Today, it is well recognized that education is key to empowering women. It is often prescribed by the United Nations or NGOs to solve gender inequality problems in developing countries. Recent research in the United States and other industrialized countries has found a trend of college ‘feminization’, meaning that there are proportionally more men than women enrolled in college since around the 1960s, which has lead to real gains.
Once again, Happy Election Day to all. Let us know in the comments section below what empowers you and what causes you care about!