Ratification of Constitutional Amendments
In retrospect, ratification of the 19th Amendment looks inevitable. But at the time, the possibility of failure was real. Traditional forces mounted a determined fight in the U.S. Congress to block the long sought goal of woman suffrage. When that collapsed, the battle moved to the final arena: Would 36 states ratify the amendment to finally add it to the U.S. Constitution? The painfully slow process dragged on for more than a year before victory was sealed when Tennessee voted in favor.
The 14th Amendment, Section 1; Ratified July 1868
"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
Passage of the 19th Amendment; June 4, 1920
The amendment guaranteeing woman suffrage was a monumental achievement for the activists who spent decades agitating for its ratification. This radical amendment was first proposed to the Senate in 1878 by Senator Aaron Sargent (R-Cal) and testified by Carrie Chapman Catt. It sat in committee for 11 years before being rejected 16-to-34 in 1887. Suffrage organizations regrouped after the loss, and focused on achieving voting rights at the state level instead.
Women’s increasingly important role in World War I renewed interest in a national suffrage amendment. The National American Woman Suffrage Association and National Woman’s Party garnered public sympathy by pointing out women’s sacrifices to the war effort. The amendment again came before congress in 1918, passing the House by one vote, and received an unprecedented appeal by President Wilson in the Senate, but fell two votes short.
In all, the House and Senate voted on the “Anthony” amendment five times between 1918 and 1919, as Southern Democrats formed a bulwark of opposition. Then, in a special session of Congress called by the president in May, 1919, the amendment passed the House 304-to-89. It came before the Senate and after Southern Democrats abandoned a filibuster, the amendment passed 56-to-25 on June 4, 1919.
Text of the 19th Amendment; Ratified August 18, 1920
"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. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."