“Ninety percent of women either do not want (the right to vote) or do not care.” Emma Lee Adams, wife of Nevada’s fourth governor, in 1914.
June 4 will mark 100 years since the U.S. Senate passed the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote. The House of Representatives had passed the amendment two weeks earlier, on May 21. The amendment still had to be ratified by three-fourths of the states, but the Congressional vote of approval opened the way.
It may be difficult for young people today to understand how hard women had to fight to gain the right to vote. Today, every American citizen who is of age expects to be able to vote, but throughout history, that has been a very revolutionary idea. In most cultures, power was held by men. Women generally had very few rights and were considered not much more than property.
Women understood that those who vote control the power. In 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was being written, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John (later the second president of the U.S.), “Remember the ladies.” The Declaration’s final version said, “All men are created equal.” No mention of the ladies.
Throughout the 1800s, American women worked for the right to vote, along with the abolition of slavery. In July 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention was held in New York. This was the first of many conventions uniting women for the purpose of securing their rights.
As a result of these meetings, an amendment to guarantee women’s right to vote was first introduced to Congress in 1878. The text read: “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.” This was an attempt to expand the 15th Amendment, which said, “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 race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
The 14th Amendment, Section 2, had restricted voting rights to “male citizens twenty-one years of age.” By adding the words “on account of sex” to the 15th Amendment, women would gain the same right to vote that men had.
Fighting for this simple change resulted in women being arrested, jailed and tortured. Many were force fed while in prison. Women were held down while rubber tubes were forced into their mouths and down into their stomachs; food such as raw eggs was poured down the tubes. The process was extremely painful, and many women suffered permanent physical damage.
In 1912, former President Teddy Roosevelt, running for president on the Progressive ticket, included women’s suffrage in his presidential platform. In 1916, the Democratic Party platform endorsed women’s right to vote, and in 1918, Democratic President Woodrow Wilson gave his full support to the 19th Amendment.
The 19th Amendment was finally ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to vote for ratification. When the ratification was certified on Aug. 26, the amendment became an official part of the Constitution.
Several states had already given women the right to vote. Nevadans were also fighting for this right.
“In 1869, a representative from Storey County, Curtis J. Hillyer, introduced a bill to allow women the vote. He argued that women possessed at least as much intelligence as men, they followed the same laws, paid the same taxes, and most importantly would introduce a new standard of public morality to the political process.” (Women in Nevada history, Nevada suffrage)
That bill did not succeed, but contrary to what Emma Lee Adams said, Nevada women and men did care about the right to vote. On Nov. 3, 1914, male voters in Nevada passed the amendment on women’s suffrage, six years before the 19th Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution.
Women were allowed to vote in local elections in Nevada in 1915 and statewide in 1916. In 1918, Sally Dotson Hurst was elected to Nevada state government as Nevada’s first female legislator. Today, Nevada has the nation’s first majority-female state legislature.
Aug. 26, 2020, will mark 100 years since American women gained the right to vote. As with all civil rights, this one was earned with courage, passion, and suffering. We must hold firm and not become complacent, letting our rights be taken away from us. Those who fought before us would never forgive us.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.