“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.”
It’s been almost a century since Congress passed the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919. Also known as women’s suffrage, after almost a century’s long protest, women’s right to vote was ratified on August 18, 1920.
“Sounds pretty simple and straightforward, but it took 131 years after the adoption of our constitution to get this amendment ratified,” notes Kathleen Jewell, owner of Pomegranate Books. “It is just as important today as it was then, to exercise our right to be heard by our government.”
Today’s younger generation of women never knew a time when we didn’t have a basic right to participate in our own democracy—which might make it easier for us to take it for granted. However, Jewell notes its immediacy to her and her own family, as her mother was born before the passage of the amendment and her grandmother was unable to vote. Thus Jewell has celebrated the anniversary of the 19th Amendment and women’s suffrage for the last 10 years at Pomegranate.
“I have been touched by the feeling of being part of a continuum of progress toward human rights in our country and I hope to meet some young people who will take up the torch and continue to move forward,” she says. “[I want to send] a message to young and old that voting rights were won after decades of hard work and should not be taken lightly.”
In honor of women’s suffrage, Pomegranate will host its annual “Let Women Vote” event on Saturday, Aug. 25, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. While it is not a political affair—no candidates or office-holders are speaking, though, they are welcome to attend—the League of Women Voters have been invited and Pomegranate has registered with the [NHC] Board of Elections to sponsor a voter registration drive.
“We will be reading from the children’s book, ‘Heart on Fire: Susan B Anthony Votes for President,’” Jewell details. “In 1872 Anthony was arrested, tried and found guilty for voting in the presidential election. Sadly, she did not live long enough to vote legally, a right for which she had dedicated much of her life.”
Other educational activities, for children and adults alike, include taking part in hand copying the Constitution. The exercise is inspired by conceptual artist Morgan O’Hara, who worked in performative drawing and social practice.
“The activity will include learning about women of the suffrage movement,” Jewell describes. “We are hoping the celebration puts a human face on the struggle for women’s suffrage and reminds participants it is worth fighting for what you believe in. As Susan B. Anthony said, ‘Failure is impossible.’”
The right to vote was only the first step in securing women’s equal rights in the United States. In Jewell’s own lifetime, the U.S. has eliminated segregated help wanted ads (1973); outlawed housing and lending discrimination based on gender (1974); and saw the end of “Head and Master” laws (1979). “It wasn’t until 2009 that President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,” she adds.
Nevertheless, according to the National Women’s Law Center, women working full time in the U.S. are paid only 80 cents for every dollar a man is paid. As well, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)—originally written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman and introduced to Congress in 1921—is not ratified in all 50 states, including North Carolina. The amendment would guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens, regardless of sex.
“[The ERA] came close to being ratified in the 1970s,” Jewell recalls. “Alice Paul was still working diligently with activists involved in the effort and referred to us as ‘the reinforcements.’ It’s a privilege to feel part of the continuation of the efforts by the early suffragists.”
Women have made progress in the political arena—with record numbers of women running for office across the nation. The Washington Post reported last week an unprecedented 154 female candidates who are not incumbents will be on the ballot come November.
“Going from comprising 3 percent of Congress in the ‘70s to over 19 percent today [is progress],” Jewell observes. “I think this still amazingly low number speaks for itself.”