19th Amendment at 100
On Aug. 17, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the amendment, along with the upcoming U.S. General Election on Nov. 3, the Finney County Historical Society and Museum held the second of two presentations on the amendment on Oct. 20 during an Evening at the Museum session.
Jane Holwerda, an English professor at Dodge City Community College and vice president of Academic Affairs at DCCC, gave the presentation.
Holwerda said she decided to give the presentation because voting is “an essential process to our democracy, and I think learning about the history of the suffrage movement can help us appreciate just how important it is.”
The presentation focused on how the suffrage movement progressed.
The 19th Amendment may have been in response to the 15th Amendment, Holwerda said.
“The 15th Amendment said we won't ’abridge the right to vote on the base of race, color or condition of servitude,’” she said. “The suffrage movement as we know it began much earlier that the 19th century, but this was a response to that, a ’now it's our turn’ kind of thing.”
Even after the amendment was ratified, not all women could vote, Holwerda said. It would take another 70 years until women of color could vote.
“I think it's kind of, I think, helpful for me to put that in context,” she said. “Many of those early suffragists were involved in abolition, so they supported that 15th Amendment and they, happily or not, stepped aside in order to provide the suffrage, the right to vote to black men. That's what they thought they were doing.”
The first women’s rights convention was the Seneca Falls Convention and was held in 1848. At that convention, women put together the Declaration of Sentiments, which expressed women’s grievances and demands for women’s rights, Holwerda said.
In the document, women expressed how they wanted the right to vote, rights to own property — if they inherited property, they wanted to be able to keep it and not surrender it to a male relative — they wanted formal education and they wanted employment, Holwerda said.
“They were pretty broad thinking,” she said.
By the 1880s and 1890s, women were going to college and becoming educated, but there weren’t always jobs for them, so they became activists, journalists and some followed the English model where they formed settlement homes, Holwerda said.
“They dedicated their lives to immigrant populations, and that's where they developed their teaching, where they helped immigrants assimilate,” she said. “That's not always a positive word today, but they helped those groups of people learn the language, learn the culture and also go to school.”