Ahead of our Women Run This Democracy collection release on Tuesday, 8/18, we asked some of our community members to share their perspective on voting. First up, Meg Kobza shares the history of the fight. Meg has her PhD in history, lectures at Arrupe College Loyola University Chicago, is an avid runner, Heartbreaker, & Chicago staffer:
"August 18th, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage and the ratification of the 19th Amendment. While this landmark date is an important milestone in our country’s history, the struggle to gain voting rights existed long before 1920.
Since the founding of the United States (and arguably even before that), women were excluded from political participation. They were discouraged from engaging in political conversations, viewed as unfit to vote, and unable to hold office. Despite these obstacles, women found ways to advocate for suffrage through local and national organizations and marches. This led to the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, which sparked what is today known as the Suffragette Movement. The unrelenting efforts of the suffragettes helped introduce the 19th Amendment to Congress in 1878. This was 30 years after the Convention and 42 years before it would be ratified…
Although this initial introduction to Congress helped move some states to enfranchise women in the early 20th century, voting did not become a constitutional right without a continued fight. Ida B Wells Barnett, a founding member of the anti-lynching movement and NAACP, took her passion for justice to Chicago where she channelled her energy into the suffrage movement and worked to educate and involve Black women in local politics. Key leaders of various suffrage groups, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul, used a range of tactics to garner national support and attention; they mobilized women to picket the White House, held peaceful protests, and went on hunger strikes to gain publicity. In 1920 their relentless determination was successful and the 19th Amendment was added to the Constitution.
This notable success in our nation’s history is not where the fight ended, however. While the 19th Amendment abolished voter discrimination based on sex, it did little to protect Blacks, Indigenous Peoples, or People of Color (BIPOC) from voter suppression. The persistence of Jim Crow laws, evidenced through the implementation of poll taxes, literacy tests, and the “Grandfather Clause” significantly limited accessibility and BIPOC representation. It was not until 1962 that Indigenous Peoples were fully granted the right to vote in all states. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would further widen enfranchisement, prohibiting racial discrimination in schools, public facilities, employment, and voting practices.
Despite this legislation, discrimination continued. Local governments still relied on poll taxes to keep poorer constituents from voting and used literacy tests to use language as a barrier against minority citizen groups. These loopholes were finally put to rest with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which did much more than simply abolish these racist practices. The Voting Rights Act created new ways to hold polling stations, constituencies, and leaders accountable, protect voting rights, and counter racial discrimination. It also contained provisions to make voting information, registration, and ballots available for minority language groups.
But this is not where the fight for the right to vote ends. The Voting Rights Act is coming up for renewal and recent proposed changes can shift government accountability and enable voter suppression. The USPS is losing funding and the ability to vote by mail is becoming more endangered every day. We’ve witnessed states making last-minute changes to polling stations that result in 8+ hour lines. These threats to voting rights make voting more important than ever – at both local and national levels. While we’ve come a long way from 1848, the fight to end voter suppression is not over. So use your voice, get engaged, and exercise your right to vote.
The US Department of Justice, “Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act,”
Suffrage 100, “Ida B Wells,” https://suffrage100ma.org/ida-b-wells/
Library of Congress, “Voting Rights for Native Americans,”
The People’s Vote, “The 19th Amendment,”