94 Years of Women’s Suffrage

Sylvia Ferrell-Jones, YW Boston President & CEO

This year marks the 94th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in the United States. While 94 years seems like a very long time indeed, it represents less than half of the history of the country. For our nation’s first 144 years, women were largely denied the vote, and in factit was only white, male, property owners who had the privilege of casting ballots for candidates of their choice in most parts of the country. The Voting Rights Act, that in practical terms extended the right to vote to black people in the South, became law in 1964. 

We Americans tend to think of ourselves as being on the leading edge of civil and human rights, but women in Finland, Sweden, Norway, and New Zealand all had voting rights before those in the US. The first notable call for suffrage by women in the US was issued from a conference at Seneca Falls, NY in 1848, 72 years before the passage of the 19th Amendment. Many women campaigned for the right to vote through the second half of the 19th century, including notables Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Julia Ward Howe and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. There was disagreement over whether to support passage of the 15th Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote, and also over support for a 16thAmendment to extend voting rights to women.

Today, US woman exercise their voting rights more regularly than do men. More women attend and graduate from institutions of higher learning than men, and women also earn more graduate degrees. In these ways, we have made great progress. In other ways, women still lag far behind, especially in areas affording the exercise of power and control. Notable among these are women’s presence in the top ranks of executives of major corporations, on boards of directors of public companies, and as elected officials, particularly in the US Congress.

Much has been accomplished in achieving gender equity. Much work is left to be done.