On August 18, 1920, women won the right to vote—and now 100 years later, their vote counts more than ever, according to female New York City politicians we spoke with this week.
The ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was a massively important step toward equality, but it was hard-fought—it took violence against protesters, imprisonment, legal battles and a gradual change in societal values for women to finally be able to represent themselves. Many Black and Native American women, however, still wouldn't be allowed to vote until decades later.
"It has been a hard fought right...and not a linear one," said Sarah Seidman, the Puffin Foundation Curator of Social Activism at Museum of the City of New York. Seidman curates MCNY's constantly evolving Activist New York exhibit. She'll be hosting a conversation on Thursday with scholars Allison Lange and Mary Phillips about the 100 years since the 19th Amendment's ratification.
"We need to use the vote as one tool in an arsenal for standing up for what we believe in. A lot of our modern political actions, such as picketing and lobbying, were done because we couldn’t get the vote. Women had to enact these now-everyday types of strategies, and now, voting is one really important piece of mobilizing."
NYC politicians—Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright—spoke this week about the importance of the female vote in this very big election year. There's still much to do, they say.
Congresswoman Maloney, who represents New York's 12th District (the East Side of Manhattan, Roosevelt Island and parts of Queens and Brooklyn), has been a champion of women's rights from working to renew the Violence Against Women Act in 2013 to passing a bill to give paid family and medical leave to federal workers, says there's more to do if women want equality.
The next major win for women would be the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, she said. If passed, it would guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex.
"I am deeply indebted, as all women are in our country, to the trailblazing women who dedicated their lives to get women the vote," she told us. "There's a need for equal rights and we're never get it until the ERA is ratified. There’s nothing more important than getting women in the Constitution and to pass bills for equal pay and equal work."
Borough President Gale Brewer says she has been working for about six years with the nonprofit Monumental Women to create and install the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument of Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Central Park. Finally, after a lot of red tape and criticism, it'll be unveiled next week as the first and only monument to real women in the park.
"It’s a big deal for me to be part of something so monumental—to have a statue going up when we're celebrating 100 years is a very big deal," she said, especially since all three women died before they could see their fight pay off. "It's very moving."
Similarly, Maloney has dedicated much of her time to making sure women are represented, even literally, by getting the Portrait Monument of suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott at the U.S. Capitol out of storage and into its rotunda. It had been stored in a basement service closet since 1921 and its inscription had been scraped off (an act ordered by Congress).
In 1995, women’s groups and female members of Congress, reignited the effort to bring the statue out of storage, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Maloney even circulated a newsletter making fun of excuses as to why it should stay underground, like "We can’t move it because the next thing you know, they’ll want us to pass the [Equal Rights Amendment]" and "They don’t have a 'get out of the basement free' card."
She currently has legislation out to put the inscription back on the statue.
But looking forward, each politician believes women need to continue pushing for their rights with the very thing (the vote) they fought for all those years ago, especially since there's still massive inequality around the nation.
Assemblywoman Seawright wrote that "we must acknowledge that the fight for women's suffrage did not end there, BIWOC continued to face barriers to the ballot box for decades."
"We cannot take the right to vote for granted, and be vigilant for efforts to prevent voters from exercising their right to vote. The struggle for gender equality and suffrage continues today."
Brewer says that with Senator Kamala Harris as presidential hopeful Joe Biden's vice president pick, she's hopeful more women will see representation than ever before. Harris was the first African-American, first Asian-American and first woman to serve as California attorney general.
"It's a great year to have the 100th anniversary—there's a lot happening as result of getting the vote—we can make a difference and we’re using it," she said. "That is what is important. A lot rides on the women’s vote. This is the year—more than ever."
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