One hundred years ago this August, the 19th Amendment was ratified that gave women the right to vote, but the movement for women’s suffrage began in the early 1800s.
“It took a long time to get this amendment passed,” said Dr. Dee Gillespie, professor of history at the University of North Georgia (UNG). “Two generations of women supported suffrage working at the grassroots level and at the federal level. So it was not a given that women should have the right to vote, and it took a long time to convince people of that.”
Even though a proposed amendment finally was presented in Congress in 1878, it would be another 41 years before the amendment was passed by Congress and moved on to the states for ratification.
To talk about the long road to women’s suffrage, UNG will welcome Dr. Marjorie J. Spruill, distinguished professor emerita from the University of South Carolina and author or editor of six books on the subject, for lectures on March 9 and 10. An updated centennial edition of Spruill’s book “One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement,” a companion volume to the PBS documentary “One Woman, One Vote,” is forthcoming this spring. The talk is among several events scheduled during March to mark Women’s History Month.
“Since some states were unwilling to enfranchise women, enfranchising all American women had to be done by a constitutional amendment and, by design of the founding fathers, these are very difficult to get through,” Spruill said. “Amendments must be approved by two-thirds of each house of Congtress and ratified by three-fourths of the states. So, to succeed, an amendment can’t be purely regional or sectional or radical.”
One state short of the number required to be added to the U.S. Constitution, the amendment waited in limbo from March 1920 until Tennessee ratified in August 1920. Ten states refused to adopt the 19th Amendment by 1920, including nine southern states; Georgia did not ratify but passed a “rejection resolution,” denouncing the amendment as unnecessary and dangerous, Spruill said. Mississippi didn’t officially ratify the amendment until 1984.
“The South figures in greatly because it was bitterly opposed to the women’s suffrage movement in part because it was an outgrowth of the antislavery movement. The South was the last region to have a suffrage movement and provided the most resistance and the least success,” Spruill said. “After 1920, Southern states kept most African American women from voting using the same restrictions on voting they had developed to keep black men from voting.”
Spruill said leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, many of whom died before the amendment was ratified, likely would be divided in their assessment of women’s involvement in politics today.
“I think national movement leaders would be quite disappointed that, 100 years later, women remain so under-represented in elective office at all levels, and that there has been no woman president,” Spruill said. “I think they’d be pleased that women turn out to vote not just in equal numbers to men, but more than men.”
Gillespie noted that even after ratification, change in the American political landscape was slow.
“There was the expectation after this passage that things would change a lot, but in the immediate years, there’s not a really noticeable difference. Not all women think alike all the time, and the diversity of women’s opinions became clearer after this amendment passed as women voters did not vote as a bloc as expected,” Gillespie said. “Now, I think we’re seeing the difference that voting rights makes with a very active and vocal movement among different groups of women to address issues that disproportionally affect women, as well as seeing more women running for office.”
Spruill’s talk, “One Woman, One Vote: The Long Road to Ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment,” is set for 5 p.m. March 9 in the Library Technology Center, Room 382 on the Dahlonega Campus with a 4:30 p.m. reception and on March 10 in the Martha T. Nesbitt Building, Room 3110 on the Gainesville Campus at 6 p.m. with a 5:30 p.m. reception.
Other women’s history month events include:
- March 8: In celebration of International Women’s Day, the female music faculty members will perform a program of music that includes works composed by women and/or themes that celebrate women. The free event will be at 4 p.m. in the lobby of the Continuing Education Building on the Gainesville Campus.
- March 18: Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) will present a guest speaker and recognize female student leaders from noon to 1 p.m. in the ABC rooms in the Hoag Student Center on the Dahlonega Campus.
- March 19: MSA will present a panel discussion on Career Women: Leading Anywhere from noon to 1 p.m. in the ABC rooms in the Hoag Student Center on the Dahlonega Campus.