(WOMENSENEWS)–The Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which said that the right to vote could not be denied on the grounds of sex, was 72 years in the making.
Anthony herself and the women who initially worked to change the U.S. constitution were long dead by June 1919, when the Senate endorsed the amendment and sent it out to the 48 states for ratification. Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan signed on immediately. By the summer of 1920, 35 states had said “yes” and one more was needed. Eyes turned toward Tennessee.
In Tennessee, as elsewhere, the issue of votes for women was inextricably bound up with race and booze. The anti-suffragists, including many prominent women, saw a threat to white supremacy. The liquor interests, notably, the Jack Daniels distillery, mobilized against the armies of women temperance advocates who had joined the suffrage ranks.
Still, Nashville had hosted a national suffrage convention in 1914–reformer Jane Addams spoke and an auto with a female driver raced an airplane piloted by a woman to popular acclaim. In June 1920, advocates on all sides moved in–radicals and moderates, locals and out-of-staters, whiskey men and politcos. In the end, the amendment passed by one vote and the 19th amendment would become law.
Fifty years later, the women’s liberation movement chose that date, August 26th, to stage its first huge march and demonstration in New York City. In 1971, newly elected Congresswoman Bella Abzug introduced a resolution proclaiming the date Women’s Equality Day and linking the commemoration to “the continued fight for equal rights.”
Celebrations and actions are planned around the country for this year, the 85th anniversary of the victory.
Louise Bernikow is the author of seven books and numerous magazine articles. She travels to campuses and community groups with a lecture and slide show about activism called “The Shoulders We Stand On: Women as Agents of Change.” She can be reached at [email protected]