Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

The Nineteenth Amendment (Amendment XIX) to the United States Constitution prohibits the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex. Initially introduced to Congress in 1878, several attempts to pass a women's suffrage amendment failed until 1919, when suffragists pressed President Woodrow Wilson to call a special congressional session. On May 21, 1919, the proposed amendment passed the House of Representatives, followed by the Senate on June 4, 1919; it was then submitted to the states for ratification. Once again, suffragists mobilized to lobby state legislatures to approve the amendment. On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee legislature approved the amendment, becoming the last of the necessary 36 states to secure ratification. U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby made the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment official on August 26, 1920, the culmination of a decades-long movement for women's suffrage at both state and national levels.

While women had the right to vote in several of the colonies in what would become the United States, by 1807 women had been denied even limited suffrage. By the mid-nineteenth century, organizations supporting women's rights became more active. In 1848, the Seneca Falls convention adopted the Declaration of Sentiments, which called for equality between the sexes and included a resolution urging women to secure the vote. Organizations began to advocate for the vote using a variety of tactics, including legal arguments that relied on existing amendments. After those arguments were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, suffrage organizations, along with activists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, called for a new constitutional amendment that would guarantee women the right to vote.

By the late nineteenth century, new states and territories, particularly in the West, began to grant women the right to vote. In 1878, Senator Aaron A. Sargent introduced to Congress a suffrage proposal that would eventually become the Nineteenth Amendment, but it was rejected in 1887. By the 1890s, suffrage organizations focused on a national amendment while still working at the state and local levels. Lucy Burns, and Alice Paul emerged as important leaders whose work helped move the Nineteenth Amendment forward, although they pursued very different strategies.

Entry of the United States into World War I helped to shift public perception of women's suffrage. The National American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Carrie Chapman Catt, supported the war effort, making the case that women should be rewarded with enfranchisement for their patriotic wartime service. The National Woman's Party staged marches, demonstrations, and hunger strikes while pointing out the contradictions of fighting abroad for democracy while limiting it at home by denying women the right to vote. The work of both organizations swayed public opinion, prompting President Wilson to announce his support of the suffrage amendment in 1918.

The Nineteenth Amendment enfranchised 26 million American women in time for the 1920 U.S. presidential election, but the powerful women's voting bloc that many politicians feared failed to fully materialize. As well, the Nineteenth Amendment failed to fully enfranchise African American, Asian American, Latin American, and Native American women.


Nineteenth Amendment in the National Archives

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.[1]

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