August 26, 1920: The 19th Amendment goes into effect.

The 19th Amendment of the Constitution was ratified early that month, finally granting women the right to vote. In some states, mainly in the West, many women were already enfranchised (Wyoming in 1869 and later Washington, California, Oregon, and Montana); before 1920, a woman had served in Congress (Jeannette Rankin) and two women had already attempted to run for the presidency. But, for the time-being, none of these women had the Constitutional right to vote. For four decades following 1878, the issue of a Constitutional amendment providing for women’s suffrage was introduced at each session of Congress, only to be defeated each time. The exact version first introduced in 1878 was the same one that passed in 1919, forty-one years later. 

In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt’s “Bull Moose” Progressive Party became the first national political party to adopt women’s suffrage as part of its platform. In 1918, Democrat Woodrow Wilson also appealed heavily to the House in favor of a Constitutional amendment. Finally, in May 1919, the President called a special session of Congress to consider the proposal again; this time, the House approved the amendment, as did the Senate (after much deliberation).

Thirty-six states were needed to complete the ratification of the amendment. Thirty-five ratified relatively quickly between June 1919 and March 1920, but after the thirty-fifth (Washington), five long months passed before Tennessee, the last state needed, approved the amendment on August 18, 1920 by a narrow margin. The last state to ratify was Mississippi, which did not do so until 1984, sixty-four years after it went into effect.

The document itself was actually very brief, reading only:

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.

The adoption of these two simple sentences was the culmination of over seventy years of activism and campaigning.

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