A woman named Shelly Tolhurst offered a sadly prophetic observation at an event on September 7, 1920 in Los Angeles celebrating the passage of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. "We have had a point of view for a thousand years," said Tolhurst. “This celebration marks a change in that point of view, but it will be a long time. We cannot change the psychology of the world in a day. But this change will be profound and permanent. "
Could Tolhurst and the other women commemorating this momentous occasion imagine that in the fantastically distant world of 2020, women would still be fighting for some of the same things – political power, equal treatment, and equal pay? Or that a woman has not yet been elected to the highest political office? Would they, like us, be dismayed that in 2020 women would face the same sexist slurs hurled at the suffragists who dared to suggest they should be treated equally?
Maybe you could imagine.
After all, it had taken more than 70 years to reach this moment. The women's suffrage movement was born during a meeting of like-minded women and men in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, and it could have stalled if generations had not been determined by women, including the brave black women whose contributions to the cause were often the same Overlooked history books.
It wasn't until August 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify it, that the 19th Amendment met the constitutional minimum for passage. (California had disenfranchised its female citizens nearly a decade earlier; in fact, 21 states allowed women to vote as early as 1918.)
However, it is likely that Tolhurst and her cohort are nonetheless delighted to see that enormous strides have been made in the use of women's voting rights, even if true equality is still a long way off. There are laws that require equal access to education and a ban on discrimination in the workplace. The Equal Rights Amendment, penned by suffragist leader Alice Paul in 1923, has finally ensured ratification of the crucial 38th state needed for passage (though it is still in challenges due to an expired deadline).
One hundred and three years after Montana sent the first woman to Congress – Jeannette Rankin, a Republican and progressive (political parties have also changed a bit over the last century) – there are currently 127 women serving in the US House and Senate. Three women lawyers sit at the US Supreme Court. This week, a woman of color who is not only black but also Asian becomes the Democrats' vice-presidential candidate. And it is women who are seen as the key swing voters in the presidential election.
The political, social, and economic parity that suffragists dreamed of about a century ago has long been delayed, but it's coming. Let's not put it off any longer.