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Nineteenth Amendment

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Emily Costa
November 16, 2017

Where a woman’s place is has never been quite decided. My girlfriends and I subtly dispute this often over brunch. Should I get married? Would I want to be a stay-at-home mom? Can I stand up to my chauvinist colleagues at work without being interrupted, or apologizing, or being called a nasty woman?

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.”

Taken from The Declaration of Sentiments, those words echo that of our nation’s Constitution. I am enamored by them because they remind me of what is possible. I can change my own position, even the one I have hitherto occupied. Written in 1848, these words mark the beginnings of the Women’s Suffrage Movement.

The Nineteenth Amendment to our Constitution started us down a path of autonomy. “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.” It is plainly written and concise. It was introduced in 1878; although, not voted on until 1919. The states ratified it on August 18, 1920.

Autonomy can be defined as freedom from internal control or influence — Independence. The right to vote in a Democracy is undoubtedly the first step towards freedom. For women, of course, this was then, and remains today, a complicated thing. We may have the right in namesake, but we still face many influences which corrupt our independence and autonomy. The recent allegations against Harvey Weinstein is just one example of this. The election of Mike Pence, another. The legal right of businesses to refuse women birth control, yet another.

Our girl-talk over brunch is really a manifestation of us working out the process of independence. It was started by our great-grandmothers when they earned the right to vote, left their homes and entered the workplace. But we are still unsteady trying to navigate it. Our fears from the past haven’t dissipated. They still haunt us today. Comments about how I look number in the thousands. When I was asked the other day “what are you doing with your life” by a man I scarcely know, he informed me that I’d, “change and love being married and having children.” He must know something about me I do not.

My grandmother always told me this story about how she wanted to open her own antique store. She went to the bank and asked for a loan, they told her to go home and ask her husband. My mother tells me almost daily to get a good job and not to rely on any man to take care of me. She tells me about her girlfriends, the ones who stayed home with their children and left the workforce. With horror, she recants the ending. Their husbands left them at some point and they had no money and no job history.

My grandmother also told me to look pretty and wear earrings. My mom says, “sometimes it hurts to be beautiful.” I believe it all, every word. But the message is somewhat muddled.

Historical data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that by 1950, women were 29 percent of the labor force. By 2000, almost half, 46.6 percent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also explores income levels. In the first quarter of 2017, American women’s median weekly earnings were $759 dollars. Their male counterparts earned $940 dollars. The weight of our votes may be equal, but the time for our labor certainly isn’t.

Although written so long ago, our suffragette sisters had poignant advice. “In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to affect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and national Legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton and more than 50 other famous suffragettes wrote The Declaration of Sentiments and signed it. It took 72 years for their basic demands to be met. Today, my girlfriends and I still face misconception, misrepresentation and ridicule. We muddle through though and resist one day at a time, hoping to find our own independence and place in the world.

Author: Emily Costa is a Master’s in Public Administration Student at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. While pursuing an Undergraduate Degree from Rhode Island College in History, she became highly concerned with issues of social inequity and their intersection with Public Policy. Her greatest future aspiration is to receive a Doctorate Degree. [email protected]

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3 Responses to Nineteenth Amendment

  1. Victoria Gordon Reply

    November 17, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Thank you for your meaningful words. I hope we will all be reminded that in 2020 we will have something important to celebrate. I challenge all ASPA members to do their part in making sure the 19th Amendment is celebrated. It is time to start planning!
    Victoria Gordon, President
    Metro Louisville Chapter of ASPA

  2. Nancy Foye-Cox Reply

    November 17, 2017 at 1:13 pm


    You said everything but that achieving voting rights for women in 1920, amending Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include “sex” (it should have been gender), enacting Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments, and signing into law the 2009 “Lillie Ledbetter” Fair Pay Act was not enough.

    All of these rights, except the “Woman Suffrage” 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, can be abolished or overturned by Presidential Executive Order or by a vote of Congress. It is much more difficult to pass or abolish an amendment to the Constitution.

    If we ever needed to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (the ERA) as the 28th Amendment to the Constitution, it is now.

  3. Darrell K. Moore Reply

    November 17, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    From a man who has a brilliant daughter who is poised to graduate from a college in a few months, I say – keep fighting for what’s rightfully yours! She has taken the same classes and dealt with the same strife as her male counterparts. And hopefully, will earn the same degree as her male counterparts. She deserves the same pay.

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