99 years ago this morning, the U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed a proclamation alone in his own home in Washington, D.C. that adopted the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. One of the most important events of the Women’s Suffrage movement went unobserved. It wasn’t filmed, it wasn’t photographed, and it sure didn’t get the groundbreaking coverage it deserved. Nearly a century after women were given the legal right to vote, and nearly two centuries after the women’s equality movement began, we are still at a place where women are told what to do with their bodies, are discriminated against, and make less on average than men doing the same work.
Regardless of how far we have to go, it is important and meaningful to look back and celebrate how far we have come and acknowledge those that have put in so much work to get us where we are today.
Although the 19th Amendment was adopted on August 18, 1920 it took several days for Mr. Colby to sign the amendment and officially add it to the constitution. The day it was officially signed, the New York Times ran a column acknowledging the fact that no women’s suffrage leaders were in attendance and that the event had a low level of excitement and press attention. Multiple Women’s Suffrage leaders had requested to be in attendance, but Colby told reporters that “effectuating suffrage through proclamation of its ratification by the necessary thirty-six States was more important than feeding the movie cameras.” Thus, one of the biggest victories in the women’s rights movement went unseen by anyone.
Decades later after several Women’s Equality Strikes in the early 1970s New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug introduced a resolution to designate August 26 as Women’s Equality Day. On August 16, 1973 Congress approved the resolution that “the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation in commemoration of that day in 1920 on which the women in American were first guaranteed the right to vote” and Women’s Equality Day was born. The very same day President Richard Nixon proclaimed August 26 as Women’s Equality Day and since then every President has followed suit year after year.
It is important to reflect on the steps it took to get to that day in 1920, and look back at how long it took for this moment to take place. From the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 (the first women’s rights convention, and often considered the beginning of the women’s rights movement), to 1920, to today, there is an extraordinary amount of effort and time that has gotten us to where we are. That being said, there is still so much work to do.
So today we should enjoy where we are, appreciate those that came before us and dedicated countless hours to women’s rights, and celebrate Women’s Equality Day, but when tomorrow comes, be ready to stand up and fight to improve the lives of so many. There is still constant bias, committees of men making laws about women’s bodies, and unruly sexist behavior throughout the country. We have come along way, but we still have a long way to go.