August 18 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the constitutional right to vote.
We celebrate this anniversary in the midst of the current election season and with appreciation for the progress we have made over the last 100 years in women’s rights.
As United Methodists it is important to reflect on this anniversary and our political responsibility. Surely the strength of democracy is the power it disperses to the people, and therefore the people, all of them, should have full participation in this process.
The 19th Amendment was introduced to Congress in 1878, but it wasn’t adopted until 42 years later.
It states, “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.” The amendment paved the way for women’s involvement in decision making processes at local, state, and national levels.
The history of the 19th Amendment is poignant for us as we approach another election season. We witness, for the first time, a minority woman chosen to share the ballot as the Democratic nominee for Vice President of the United States.
Before the Women’s Rights Movement, women were looked down upon socially, economically, and politically. People believed that their sole purpose in life was to cook, clean, and take care of the family.
|Rev. Mary Mitchell|
According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, as of 2018 more women than men were registered to vote and women have voted at higher rates than men in the last eight presidential elections.
Unfortunately, while the 19th Amendment made it possible for women to vote, the implementation of the amendment took decades.
Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin were the first states to ratify the amendment in June 1919. In 1984, Mississippi became the last state to do so. While the amendment was written to include all women, there was implicit discrimination against minorities, particularly Black women.
Black women sought to become a part of the movement as they observed the erosion of Black rights through poll taxes, literacy tests, and ongoing acts of intimidation.
The abolitionist movement and women’s rights movement started off amicably, as each saw the other’s goals as part of its own, but over time the movements experienced friction in their endeavors towards equal rights.
Much of this was due to the women’s suffrage movement changing its anti-slavery stance in order to win votes for the 19th Amendment from southern states.
Black women found themselves excluded from both movements as the women’s rights movement became a white women’s movement and the abolitionist movement became known as Black men’s movement. Janet Adamy states in her article, Black Women’s Long Struggle for Voting Rights, “It took decades for Black women to emerge as an electoral force and there was reluctance to include them in the fight for fear of how southern white women would react.”
One of the gifts of allowing women to vote is that women are able to hold public office in ways that were once unprecedented. We have already mentioned that we are currently witnessing for the first time a minority woman on the ballot for Vice President of the United States.
|Rev. Madeline Luzinski|
The past election cycle was historic for the inclusion of women and minority. The 116th Congress includes 131 women (23.4% of the House and 25% of the Senate). Of the 131 women currently in Congress, 25 are Black and 15 are Hispanic/Latina.
Only 47 Black women have ever served in Congress, and 25 are currently serving. There have been 20 Hispanic/Latina women to ever serve Congress, and 15 are currently serving.
What does the 19th Amendment mean for us today? If we are living into the words we pray every Sunday to help “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and living into our baptismal vows to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves,” our work is to organize ourselves in a way that is reflective of the kingdom.
We can no longer deny the right to vote for ex-offenders who have served their time. We cannot create obstacles to limit access to polling places; we cannot miss the opportunity to educate our children about the sacrifices made and the achievement gained.
And we cannot be silent while economically challenged individuals face significant hurdles to full enfranchisement.
Already Jesus has made us aware that the kingdom is a place where all have a seat at the table. There are still people missing from our polling places and our tables of leadership.
How can we continue to extend the table until all are represented?
ADDENDUM: A PERSONAL REFLECTION FROM REV. MARY MITCHELL: As an African American female, I have fought courageously against injustices for my entire life and have overcome many barriers that have been put in place to discourage me. Despite all of my attempts to rise to the challenge, I still feel that my voice is not being heard. So, I have learned over the years not to give up, give in or give out, but to approach this with a tenacious spirit and consistently exercise my right to vote and allow it to be my voice. I cherish this right because so many of my ancestors died and many women put their lives on the line for me to have this opportunity. I acknowledge that voting for women has greatly improved, but we are still struggling against misogynistic double standards and blatant attempts to suppress the right to vote. The burden is even greater for women of color. I strive to be an example for young women by mentoring, sharing our history, and enlightening them of the power they possess. If we choose not to engage in protest or marches or give speeches or sermons, we can still make a difference by using our voices to bring about change – VOTE, our lives and the future of our children depend on it.
-- Rev. Mary Mitchell is the Chairperson of CCCOR: The Conference Commission On Religion and Race
-- Rev. Madeline Luzinski is the Florida Chairperson of COSROW: The Commission on the Status and Role of Women