August marks a huge milestone. In 1920, women were granted the right to vote nationwide when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment. The amendment reads: “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.”
Just to be clear, millions of women had already been voting. Fifteen states had granted women full suffrage, and limited voting rights had been granted in another twelve. In some states like Colorado and Oklahoma, women’s suffrage passed by elections that were only open to male voters.
In California, women received the right to vote in 1911, and in 1918, four women were elected to the State Assembly. Nationally, the first woman elected to Congress was Jeannette Rankin of Montana in 1916. A strong supporter of women’s suffrage, she voted for the 19th Amendment in 1918.
Even after passage of the 19th Amendment, voting rights did not include all women. Women of color were not allowed to vote in some parts of the country until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today, women serve at all levels of leadership in our state and nation, including governors, congressional representatives and senators. In the California Legislature, I serve as Assembly Minority Leader, along with Toni Atkins, Pro-Tem and Shannon Grove, Minority Leader, both in the Senate.
The 19th Amendment passed Congress in 1919 with bi-partisan support – over 80% of Republicans and 50% of Democrats supported the measure in both houses. In the1920 election, 36% of women, compared to 68% of men, actually voted, but since 1980, turnout among women has slightly surpassed male turnout.
We’ve come a long way in 100 years and we continue to work for equality.