After a century of protest and advocacy, the final vote to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution came down to one Tennessee mother. By the middle of 1920, 35 states had voted to ratify the amendment giving women the right to vote. Four—Connecticut, Vermont, North Carolina and Florida—had voted against ratification.
Tennessee became a battleground for ratification as one of the last chances to get the amendment passed. Harry T. Burn, a 24-year-old legislator, was set to vote against the 19th amendment. However, at the urging of his mother, he changed his vote last minute and Tennessee became the necessary 36th state to ratify. The U.S. ratified the amendment on August 18th, 1920.
Why Are The Dates Different?
You may be wondering why Women’s Equality Day is celebrated annually on August 26th given the ratification date was actually the 18th. Women’s Equality Day is on the 26th because that’s the day the government certified the documents and officially added the amendment to the constitution. Ratification was only the first step; certification ensured its legality and put it into effect.
Women’s Equality Day has been celebrated since 1971, when Representative Bella Abzug of New York introduced a bill creating the holiday. At the time, women were still organizing for equality, and it’s extremely important to note that Black women were, and still are, fighting for their rights. The 19th Amendment didn’t truly include Black women, who fought to actually be able to exercise their right to vote for another five decades.
Still, the 19th Amendment was a historic landmark for suffragettes and is still celebrated today. In Tennessee, the State Museum features a large exhibit, “Ratified!” dedicated to its special role, although it doesn’t shy away from telling the truth about the exclusion of Black women. But no matter where you live, there are plenty of ways to celebrate the occasion.
7 Ways to Celebrate Women’s Equality Day
- Find a local exhibit near you. We highly recommend finding an exhibit about ratification in your area. Check your local city museums or state museums; even local colleges may have small exhibitions with photos, video or newspaper clippings. This will give you a better idea of local activists who organized for ratification in your area. Learning local history is a great way to better understand, connect with or organize within your community.
- Use your voice. Women had to fight incredibly hard to vote. Don’t waste the opportunity to exercise your rights. With the November election coming up (and seeing as how the ongoing battle against mail-in voting and the USPS makes things ever more complicated), it’s time to get to work. Are you registered to vote? Make sure you choose candidates for local elections, not just the presidential. Local officials have far more impact on your daily life. Request your mail-in ballot now if you can, get your sample ballot and comb through local newspapers to find out who’s running for representative, senate, city council and even your local school board.
- Get the word out. You can print copies of the Women’s Equality Day Brochure and leave them with teachers or at the library and coffee shops. Let your neighborhood Facebook group know you’ve got copies and ask your neighbors to pick one up. Host a group call for friends, coworkers or classmates about the history of Women’s Equality Day and challenge each other to take action steps in your city.
- Donate if you can. Donating to nonprofits and charity is incredibly important if you’re financially able. Planned Parenthood provides life-saving healthcare services to vulva-havers of all walks of life. Local candidates who support BLM or causes you care about also need your support, since many progressive candidates often have smaller budgets. You can also donate to the National Organization of Women or look for a domestic abuse shelter in your area to support.
- Volunteer if you can’t donate. If you don’t have the financial means to donate, give your time instead. Local domestic abuse shelters or sexual assault prevention centers need your help delivering services to women and children in need. Local BLM groups are still fighting for Black women’s rights; give them your time and attention. Trans women are still disproportionately affected by violence; many groups focus on LGBTQ women. Last but certainly not least, you can help local marginalized communities register to vote. All these organizations carry on the original suffragette spirit.
- A little light reading. Make sure you know the history of women’s suffrage. The National Women's History Project recommends “Winning The Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement.” (And no, the book isn’t any cheaper on Amazon, we checked.) When you’ve finished your copy, pass it along to a friend or buy a few for local schools and libraries.
- Assess your privileges and inclusivity. It’s worth taking some time to reflect on your own actions, and how well you’re creating an inclusive society. All our actions should be intersectional; true feminism includes women of all race, ethnicity, religion, class, experience, disability and gender identity.
While there are many battles ahead for a truly equitable society, it’s still important to reflect on the victories we’ve already won. The best way to celebrate Women’s Equality Day is to reflect, learn, and then keep pushing.