The 90th Anniversary of a Women’s Right to Vote

The movements for women's rights and racial justice have a long, intertwined history.

By Hatty Lee, Jamilah King Aug 21, 2010

This week marked the 90th anniversary of women winning the right to vote. On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee General Assembly became the 36th state legislature to ratify and thus finalize the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

The suffrage movement had a long, rich history alongside the one for racial justice. The abolition and and women’s rights movements were closely tied throughout the 19th century. It was in the course of advocating against slavery that women like Angela Grimke Weld and Sojourner Truth broke ground as the nation’s first public, female political leaders. Frederick Douglass, meanwhile, was the only male in attendance at the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848*, and advocating for women’s rights was an explicit part of the mission of his North Star newspaper. 

Later, after Reconstruction floundered, the suffrage movement struggled with race alongside the rest of the nation. Over at Teaching Tolerance, there’s a cautionary glance back at that complicated era:

Around 1900, growing numbers of white southern women joined the suffrage movement. To appease them and win support for women’s suffrage throughout the South, northern suffragists began espousing racist ideas.

They pointedly reminded white southerners that giving women the vote would prevent Blacks from gaining too much political power, since there were more White women in the southern states than Black men and women combined. Even Sara Bard Field used this racist argument.

Click here to see the 19th Amendment in its entirety.

Here are some important figures from the black women’s suffrage movement.

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the year of the first convention.

Photo: Creative Commons/Project Gutenberg Archive

Photo: Creative Commons/Project Gutenberg Archive

Photo: Creative Commons

Photo: Library of Congress