Happy 89th birthday to women’s right to vote

by on August 26, 2009  •  In Constitutional law

The Nineteenth Amendment – women's suffrage – was ratified on August 26, 1920, when Tennessee put the campaign to secure ratification of two-thirds of the states over the top. It seems like another world, until one realizes, as Hillary Clinton noted of her mother, that a fair number of little old ladies among us were born before women could vote.

Here's the NY Times coverage:

Washington, Aug. 26 — The half-century struggle for woman suffrage in the United States reached its climax at 8 o'clock this morning, when Bainbridge Colby, as Secretary of State, issued his proclamation announcing that the Nineteenth Amendment had become a part of the Constitution of the United States.

The signing of the proclamation took place at that hour at Secretary Colby's residence, 1507 K Street Northwest, without ceremony of any kind, and the issuance of the proclamation was unaccompanied by the taking of movies or other pictures, despite the fact that the National Woman's Party, or militant branch of the general suffrage movement, had been anxious to be represented by a delegation of women and to have the historic event filmed for public display and permanent record.

Secretary Colby did not act with undue haste in signing the proclamation, but only after he had given careful study to the packet which arrived by mail during the early morning hours containing the certificate of the Governor of Tennessee that that State's Legislature had ratified the Congressional resolution submitting the amendment to the States for action.

None of the leaders of the woman suffrage movement was present when the proclamation was signed. "It was quite tragic," declared Mrs. Abby Scott Baker of the National Woman's Party. "This was the final culmination of the women's fight, and, women, irrespective of factions, should have been allowed to be present when the proclamation was signed. However the women of America have fought a big fight and nothing can take from them their triumph."

Leaders of both branches of the woman's movement- the militants, headed by Miss Alice Paul, and the conservatives, led by Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt — some of whom had been on watch nearly all night for the arrival of the Tennessee Governor's certification, visited the State Department, and the militants sought to have Secretary Colby go through a duplication of the signing scene in the presence of movie cameras. This Mr. Colby declined to do, on the ground that it was not necessary to detract from the dignity and importance of the signing of the proclamation by staging a scene in imitation of the actual signing of the proclamation….

At the same time Mr. Colby congratulated the women of the country on the successful culmination of their efforts in the face of discouragements, and declared the day "marks the opening of a great and new era in the political life of the nation."

"I confidently believe," said the Secretary, "that every salutary, forward and upward force in our public life will receive fresh vigor and reinforcement from the enfranchisement of the women of America. To the leaders of this great movement I tender my sincere congratulations. To every one, from the president, who uttered the call to duty, whenever the cause seemed to falter, to the humblest worker in this great reform, the praise not only of this generation but of posterity will be freely given."…

Late this afternoon Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, head of the National American Suffrage Association, and Mrs. Helen H. Gardiner, another active worker in that organization, were received at the White House by President and Mrs. Wilson. The National Woman's Party, known as the militants and a rival organization to that headed by Mrs. Catt, was not represented…..

A mass meeting [and jubilee at Poll's Theatre tonight] was attended by women from every section of the country and a number of officials of the administration, including members of the Cabinet, were present.

0826_big Differences between the rival organizations of suffragists as to who should be present at the signing of the proclamation developed yesterday, and as no agreement could be brought about between them, it is believed that Secretary Colby decided to sign the proclamation in his own home to avoid a clash at his office.

"It was decided," said the Secretary in a statement this afternoon, "not to accompany this simple ministerial action on my part with any ceremony or setting. This secondary aspect of the subject has regretfully been the source of considerable contention as to who shall participate in it and who shall not. Inasmuch as I am not interested in the aftermath of any of the friction or collisions which may have been developed in the long struggle for the ratification of the amendment, I have contented myself with the performance in the simplest manner of the duty devolving upon me under the law."

Representatives of both factions visited the State Department this morning. Mrs. Catt and members of her party were photographed by movie operators as they left the State Department. Miss Alice Paul and her associates of the militant wing of the suffragists waited in the corridor of the State Department to be seen by the Secretary of State, who sent word he would receive them, but at this moment the Spanish Ambassador arrived and took precedence over the delegation of militants. As time wore on the militant delegation thinned and finally left the department without having an audience with the Secretary of State.

Secretary Colby late this afternoon was asked by newspaper men to picture the scene that took place at his home when the final chapter of the story of ratification was reached.

"The package containing the certified record of the action of the Legislature of the State of Tennessee," said Mr. Colby, "came in on a train which reached Washington some time during the early morning hours. I was awakened by Charles L. Cooke of the State Department at about a quarter to 4 o'clock this morning, who said that the packet from the Governor of Tennessee had arrived. I told him to bring it to me."

"He brought it to me in about ten minutes," replied the Secretary. "There were some legal matters connected with the ratification that I wished to have examined by the chief law officer of the State Department with instructions to bring the papers to me at my home at 8 o'clock this morning.

"I had received a large number of messages asking me to act on the amendment with insistent promptitude. Fear was strong in some minds that the 'antis' would effect some sort of injunction from the courts to interfere with my proclamation of the completion of the act of ratification. While it was not my own opinion that it would be becoming for me to resort to undue eagerness to avoid an opportunity for judicial interferences, I saw no reason whatever why I should conspicuously loiter.

"I confess to a disinclination to signing it in the wee morning hours of the night, believing that would not be conducive to a dignified function of so important a character, and thought that 8 o'clock in the morning would be a fair hour for action in the matter."…

"You remember," he continued, "the simple way in which the late Admiral Dewey went about the opening of his battle at Manila Bay, how he waited until morning to enter Manila Bay, went up on deck, wiped the egg stains of breakfast from his moustache, observed the disposition of the enemy's ships and of his own, which had crossed the mines during the night, and then taking out a cigar, turned to one of his Captains and said, 'When you are ready, you may fire, Gridley.' So I turn to the women of America and say: 'You may now fire when you are ready. You have been enfranchised.'"…


One Response to Happy 89th birthday to women’s right to vote

  1. MediaMentions August 26, 2009 at 7:24 PM

    Well, happy birthday. However, there are pretty serious issues going on with elections now, as have been 89 years ago: link to pressdisplay.com


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