Just who gained the power of the vote?


One hundred years ago this August, women in the United States gained the vote, or as some of us would say, gained the power of the vote. On Aug. 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state, making two-thirds of the states to ratify the 19th Amendment, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law on Aug. 26, 1920.

The League of Women Voters of Martha’s Vineyard, as part of the centennial celebration activities of the 19th Amendment — and the founding of the League of Women Voters — is wanting to correct an impression that history has given us about women’s suffrage in this country.

(Some) women gained the right to vote in 1920, but racial segregation and disenfranchisement succeeded in curtailing black women’s suffrage. Southern states had earlier passed voter registration and election rules that still effectively disenfranchised most blacks, including men. Those restrictions were not fully overturned until President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1965 into law.

And, to further correct an historical impression — Native American women played a vital role in passing the 19th Amendment, but were unable to vote until June 24, 1924 when Congress granted citizenship to Native Americans through the Indian Citizenship Act. However, many states nonetheless made laws and policies which prohibited Native Americans from voting, and many were effectively barred from voting until 1957.

In 1943, Chinese immigrants, including women, received the right to vote by the Magnuson Act. 

In 1952, the McCarran-Walter Act repealed the race restrictions of the 1790 Naturalization Law giving first generation Japanese Americans, including women, citizenship and voting rights. 

But a broad-brush lesson here is this — we had the power of the vote in some states when we were an early country until the 1770’s. Three decades following the adoption of the U.S. Constitution recognizing state’s rights in establishing voting qualifications, women lost that power — the State of New Jersey being the last state to rescind women’s suffrage in 1807. Twelve decades or 120 years later, we regained that power in 1920 — but in reality, it took another four decades before ALL women got the power to vote. 

And yet or through it all, we are still faced with the challenges of restrictions and access to voting in our country today.


Deborah Medders is chair of the League of Women Voters-Martha’s Vineyard 2020 Centennial Campaign.