Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.
January 6, 1920: A major milestone today in the battle for the ballot!
The Susan B. Anthony (woman suffrage) Amendment is now two-thirds of the way through its final stage, that of ratification. Rhode Island and Kentucky became the 23rd and 24th State legislatures to approve, so just 12 more are needed to make the Anthony Amendment the 19th Amendment, and ban sex discrimination at the polls nationwide. At the offices of the National American Woman Suffrage Association there was unrestrained optimism, as the goal has now advanced from ratification before Election Day, November 2nd, to obtaining approval of those last dozen states by April, in time for the Presidential Primaries.
The celebration at National Woman’s Party headquarters was delayed a bit, due to a fire, but was quite enthusiastic when it finally occurred. The fire began in a furnace room just about the time word was received of the double ratification.
The party has a reputation for using fire as part of its demonstrations due to burning some of President Wilson’s speeches last year, so the crowd that gathered in Lafayette Park when the smoke first appeared thought it was some sort of celebration. But the blaze wasn’t intentional or celebratory, and spread from its source to the ballroom, then to the living quarters, doing about $1,000 damage. Fortunately, the Fire Department arrived quickly, as did the police, who helped carry out the most valuable items to be saved just in case the fire couldn’t be extinguished. The 22-star “ratification flag” was among the crucial items quickly brought outside. It was unharmed, so Alice Paul can now sew on two more stars.
The margins of victory for the ratifications achieved today show just how powerful the momentum for suffrage has become. In Rhode Island the vote was 89 to 3 in the House, and unanimous in the Senate. Mary B. Anthony said on behalf of the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association: “It is with a feeling of profound satisfaction that I realize that Rhode Island has ratified. ‘Little Rhody’ is a fine State and here’s the proof.”
In Kentucky, the vote was 72 to 25 in the House and 30 to 8 in the Senate, and of sufficient priority that the issue was dealt with on the first day of the legislative session. Before ratifying, the Senate rejected by 23 to 15 a proposal to submit the amendment to a Statewide referendum.
The Anthony Amendment was passed by the required 2/3 of both Houses of Congress and sent to the States seven months and two days ago. It is nine months and twenty-seven days until the General Election, so two-thirds of the job of ratification has been done in less than half the time between the two events. But the States that remain are going to be much harder to ratify, so the pace may be slower.
Complicating things further is the fact that the “antis” managed to postpone the Anthony Amendment’s passage by Congress so long that many State legislatures had already adjourned their regular sessions and are not scheduled to reconvene until next year. So, getting governors to call special sessions to vote on ratification has been a high priority for all suffrage groups. There are also States in which a majority of the the legislature is composed of legislators of a different political party than the governor, so they may not want to give the governor a political victory if a special session is called. And, of course, in all States there are local, personal, and partisan rivalries that complicate a vote on any issue.
Like every amendment except the 18th, there is no time limit on ratification of the Anthony Amendment, so failure to ratify this year would not doom it. But if it is not ratified in time for women in non-suffrage States to register to vote for this year’s General Election, it would deprive millions of women of their right to choose our next President, their Representatives in the House, as well as any Senators who will be elected this year, inaugurated in 1921 and remain in office until March 4, 1927. The country deserves a President and Congress elected by both male and female voters, and every effort will be made to assure that result.