Today, August 26,2022, marks the 102nd anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women in the United States the right to vote. The 19th amendment was ratified on August 26, 1920 and was one of the first steps towards women’s equality in the workforce. Since gaining the right to vote, women and their allies have continued to strive towards women’s equality in the workforce, including through the passage of litigation aimed at leveling the playing field for women.
Women’s suffrage followed nearly a hundred years of advocacy. In the 1930s, after most states had extended the right to vote to all white men regardless of whether they owned property, Maria Stewart, an African American abolitionist and women’s rights activist, was the first known woman to speak publicly on abolitionism and women’s rights. However, Ms. Stewart was widely censured, including amongst her like-minded peers, for daring to address an audience of men and women from a public platform and for the next almost two decades, discussions of women’s suffrage occurred largely behind closed doors.
The women’s suffrage movement may be said to have begun when activists organized a convention in Seneca Falls, New York in July 1848 to discuss the rights of white women, including the right to vote. Following the Seneca Falls Convention, the women’s suffrage movement began to gain momentum until the start of the Civil War when progress faltered.
After the conclusion of the Civil War, women’s rights again began to gain ground. In 1869, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association, which advocated for universal suffrage, but largely excluded women of color from participation. However, other women’s rights activists opposed a constitutional amendment granting African Americans the right to vote, and some even sought support for their cause from racist Southerners with the promise that women’s votes could be used to neutralize African American votes. Nonetheless, African American men attained the right to vote with the passage of the 15th amendment in 1870.
The Woman Suffrage Amendment was first introduced on January 10, 1878 but was initially unsuccessful. Yet, in the early 20th century, the women’s suffrage movement gained further traction. Activists from the National American Woman Suffrage Association (the successor to the National Woman Suffrage Association), the National Association of Colored Women, and the National Woman’s Party, amongst other organizations, lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, participated in hunger strikes, held vigils, and picketed in support of women’s suffrage. The movement slowed during World War I. Nonetheless, the increased reliance on women’s labor whilst many men served in the war strengthened the popularity of women’s suffrage by highlighting women’s work and contributions at home.
The 19th amendment was passed by the House and Senate in 1919 and was ratified on August 26, 1920. Following the passage of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote, there has been a litany of litigation, furthering the aims of women’s equality in the workforce. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 mandated that men and women receive equal pay for equal work, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited covered employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, as well as race, color, religion, or national origin.
Further legislation protecting employees’ rights to take leave for medical conditions and to care for family members has helped provide women, who frequently hold more than their fair share of family and childrearing responsibilities, a more equal playing field at work. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination based on “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” In addition, in 1993, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires covered employers to provide covered employees unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons.
While Woman’s Equality Day is an important reminder of the progress we have made, there is more work yet to be done. Women graduate college at higher rates than men, but still make less money following graduation and often have fewer opportunities for higher-level positions, wage increases, and promotions. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of support for working women with children has contributed to the loss of more than one million women from the labor force.
Laws providing for equal treatment hardly guarantee equality in practice, and many women must stand up for themselves in a court of law or before the EEOC to demand fair treatment. Our firm is committed to guaranteeing our clients access to justice and to avidly and aggressively representing those who seek equal employment opportunity.
By Associate Louise Ryder