On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment took effect in the United States. The amendment was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and submitted to the states for ratification. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, creating the two-thirds majority needed. Eight days later it went into effect.
Its text is simple: “The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” However, the process that led to its adoption was both complex and inspiring.
The Constitution did not define the gender of those eligible to vote (a right known as “suffrage”). From the beginning, the states excluded women (except for New Jersey, which permitted women to vote until it revoked their suffrage in 1807). After the Civil War, the 15th amendment expanded voting rights to include people of any race. However, women were still excluded by the states.
Susan B. Anthony eventually drafted the text of the 19th amendment, which was introduced to the Senate in 1878 but rejected in 1887. Some western states gave women the vote, but the Senate rejected the constitutional amendment again in 1914. It was brought up for vote in 1918, where it fell two votes short of passage. In 1919, it failed by one vote. It was introduced again that year, where it finally passed and was sent to the states for ratification. Tennessee’s House of Representatives approved it by a single vote just before the ratification period was set to expire.
It’s impossible to imagine an America where women cannot vote, but such was the country my grandmothers knew. A handful of women began the 70-year struggle that culminated in a right Americans take for granted today.
Twenty centuries ago, the risen Lord appeared first to two women (Matthew 28:1-10), making them the first evangelists after the resurrection. Women such as Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe and Junius became leaders of the global Christian advance. Wherever I have witnessed the global awakening of our day, I have found women on the front lines.
In Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female” (Galatians 3:28). Any of us can say with Mary, “I am the servant of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). When we do, we will be able to share her praise: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
God is calling more culture-changing Christians than are answering his call. No matter your gender, social status, financial worth, or gifts and abilities, you have a unique Kingdom assignment. Do you know yours? Are you seeking to fulfill it in the power of the Spirit?
Joan of Arc was right: “Act, and God will act.”