August 26th is the anniversary of national women’s suffrage in the United States. The woman suffrage amendment was introduced for the first time to Congress on January 10, 1878, thirty years after the first major women’s rights conference in the U.S. at Seneca Falls, New York. According to the National Women’s Equality Museum website, the Nineteenth Amendment “was re-submitted numerous times until finally in June 1919 the amendment received approval from both the House of Representatives and the Senate.” During the next year, suffragists lobbied nationwide in order to obtain the required two-thirds of the states to ratify the amendment. “On August 24th, Tennessee, the final state needed for ratification,” narrowly approved ratification by one vote. “U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the amendment into law on August 26, 1920.”
In doing so, the United States joined numerous other nations that had already granted women the right to vote, including New Zealand (1893), Finland (1906), Norway (1913), Denmark (1915), Iceland (1915), Estonia (1918), Hungary (1918), Poland (1918), the Russian Federation (1918), Austria (1918), Germany (1918), Ireland (1918), the United Kingdom (1918), Luxemburg (1919), the Netherlands (1919), Sweden (1919), and Lithuania (1919). Women’s suffrage in Australia (1902) and Canada (1917) excluded indigenous women until the 1960s.
Fifty years after the Nineteenth Amendment became law, Betty Friedan and the National Organization for Women (NOW) organized a nationwide Women’s Strike for Equality on August 26th, 1970. “Women across the political spectrum joined together to demand equal opportunities in employment, education, and twenty-four hour child-care centers. This was the largest protest for gender equality in U.S. history. There were demonstrations and rallies in more than ninety major cities and small towns across the country and over 100,000 women participated, including 50,000 who marched down Fifth Avenue in New York City.”
The following year, Representative Bella Abzug (D-NY) introduced a bill designating August 26th of each year as Women’s Equality Day in the United States. Passed by Congress, the bill asserted that “Women’s Equality Day is a symbol of women’s continued fight for equal rights.”
The movement for women’s rights continues. Ordain Women’s first Equal in Faith initiative, for example, cosponsored by the Roman Catholic Women’s Ordination Conference and Ordain Women Now of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, took place on August 26, 2013, to draw specific attention to the national need for gender justice in religion. Why, we asked, when we increasingly expected equity in our secular lives, did we acquiesce to inequity in our religious communities?
This year’s Equal in Faith Fast for Gender Justice in Religion took place on International Women’s Day and was expanded to include a global audience. We hope all will join us in commemorating Women’s Equality Day in the United States and the continuing work for gender justice around the world by sharing the following video, prepared for the Equal in Faith initiative. And in September, Ordain Women hopes to highlight the history of women’s rights initiatives globally in a series of blog posts by OW supporters and those participating in the U.S. women’s history tour. Onward, sisters.
Honoring our past,
Envisioning our Future.
Lorie Winder Stromberg, the author of this post, is on the Ordain Women Executive Board.