After the 19th Amendment: Modern Movements for Women’s Rights

Over the past week we have been exploring the history of the fight for women’s suffrage in the Champlain Valley at 100 years. What about the legacy after the pivotal passage of the 19th Amendment? Most women have been able to vote in 25 presidential elections (today marks the 26th!), as well as many important local elections. To mark Election Day, let’s dig into what happened after the 19th Amendment and explore modern movements for women’s rights at home and around the world.

By 1918, President Wilson was prepared to support a bill to enfranchise women, and public opinion was swinging toward suffrage. When the ratification process began, New York approved the measure with only a single abstaining vote. Vermont, though, failed to become the deciding vote upon the election of the “wet” anti-suffragist governor Percival Clements. Despite that, the amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920.

After ratification of the 19th amendment in the United States in 1920, the movement for women’s rights continued. Women could vote, but many felt that stronger protections for rights of women should be imbedded in the constitution. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman and submitted to congress in 1923. The amendment would have guaranteed equal rights for all Americans regardless of sex. While it was close to ratification in the 1970s, a national anti-ERA movement led by Phyllis Schlafly slowed it down. In January of 2020, Virgnia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, but the ERA did not meet its ratification deadline in the 1980s. Today, the National Woman’s Party continues to advocate for the amendment.

A modern emblem in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. The effort to pass this amendment continues even today.

Image Credit: Equal Rights Amendment Toolkit, https://www.equalrightsamendment.org/toolkit

Global movements have continued to grow as well. The Women’s March has brought together some of the largest protest crowds in American history, while the #MeToo movement has brought women’s stories of sexual violence and sexual harassment into the social media spotlight.

Today, women and men across the globe connect women’s rights to modern causes, just as suffrage was tied to a patchwork of other ideas in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The continued importance of these issues are a reminder that women’s suffrage was a key step toward social equality, but that work continues both in the Champlain Valley, North America, and across the globe.

Many states, especially in the west, had already granted women the franchise by the passage of the 19th amendment, some as early as the 1860s. As with most movements in America, individual communities and states often lead the way to change at the national level.

Image Credit: Mayer, Henry, Artist. The awakening / Hy Mayer. New York: Published by Puck Publishing Corporation, 295-309 Lafayette Street. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/98502844/.

After the passage of the 19th amendment, Alice Paul and the National Women’s Party continued their efforts, seen here sewing the stars on the suffrage banner. After helping to initiate the Equal Rights Amendment,Alice Paul lived for a time in Vermont while working for the United Nations to advance women’s rights worldwide.

Image Credit: Sewing Stars on Suffrage Flag. Photograph. 1920. National Photo Company Collection. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/2016827559

The National Women’s Party created banners like this one prior to the 19th Amendment, advocating for what would become known as the Equal Rights Amendment.

Image Credit: Woman Suffrage Banner, 1914-1917. National Woman’s Party. Washington DC. Division of Political and Military History, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1371103

Differing opinions about the role of women in society still remain. The ratification of the ERA in the early 1980s was prevented by an anti-ERA movement led by Phyllis Schlafly, who believed women were better served by their traditional family roles.

Image Credit: Leffler, Warren K, photographer. Activist Phyllis Schafly wearing a “Stop ERA” badge, demonstrating with other women against the Equal Rights Amendment in front of the White House, Washington, D.C. Feb. 4. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/2011648744/.

Some of the largest marches in American History have happened as part of the Women’s Marches. Since 2017, these events have brought together millions in cities across the country and globe.  Here, Vermont and New York residents gather in Washington, DC for the 2017 Women’s March.

Image Credit: “Vermont and New York residents gather in Washington, DC for the 2017 Women’s March.” January 21, 2017, Washington, DC. Courtesy of Susan Evans McClure

This post is part of the series Women’s Suffrage in the Champlain Valley. Make sure you’ve read all the posts in this series:

The text and images here are originally from a Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership traveling exhibit Women’s Suffrage in the Champlain Valley, researched and written by Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. For more information about the traveling exhibit, contact CVNHP: https://champlainvalleynhp.org/.