This is part of an ongoing Washington Informer series about the Women’s Suffrage Movement and an initiative that includes Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes that will use the lens of history, the fabric of art and culture and the venue of the public square to shine a light into dark places, equipping all with a compass to chart the way forward. The initiative lives in the institutional home of the Washington Informer Charities.
The signing of the 19th Amendment was a victorious moment for women in the suffrage movement. But, were women readily embraced at the polls? What happened to the Black women who helped to make the movement a success?
“After the passage of the 19th Amendment, politicians aggressively courted the women’s vote,” said David Greenberg, a professor of Journalism and Media Studies and History at the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
“In the 1920 elections, Democrats and Republicans hoped that women’s votes would make the key difference. They developed proposals aimed at women,” noted Greenberg who authored “Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency” (2016), “Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image” (2003); and “Calvin Coolidge” (2006).
“In the end, there was no ‘gender gap’ that year. It took many years before women in the aggregate showed different voting tendencies from men in the aggregate.”
For Black women outside of the South, the 19th Amendment’s effects were real and immediate, added Greenberg.
“In cities like Chicago and New York, Blacks developed a strong political power base and used it to influence the Democratic party’s policies. For Black women — and men — in the Jim Crow South, however, such power would have to wait until the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the fall of segregation,” he said.
After the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, suffragists knew that their work remained unfinished.
While the government recognized women’s right to vote, many women still faced discrimination. Members of the National Woman’s Party drafted the Equal Rights Amendment, according to National Parks Service (NPS) historians.
It wasn’t until 1970 that the Equal Rights Amendment won ratification in both houses of Congress but it still failed to receive adequate support from the states and it hasn’t been added to the Constitution.
In short, women — Black women in particular — still haven’t received full recognition at the ballot box, although women are more loyal and motivated about voting than men.
“A century after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, women are still advocating for their rights,” NPS historians wrote. “But the passage of the 19th Amendment was an important milestone in women’s history. The amendment gave women the power to vote and have a say in running our democracy.”