Women’s Equality Day – August 26, 2019

Women's Equality Day graphic The date was chosen to commemorate the day in 1920 when Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the proclamation granting American women the constitutional right to vote. In 1971, following the 1970 nationwide Women’s Strike for Equality, and again in 1973, as the battles over the Equal Rights Amendment continued, Congresswoman Bella Abzug of New York introduced a resolution to designate August 26 as Women’s Equality Day.

On August 16, 1973, Congress approved H.J. Res. 52, which stated that August 26 would be designated as Women’s Equality Day and that “the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation in commemoration of that day in 1920 on which the women in American were first guaranteed the right to vote”. The same day, President Richard Nixon issued Proclamation 4236 for Women’s Equality Day, which began, in part: “The struggle for women’s suffrage, however, was only the first step toward full and equal participation of women in our Nation’s life. In recent years, we have made other giant strides by attacking sex discrimination through our laws and by paving new avenues to equal economic opportunity for women. Today, in virtually every sector of our society, women are making important contributions to the quality of American life. And yet, much still remains to be done”.

As of 2018, every president since Richard Nixon has issued a proclamation designating August 26 as Women’s Equality Day. On August 25, 2016, President Obama’s Proclamation read, in part: “Today, as we celebrate the anniversary of this hard-won achievement and pay tribute to the trailblazers and suffragists who moved us closer to a more just and prosperous future, we resolve to protect this constitutional right and pledge to continue fighting for equality for women and girls”.

Excerpted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_Equality_Day  7/31/2019

History of the Signing of the 19th Amendment

The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote nationally on August 18, 1920, so why is Women’s Equality Day on August 26th each year?

Bainbridge Colby graphicThe simple answer is that just because a constitutional amendment is ratified, it’s not official until it is certified by the correct government official. In 1920, that official was Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby. On August 26, 1920, Colby signed a proclamation behind closed doors at 8 a.m. at his own house in Washington, D.C, ending a struggle for the vote that started a century earlier.

The New York Times ran the story about the document’s signing on its front page and noted the lack of fanfare for the historic event.

Colby had been asked by women’s suffrage leaders Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt to allow groups in Colby’s office for the document’s signing and to film the event. Instead, Colby told reporters that “effectuating suffrage through proclamation of its ratification by the necessary thirty-six States was more important than feeding the movie cameras.”

The Times said Colby was concerned about the rivalry between Paul and Catt and wanted to avoid a public scene at the signing.

“Inasmuch as I am not interested in the aftermath of any of the friction or collisions which may have been developed in the long struggle for the ratification of the amendment, I have contented myself with the performance in the simplest manner of the duty devolving upon me under the law,” Colby said.

A package of documents from the state of Tennessee had arrived by train in Washington around 4 a.m. It included the official ratification document from the state legislature.

How Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, was a story in itself. Congress had passed the proposed amendment a year earlier, and it was supported by President Woodrow Wilson.

By the middle of 1920, 35 states had voted to ratify the amendment, but four other states—Connecticut, Vermont, North Carolina and Florida—would not consider the resolution for various reasons. The remaining states had rejected the amendment.

So Tennessee was the battleground to obtain the three-fourths of the states needed to ratify the amendment. Harry T. Burn, a 24-year-old legislator, switched his vote on the Tennessee state house floor at the urging of his mother, assuring the 19th amendment’s ratification.

But as Colby signed the proclamation on August 26, members of the Tennessee legislature were still trying to nullify the previous vote.

In 1971, Representative Bella Abzug championed a bill in the U.S. Congress to designate August 26 as “Women’s Equality Day.” The bill says that “the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote.”

As a footnote, the amendment certification process has changed since 1920. Now, the Archivist of the United States, who heads the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), is responsible for finalizing the ratification process.

Back in 1920, Secretary Colby’s attorney reviewed the documents that arrived from Tennessee. Today, NARA’s Office of the Federal Register reviews the documents and writes the proclamation for the Archivist of the United States to sign.

Section 106b of the United States Code spells out the finality of the proclamation.

“The Archivist of the United States shall forthwith cause the amendment to be published, with his certificate, specifying the States by which the same may have been adopted, and that the same has become valid, to all intents and purposes, as a part of the Constitution of the United States.”

Excerpted from https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/why-august-26-is-known-as-womans-equality-day  7/31/2019

 

Today

Women make up roughly 51 percent of the population, but only 20 percent of Congress is made up of women. Less than 22 percent of city mayors are women. We have yet to have a female commander in chief.

On the flipside, we’re seeing more female candidates running for office (and winning primaries) than ever before, coupled with the fact that women are also the majority of voters in this country: Since 1980, the percent of eligible women voters who said they voted has been higher than the percent of men in every presidential election, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

Having a government that more accurately reflects the population will help push legislation forward to better reflect our wants and needs, from supporting equal pay to advocating for mandatory parental leave to greater protection against sexual harassment to gun safety. And exercising your right to vote will help push important issues forward.

This is vital at a time when we still have a gender pay gap that widens for minorities. We still don’t have mandatory paid parental leave. The number of women leading Fortune 500 companies dropped by roughly 25 percent since last year. We need more women in leadership positions to have decision-making power.

Equality is not a female issue; it’s a social and economic imperative. In fact, up to $28 trillion could be added to the global GDP if we achieve full gender equality by 2025, reports the McKinsey Global Institute.

We can’t wait for equality to happen. We have to make it happen. It is each of our responsibility to drive change. Educate yourself on political issues. Get to the voting booths. Run for office if you feel called to do so. On Women’s Equality Day and every day, let’s rewrite the rules that are no longer working and create new ones, together.

Excerpted from https://www.nbcnews.com/know-your-value/feature/women-s-equality-day-why-it-matters-how-you-can-ncna903786  7/31/2019