August 18, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the amendment which extended the franchise to women, declaring: “The right to vote of all citizens of the United States. United should not be denied or abbreviated by the United States or any other state on the basis of gender.

The process of its passage was no less dramatic than the years it took to get to the point where, in the final moments, the decision rested with the youngest member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, who in the final moments of the vote to approve, followed her mother’s advice, and Tennessee became the “Perfect 36”.

The road to securing these voting rights has been a long and arduous journey that has required passing the torch to generations of women to keep the flame burning until the destination is reached. The trip gained notoriety on July 19 and 20, 1848, when the first convention on women’s rights was held and promoted a social revolution, but it was predicted by Abigail Adams 72 years earlier in 1776.

She suggested the possibility of a women’s rebellion in a letter to her husband John Adams, founding father and future president. At the time, John Adams was one of five men tasked with drafting a declaration of independence from Britain. He took on the task on March 31, 1776 when Abigail Adams warned her husband and the entire Continental Congress to “remember the ladies and be more generous and supportive to them than your ancestors.” Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of husbands. Remember that all men would be tyrants if they could. If special care and attention is not given to the ladies, we are determined to stir up rebellion and will not stand bound by laws in which we have no voice or representation.

Although it is generally argued that the first line of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, which reads: “We take these truths for granted, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with by their creator of certain inalienable rights. , that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that to guarantee these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed … “the term” men “designates any humanity.

Culture and attitudes have not always supported this premise.

Women were denied many of the basic rights that the Declaration affirmed and later the newly created Constitution assumed. Laws affecting them directly were drafted without “the consent of half of the governed”. Single women who owned property were heavily taxed; women were not allowed to study law, medicine, theology or the most “profitable” jobs, and were routinely denied a college education, sometimes even basic education. and the wages earned belonged to the husband, who was considered his master. Husbands could deprive wives of all freedom and advocate punishment as they pleased. Divorce laws gave “full power” to the husband to determine child custody, alimony and living conditions, and in a jury trial, women were not tried by a jury made up of their peers, because women were not allowed to be jurors.

Although women were among the governed, they were not entitled to the “inalienable right to elective suffrage,” said suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the 1848 convention in Seneca Falls – the first human rights convention. women.

Women fought, suffered and sacrificed themselves – they ran the farms, raised their children and held the home front for freedom during the War of Independence, yet 72 years later for them true freedom remained. still an illusion.

As Abigail Adams predicted, a rebellion was brewing and it finally surfaced in July 1848, a time when the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, providing opportunities, changing landscapes and changing lives. The social revolution that was brewing under the radar was also going to have a big effect on lives, opportunities and the future.

As a child, Stanton rebelled “against the tyranny of authority”, the Calvinist religion of the family, and the suppression of his curiosity for the world around him. As an adult, Stanton was caught in the crosshairs of the country’s transition from pre-industrial to industrial and from rural to urban. Her personal conflict with authority and her sustained curiosity made her well suited for the role of “women’s rights agitator”. She discovered the cause of women’s rights while spending time in the mid-1830s with a cousin who allowed her to meet men and women active and / or supporting abolitionist and women’s rights movements.

In 1848, Stanton was ready and determined to bring attention to the women’s rights movement. She had the idea of ​​having a “public meeting of protest and discussion” near her home in Seneca Falls, New York. The meeting became the first convention on women’s rights. A crowd of 68 women and 32 men filled the Wesleyan Chapel on July 19, 1848 to come together and adopt a declaration of sentiments using the same language as the Declaration of Independence written 72 years earlier, with the addition of a different list of offenses and two of the words “and women” to “we take these truths for granted, that all men are created equal”.

The event was the first official step towards an “elective franchise” for women: the right to vote.

Susan B. Anthony, who made suffrage a life mission, outlined the implications of refusing to vote for women during her indictment and sentencing hearing for illegally voting in her Rochester, New York compound. York, in the presidential election of 1872. She said to the judge: “Your denial of the right to vote of my citizen is the denial of my right of consent as one of the governed, the denial of my right of representation. as one of the taxed, the denial of my right to a trial by a jury of my peers as a law breaker… ”

She was fined $ 1,000 for her offense, which she refused to pay and the court did not attempt to recover. Anthony continued to work and lobby for women’s suffrage until her death in 1906 at the age of 86.

Stanton and Anthony didn’t live to witness the fruits of their labor, but they died confident the torch had been passed and the next generation would complete the task. This happened on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, dubbed the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which was passed by a vote in the House of Representatives.

Carole Robinson can be contacted at [email protected]

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