The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Passed by Congress June 4, 1919. Ratified August 18, 1920.

Guest Essayist: Julia Shaw, Research Associate and Program Manager in the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation

Amendment XIX:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


The Nineteenth Amendment

The Nineteenth Amendment prohibits the federal government or state governments from denying individuals the right to vote on the basis of sex. It also grants Congress the power to impose this rule through legislation.

The Constitution introduced in 1787 was a gender-neutral document: It actually did not prohibit women from voting. The Framers gave individual states the power to determine who could participate in elections. All states granted men suffrage. In 1797, though, New Jersey made history by recognizing the right of women to vote. Never before in all of recorded history had women exercised the right to vote.

Because the Constitution did not prohibit women from voting, no constitutional amendment was technically necessary for women to exercise suffrage. This is evident in the variety of strategies that the women’s suffrage movement used to secure the right to vote.

The first strategy involved the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Section 2 of that amendment prohibited denying “male inhabitants” the right to vote, suggesting that the Constitution granted only men the right to vote. Proponents of women’s suffrage argued that the Citizenship Clause and the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prevented states from denying women the right to vote in federal elections. In Minor v. Happersett (1874), however, the Supreme Court dismissed this argument.

The second strategy focused on convincing individual states to remove voting qualifications related to sex. These efforts were eventually quite successful. Wyoming entered the Union in 1890 with women’s suffrage, becoming the first state since New Jersey to allow women to participate in elections on an equal basis with men. By the time the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, 30 states already granted voting rights to women for members of the House, members of the Senate, or the President.

The third and final strategy involved amending the Constitution to prevent states from imposing sex-based voting qualifications. The first of such amendments was proposed in 1869. In 1897, a California Senator proposed what would become the Nineteenth Amendment. The Amendment was ratified in 1920 with essentially the same wording as the Fifteenth Amendment.

There has been little litigation over the Nineteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court addressed the amendment directly in Breedlove v. Suttles (1937), a case in which Georgia law exempted women from a tax but required men to pay it upon registering to vote. The Court ruled that the amendment protected the right of both men and women to vote but did not limit a state’s authority to tax voters.

Julia Shaw is Research Associate and Program Manager in the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation.

May 18, 2012

Essay #65


Guest Essayist: Carol Crossed, Owner and President, Susan B Anthony Birthplace Museum

Amendment XIX

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

It is hard to imagine that only 90 years ago, one half of the population of the United States could not vote because of their gender.  But the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 mandated that states could no longer deny women this fundamental right.  It was named the Susan B Anthony Amendment, after the foremost leader for women’s suffrage.

On that first Election Day, November 2, 1920, single and married women, young and old, exercised a right they had fought for in their homes and churches, in town halls, and on the streets.  Polling places swelled almost beyond capacity with voters who had never before done such a thing.  Mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts proud and eager, rushed to their polling location as early in the morning as possible, as if vying for the front row seat at the theater. Flustered by the idea of a secret ballot, one woman thought she needed to sign the back of the card. Others carried their groceries on their hips, maneuvering the crowds and chatting enthusiastically over screaming children.

The New York Times reported that while approximately one in three women, who were eligible, voted, more women than men actually voted in some districts. The Chicago Tribune credited Republican Harding’s landslide victory to the woman’s vote.

Unlike some other amendments to the constitution, the 19th Amendment was hard fought.  For instance, the 26th Amendment passed in 1971, which granted the right to vote for citizens 18 years of age, took only 3 months and 8 days to be ratified.  As a matter of fact, of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, 7 took only 1 year or less to become the law of the land.

However, women struggled for72 years to pass the Nineteenth Amendment.  Anti suffrage organizations were most popular in the New England states.  Opponents claimed that the female brain was of inferior size.  Others claimed that women did not possess a soul.  Humorous postcards portrayed women taking too long to get all their petticoats on to get to the polls.  Some newspaper editorials said that women would only vote the way their husbands told them to anyway.

But even the movement that supported votes for women was ripe with internal dissention.  The passage of the 15th Amendment, giving the Negro the right to vote in 1869, caused a 20 year split in the women’s movement.  Some felt that Negro suffrage should only be passed if it also gave women suffrage.  Others felt that the country was not prepared to enfranchise both and therefore women had to take a back seat.

Did the rights of the Negro have to diminish the rights of women, black and white?

That question was also being asked about women’s rights as it related to motherhood and family life.  Would freeing women to participate in government put at risk the care of children?  In other words, could the rights of all coexist?

Against this backdrop, suffrage leaders took seriously these portrayals of power and domination by their gender.  They exercised their greatest skill in combating this perception put forth by their opponents that they would abandon their children. Nowhere was this made more apparent than in their opposition to ‘Restellism,’ the term given to abortion, the most heinous form of child abandonment. It was named after the infamous abortionist Madame Restell, frequently arrested and discussed in Susan B Anthony’s publication The Revolution. Suffrage leaders saw opposition to ‘ante-natal murder’ and ‘foeticide’ as an opportunity to clear their name of unfair accusations against them by anti-vice squads, who believed the decadence of the Victorian Era lay at women’s independence.

But opposing abortion was more than a political strategy.  It was support for a human right, a right that was integral to their own.  The organizer of the first women’s rights convention in 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, made these connections in a letter to suffrage leader Julia Ward Howe.  Howe believed war was the enemy of women because it destroyed their sons and husbands and brothers. Stanton made this same death connection with mothers who destroyed their children: “When we consider that women are deemed the property of men, it is degrading that we should consider our children as property to destroy as we see fit.”

Not only were anti-suffrage crusaders misinformed about the care for children that was integral to the suffrage agenda, they misunderstood that women wanted the vote not so much for their own self aggrandizement but for ‘life over material wealth’ or for the good of families and children. Child labor laws, poverty, and universal education were issues for which they sought the vote. They sought the vote for themselves because they were mothers who knew the needs of everychild. It was their maternity that they saw as their greatest gift of citizenship. As political artist J Montgomery Flagg’s winning 1913 poster proclaimed, Mothers bring all voters into the world.

Susan B Anthony did not live to see the passage of the Amendment that was named for her life’s work.  A radical young new woman leader, Alice Paul, was jailed with 66 colleagues for their protest at an event honoring President Wilson and the US participation in World War I.  This sparked the nation’s awakening and compassion, but more importantly, weakened the President’s opposition to the justice they demanded.

Paul created a flag with the suffrage colors: gold for the sunflower of Kansas (an early state to grant women suffrage), white for purity, and purple for eminence.  She sewed on it a star for each state that ratified the Amendment.  Only one more state was needed, and on August 18, 1920, Paul received a telegram proclaiming the ‘yes’ vote by the Legislature of the State of Tennessee.  Paul draped the flag over a balcony in Washington DC.  Women now could exercise the right to shape and determine the course of history.


·         Boston Daily Globe, Nov. 3, 1920

·         NY Times, December 19, 1920

·         Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 3, 1920

·         Archive collection, Susan B Anthony Birthplace, Adams, MA

Carol Crossed is the Owner and President of the Susan B Anthony Birthplace Museum in Adams, Massachusetts.