In honor of the centennial celebration of women winning the right to vote, NeW asked Susan Combs, Chair of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission and Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget for the Department of Interior, about the history and importance of this celebration.
What is your favorite fact about the women’s suffrage movement that many people may not know?
Many Americans aren’t aware that we needed a 19th Amendment to permit women’s voting rights at all. 100 years later, as we celebrate the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment, a lot of folks see women’s ballot box equality as a forgone conclusion: something that has always been around, because, for their lifetimes…it has.
My favorite little known fact about the women’s suffrage movement is that it began as soon as our country did. Even in 1776 women were advocating for equality. Abigail Adams, for example, wrote this to her husband, John, while he was at the Continental Congress: “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
Why should America celebrate the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment?
America should celebrate the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment because the opportunity to vote is a hallmark of a free and just society. We should also celebrate because of the countless mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives who devoted their lives to ensuring our current and future generations would benefit from their legacy accomplishment.
Why is it important for women to vote?
It’s important for women to vote because your vote chooses the policy direction of the country, and government policy affects nearly every facet of our lives: the contents of the air we breathe and the water we drink, what wages we can earn and how much of them we may keep, the speed we drive on roads and whether they are in good shape, the quality of our schools, the safety of our restaurants and the costs of goods and services.
How can we encourage our female peers, colleagues, friends, and family members to educate themselves on the issues and vote?
Women make 85% of consumer household decisions and are the heads of 4 in 10 American households. If women want to have further control of what choices they have: whether it’s what college scholarships they can apply for or what cleaners can legally go into detergent, it is important to vote. Many people are unaware that government, and their authority over it, makes these choices. The electorate can exercise remarkable power over government decisions…but voting is how the power is exercised.
What is the best advice you would give to a young woman in America today?
Remember the leadership lessons of the suffragists: seek fairness, be organized, study hard, be persistent, take courage, hone resilience, and never forget you’re as good as any man!
Learn more about the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission and the great work they are doing this year to celebrate this historic moment.