This year marked the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. The GFWC Woman’s Club spent this week reminding woman of the past so they would be encouraged to play a role in the future of this country.
The GFWC Woman’s Club of Plant City reminded women all around the community that their right to vote is something to be cherished.
On Monday, the group received a proclamation from the City of Plant City in honor of the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. The timing may seem odd as the amendment was passed by congress on June 4, 1919 and was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920. Like so many things, the ongoing pandemic put many celebrations on hold. Now that the state is reopening, the proclamation came just in time for Election Day.
The club then met early the next morning for a special meeting where all of the members dressed in white and wore sashes reading “Votes for Women” in honor of the many legendary walks and parades that advocated for the suffrage movement. They held their normal meeting first and then a ceremony in honor of the anniversary. Four women were also installed into the club that morning.
“I think it’s really important to me that people know, especially the young girls, what happened in this country to allow women to be able to vote,” Patricia Wolff, president of the GFWC Woman’s Club of Plant City, said. “Use it, use it, don’t waste it. Once you are of the age to vote, do it because there were so many women that suffered so much to make this possible. They were beaten, they were incarcerated, they suffered so we can vote. Use your right and go vote. We have it easy, but the ones before — they didn’t. I hope that people know what came before so that they understand how important this is.”
Leading the group of women Tuesday morning in an inspirational and historical look back at the suffrage movement was Tom Mortenson. Mortenson touched on a variety of topics while detailing for nearly half an hour what women in this country had to do to secure their rights at the polls.
He shared the full history of the movement, including the fact there was a massive divide in suffragettes as some white women in the movement didn’t want the right to extend to their black counterparts. Black men and women were absolutely a crucial part of the suffrage movement in the U.S., but there were those also in the movement who were vehemently opposed to the diverse support.
In 1920, the 19th Amendment became law stating that “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.”
The fight was won, except that wasn’t the case at all: the 19th Amendment did not guarantee any woman in this country could vote.
What it did was make the reservation of ballots to be strictly for men an unconstitutional act. Women still had to weave their way expertly through a variety of state laws — some of which were valid, like the age and citizenship requirement, and others, like mental competence, were completely subjective — and many were still barred from the voting booth. Then there was the fact that racism had not died with the failed secession of Southern states decades earlier. The 15th Amendment made it illegal for states to deny a vote because of the color of someone’s skin. So Southern and Western lawmakers got creative and decided to create laws that would keep black citizens out of politics. There were the literacy tests, grandfather clauses and poll taxes, not to mention the threat of unspeakable violence toward those who dared attempt to make their voices heard.
That’s not to say black women didn’t vote in the election of 1920. In fact, history shows a massive wave of those brave pioneers went to the polls, many arm-in-arm with their fellow white suffragettes. If they passed the “tests” of their states, they got to cast their votes. In many states it had been legal for years for women to fill out a ballot.
Native women — the literal descendants of the tribes that originally called this land home — and Asian-American women faced other federal citizenship laws. Native women were barred from voting until 1924 and some Asian women didn’t get the right to vote until the 1950s.
So while 1920 was a momentous year for women in this nation, it was just the first step toward achieving the right for a woman to stand up and have a say in how the nation she called home was run.
And the fight still continues to this day.
It’s a lesson the GFWC Woman’s Club hopes the incoming generations of young voters don’t forget. So many women fought tirelessly, facing incomprehensible threats and hurdles to achieve the right to walk into a polling station on Election Day and make their mark. Yet in 2016, only around 55.7 percent of the U.S. voting-age population cast their vote.
Wolff said she fears women today take their right to vote for granted. She hopes that events like the Woman’s Club held this week, as well as conversations people can have with those they know, will help pass this important part of history on.
“It’s sad that many young people think that it may be like this from the beginning and it was not,” Wolff said. “We don’t want that to be lost because we don’t appreciate what we have. Even myself, I knew about the suffrage movement and what it was about, but it there was still so much to learn… These opportunities we have, sometimes we take them for granted and we may think ‘Does my vote really matter?’ But when you look back and see what they went through to give us these freedoms and these rights to vote, you know that you have to inform yourself and show up to vote.”
For more information about the Woman’s Club
GFWC Woman’s Club of Plant City
Call: (941) 725-1135