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100 Years of Women Voting 

Scholars Across Arts and Sciences Reflect on Centennial

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On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote became law:

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 took decades of struggle to reach this milestone in the pursuit of equal access to the ballot for all Americans—a struggle that continues today.

Rutgers University has played an essential role in this social, political, and intellectual movement. From the founding of the New Jersey College for Women in 1918, now Douglass Residential College, to the creation of one of the first women’s studies programs in the country in 1970 and the Center for American Women and Politics in 1971, Rutgers has been at the forefront of women’s education, scholarship, and leadership. Today, the Rutgers program in women's history is ranked #1.

Accordingly, Rutgers scholars are reflecting during this centennial year on the meaning of the 19th Amendment and the changes in women’s status and role across American society.

Below are 13 essays from scholars across the School of Arts and Sciences that examine these themes from a range of viewpoints and angles, covering everything from the early suffrage movement to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the election of Muslim women to Congress in 2018.

These essays, written by political scientists, sociologists, scholars of religion, and more, are a testament to the scope and range of scholarship by women and about women. 



100th Anniversary of Congress Passing the 19th Amendment

Rachel Devlin
“The fight for women’s right to vote took far more time, relentless commitment, work and sacrifice than most people realize today,” wrote Rachel Devlin, Professor of History, on June 4, 2019, the 100th anniversary of Congress passing the 19th Amendment which was then ratified by two-thirds of the states on August 18, 1920, guaranteeing women the right to vote.

Women’s Equality Day: Centennial Season of the 19th Amendment

Ann D. Gordon
“We have now begun the centennial year of a constitutional amendment—the 19th—that barred states from disqualifying voters simply because they were female,” wrote Ann D. Gordon, Research Professor Emerita and Editor of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Papers Project, on August 26, 2019.

The Current Gender Gap in Voting in 2019

Susan Carroll
“In the 2016 election 9.9 million more women than men voted. As the female proportion of the electorate has grown, women have also begun to diverge from men in their voting choices,” says Susan Carroll, Professor in the Departments of Political Science and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Senior Scholar, Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University.

Douglass Hosts New Jersey Historical Commission Conference: New Jersey Women Make History

Jacquelyn Litt
“Women’s persistence—in the past, present, and future—is something we reflect on every day at Douglass,” said Dr. Jacquelyn Litt, Dean of Douglass Residential College. Douglass, the women’s college at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, has long been a presence in the New Jersey women’s movement. The founding of the College coincides closely with the nineteenth amendment. 

The 1965 Voting Rights Act Made Voting a Reality for Black Women

Deborah Gray White
“While we celebrate the 19th amendment we should also celebrate the 1965 Voting Rights Act that made the amendment a reality for millions of black women,” writes Deborah Gray White, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, “and realize too that when the Supreme Court gutted the key part of this act in 2013, black women’s right to the vote was again put in jeopardy.” 

Honoring Shirley Chisholm

Yalidy Matos
“Today, I celebrate Shirley Chisholm—the first African American woman elected to Congress (1968) and the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for President (1972),” writes Yalidy Matos, Professor of Political Science and Latino and Caribbean Studies, “and the many Black women before and after Chisholm for their continued efforts to fight for my right to vote, as well as the universal right to speak and be heard.”

The Election of Muslim Women to Congress and Around the Country, 2018

Sylvia Chan-Malik
In 1788, a critical point of debate during the state-by-state battle to ratify the Constitution was: “Could a Muslim be President?” Now, 100 years after women got the vote, Sylvia Chan-Malik, Professor of American Studies and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, responds: “’Could a Muslim woman be President?’ And for the first time in this nation’s history, I believe the answer is yes, not only in theory, but in actual practice."  

New Jersey Ratifies the 19th Amendment, February 9, 1920

Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan
“One hundred years ago today, New Jersey was the 29th state in the union to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, granting suffrage to most white women in the nation, when its state legislature voted in favor of women’s voting rights on February 9, 1920,” writes Dr. Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan, Coordinator and Instructor of Public History in the Department of History. 

Black Suffragists Lobbied Washington and Ran for Local and State Office

Kali Gross, Historian
"Despite their long history in support of the franchise, African American women rarely collaborated with white women,” writes Rutgers Historian Kali Gross about the movement to enfranchise women in the early 20th century. “The same racial biases that prevented Black and white suffragists from working together also stalled their efforts to work effectively to combat voter suppression in the 1920s, though African American women soldiered on, independently,”

Jeannette Rankin and the Passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act

Leslie Fishbein
"One of the most striking results of women’s enfranchisement was the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act (1921)… that was introduced into Congress by Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to the United States Congress and the first woman elected to a national legislature in any western democracy,” writes Professor of American and Jewish Studies Leslie Fishbein. 

International Worker’s Day and Promoting Women’s Advancement in the Labor Market

Yana Rodgers
“In 2020, International Workers’ Day comes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created immense losses in health and well-being for individuals, households, and societies around the globe. Of particular concern is the overrepresentation of women among low-wage workers on the frontline, including nurses, nursing assistants, and home health aides,” says Economist Yana Rodgers, Faculty Director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers.

Coalitions Create Change: Influence of Haudenosaunee and others on Suffrage Movement

Rebecca Mark
“Revolutions are not won only by iconic heroines alone, they are won by hard-earned, often fractious coalitions,” writes Rebecca Mark, Director, Institute for Women’s Leadership, and Professor, Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. “As we celebrate the centennial of women’s voting rights, we should remember the contributions of many diverse women.”

What Did Ratification of the 19th Amendment Mean to Women?

Nancy Hewitt
“Ratified on August 26, 1920, the Amendment declared that states could not deny women the right to vote based on sex and added the largest number of voters to the electorate of any measure in American history,” writes Nancy Hewitt, Distinguished Professor Emerita History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, on the 100th anniversary of ratification. 
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Forward through the Darkness, Forward into Light.

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, the largest expansion of democracy in U.S. history. While adding millions to the voting roles, the struggle to include African Americans and other marginalized communities continues. This article is part of a centennial series of reflections by Rutgers scholars on the impact of women’s right to vote.

 Read more reflections

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