In 1880, a baby born in Montana (which, following the lead of its neighboring states granted women the right to vote before 1920) would grow up to become the first woman in the United States Congress. Jeannette Rankin, who had graduated from Montana University in 1902 with a biology degree, made a fundamental career change in 1916. At thirty-nine years old, she was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives.
At a time when other American women had no right to vote at all, Rankin voted against the United States joining World War I. (Later, in 1940, she was the only member of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan after Pearl Harbor was attacked.)
Although Rankin and 48 other members of Congress voted against U.S. involvement in World War I, the country joined the war effort in 1917. Earlier that year - in January - Lucy Burns had the idea that women should picket the White House. Their message was explicit: Mr. President ... When will women get the right to vote?
With American soldiers fighting and dying in Europe, however, Alice Paul did not participate in the White House picketing. Lucy Burns continued with her efforts, but it wasn't long before she, and others, were arrested for obstructing sidewalk traffic. Imprisoned in the Occoquann Workhouse, the women began hunger strikes.
Meanwhile, millions of American women were replacing men-turned-soldiers, working (for the first time) in businesses throughout the country. They produced war materiel. They were paying taxes. They were (to use words made popular during the American Revolution) paying taxes without representation.
Then Alice Paul was arrested. Protesting the treatment of women, and still advocating for women's suffrage, she began a hunger strike. Prison handlers fed her against her will with a tube (which they forced into her mouth).
On November 15, 1917 - now known as "The Night of Terror" - Lucy Burns (who had resumed her hunger strike to protest how Alice was being treated) was beaten. Her hands were cuffed above her head. After that, forced feedings were particularly brutal.
While American men fought and died in Europe, their wives and daughters supported the war effort at home. Without their production of war materiel, the outcome of battles may have been different. When the war was over, how could the country continue to deny such women full rights of citizenship?
Once the 19th Amendment was proposed on 4 June 1919, it had to be ratified by three-quarters of the states. At first it seemed easy with more than half the states approving in the first year. Kentucky was the 24th state to ratify when Governor Edwin P. Morrow signed the “Anthony Amendment” on January 6, 1920.
Then the momentum shifted. Among growing opposition elsewhere, a six-week battle raged in Tennessee, Kentucky’s southern neighbor. The right of American women to vote ultimately turned on the decision of a 24-year-old Tennessee legislator, Harry Burn (a Republican). He had received a letter from his elderly mother, telling him:
Hurrah, and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt.
On August 18, 1920 - switching his position from “no” to “yes," - Burn pushed ratification over the top. Tennessee became the crucial 36th state to approve the amendment. Suffragists in Washington, waiting to hear the news from Tennessee, celebrated their long-sought victory.
Most of the early pioneers did not live long enough to personally experience this basic human right. Charlotte Wood was the only surviving suffragist who had signed the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments. And the state of Maryland, which finally ratified the 19th Amendment in 1941, did not submit its ratification papers to the State Department until ... 1958.
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