Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

U.S. President Donald Trump displays a signed proclamation honoring the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment that granted women the right to vote, at the White House in Washington, Aug. 18, 2020, where he also announced a pardon for Susan B. Anthony. At right is first lady Melania Trump.

ANNA MONEYMAKER/The New York Times News Service

As the U.S. marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, many event organizers, mindful that the 19th Amendment originally benefited mostly white women, have been careful to present it as a commemoration, not a celebration.

The amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, but many women of colour were prevented from casting ballots for decades afterward because of poll taxes, literacy tests, overt racism, intimidation and laws that prevented the grandchildren of slaves from voting. Much of that didn’t change until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

From exhibits inside the Arizona Capitol Museum to a gathering on the North Carolina State Capitol lawn, many commemorations, including those that moved online because of the coronavirus pandemic, have highlighted a more nuanced history of the American women’s suffrage movement alongside the traditional tributes to well-known suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Story continues below advertisement

The 100th anniversary has arrived during a year of nationwide protests against racial inequality that have forced the United States to once again reckon with its uncomfortable history.

“Like many movements, the stories are complicated and I think it’s important, as we have an opportunity to reflect and to celebrate, that we also are honest about how we didn’t meet all of our aspirations,” said Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, a Democrat born and raised in Puerto Rico who has helped to organize her state’s suffrage commemoration efforts. “It’s important to have these conversations so we can do a better job of going forward.”

The Connecticut Historical Society last month unveiled an online exhibit titled The Work Must Be Done: Women of Color and the Right to Vote. It highlights Black women from Connecticut who fought for suffrage rights, as well as other issues, such as anti-discrimination, anti-lynching, labour reforms and access to education.

“We have really been wanting to make sure we talk about the complicated history of these issues in our country,” said Arizona assistant secretary of state Allie Bones, whose office came up with a program after working with about 60 community groups across the state, many of which were “very focused on not calling it a celebration, but … a commemoration.”

The complicated nature of the suffrage movement came full circle last week when Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden chose California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, making her the first Black woman on a major party ticket.

In an appearance with Mr. Biden last week, Ms. Harris said she was “mindful of all the heroic and ambitious women before me whose sacrifice, determination and resilience makes my presence here today even possible.”

While their names are not as well known as the white suffragists, Black women played both prominent and smaller roles in the movement. Sojourner Truth, an emancipated slave, who died in 1883, is considered one of the first known Black suffragists. She travelled throughout the U.S. speaking at women’s rights conventions and suffrage events, including at the Akron, Ohio, women’s convention in 1851 where she was credited with giving a powerful speech that’s been remembered as “Ain’t I a Woman?” Some historians, however, have questioned the wording.

Story continues below advertisement

Through the years, there were many prominent Black abolitionists and suffragists who worked in their own women’s clubs and suffrage organizations and sometimes side by side with white suffragists, often working for both voting rights and civil rights.

The young founding members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority participated in the 1913 suffrage march in Washington in their first public act. The Howard University students took great personal risk and were not welcomed by some white suffragists who ultimately insisted the Black women march at the end of the procession, said Cheryl Hickmon, national first vice-president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.

“They felt that it was their obligation, if you will, even though it was unsafe to march with the other women and show their dissension and feelings,” said Ms. Hickmon, whose organization has been working with organizers of the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial that’s being constructed in southern Fairfax County, Va., and includes an overview of the entire movement, including Black suffragists.

The 100th anniversary marks an opportunity to “honestly examine” the relationship between white and Black women in the women’s rights movement, said Johnetta Betch Cole, a former college president and anthropologist who is currently the national chair of the National Conference of Negro Women, an organization that was founded in 1935 to advocate for women’s rights.

“There is more acknowledgment of the complexities of the strains, of the racism in the suffrage movement than ever, ever before,” Ms. Betch Cole said. “Unfortunately, one can be virtuous in one form of oppression and then turn around and victimize others on another basis.”

In June, protesters in Iowa demanded that Iowa State University remove the name of suffragist and alumna Carrie Chapman Catt from a building because of white supremacist and anti-immigrant statements attributed to her.

Story continues below advertisement

Doris Kelley, a former Democratic Iowa House representative who chairs the state’s 19th Amendment Centennial Commemoration, said it’s important to remember the historical context that suffragists navigated while acknowledging the movement’s complexities. The logo of Iowa’s centennial commemoration “Hard Won, Not Done,” Ms. Kelley said, is a nod to that unfinished history.

In North Carolina, Janice Jones Schroeder, a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, said she was impressed that organizers of the state’s suffrage anniversary activities thought to include her in a commemoration event last September on the lawn of the Statehouse.

“At that time, American Indians were not even considered citizens of the United States,” she said. While the Snyder Act of 1924 admitted Native Americans born in the U.S. to full U.S. citizenship, it was left up to the states to decide who had the right to vote, and it took more than 40 years for all 50 states to agree to grant them voting rights.

Ms. Schroeder said there are still challenges today for tribal members who want to vote, including voter ID laws, long distances to register to vote on some reservations, lack of access to mail and socioeconomic disparities.

Women of colour in Black, Latino and other communities face similar barriers, making the anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the ensuing decades-long fight all the more relevant a century later in a high-stakes election year.

“I look at politics now,” Ms. Schroeder said, “and I think, `Do we still have a voice?‘”

Story continues below advertisement

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies