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Today we celebrate Women’s Equality Day — but not all women became equal on that day

While the 19th Amendment gave white women the right to vote, women of color and Black women had to fight longer for their rights

SHARE Today we celebrate Women’s Equality Day — but not all women became equal on that day
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Original program of the Washington, D.C., Women’s Suffrage Procession from March 3, 1913.

Benjamin Moran Dale, Wikimedia Commons

Women’s Equality Day celebrates the ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, but not all women were given the right to vote by this amendment. The White House proclamation on Women’s Equality Day 2022 reads, “Yet many women of color who helped lead the universal suffrage movement were effectively denied those rights until the Voting Rights Act passed 45 years later.”

Timeline of women’s suffrage in the United States

The 19th Amendment was first proposed in 1878, but it did not pass Congress and the House until 1919. Then, on Aug. 26, 1920, this amendment was ratified by enough states to become law.

Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and Asian American women did not have the right to vote until much later, according to NPR. After the ratification of the 19th Amendment, voting rights activist Gertrude Simmons Bonnin of the Yankton Sioux Nation advocated for Indigenous women to have the right to vote.

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Author photograph of Gertrude Simmons Bonnin from ‘American Indian Stories’ published in 1921.

Zitkala-Sa, Wikimedia Commons

In an interview with NPR, historian Cathleen Cahill notes that Bonnin spent “the next several years going to white women and saying, ‘Now you have the vote, please fight for my people.’ She says, ‘Don’t forget your Indian sisters.’”

When did Indigenous women get the right to vote?

Indigenous women started getting the right to vote in 1924 when the Indian Citizenship Act extended citizenship to Indigenous people, but it would take until the Voting Act passed in 1965 for all Indigenous women to have the right to vote.

When did Asian American women get the right to vote?

Asian American women only got the right to vote in 1943, according to NPR. Mabel Ping Hua-Lee was on the forefront of women’s suffrage during her life. She wrote an essay in May 1914 that argued that democracy needs women voters and that “equality of opportunities to women” was true feminism.

When did Hispanic women get the right to vote?

According to PBS, Hispanic women had to fight to get the right to vote, too. Luisa Capetillo and other women fought for women to have the right to vote in Puerto Rico and it was not until 1935 that all women in Puerto Rico had the right to vote. An extension of the Voting Act was also necessary in 1975 to prevent discrimination against language minority citizens.

When did Black women get the right to vote?

Discriminatory voting practices prevented Black women from having the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965. This act was readopted in 1970, 1975 and 1982.

Black suffragists like Ida B. Wells fought for universal women’s suffrage as they fought opposition to this goal. Ashawnta Jackson wrote, “The reason for the club was simple: exclusion. Many suffrage organizations didn’t prioritize Black women’s voting rights, and as Black studies scholar Denise Darrah writes, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA, the country’s leading suffrage group) ‘did not include black women in its membership.’”

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Photograph of Ida B. Wells from ‘Women of Distinction’ in 1893.

L. A. Scruggs, Wikimedia Commons

On the eve of the famous women’s march for suffrage in 1913, Wells heard that the organizers of the march were planning on having Black women march in the back. Wells opposed this segregation, saying, “If they did not take a stand now in this great democratic parade then the colored women are lost.”

During this march, Wells joined the Illinois delegation and many other Black women ignored the segregation order as well. Wells was an anti-lynching journalist who also founded the first Black women’s suffrage club, “the Alpha Suffrage Club.”

Jackson also said, “Organizations like the Alpha Suffrage Club took the first steps in what would be a long fight.”

What do people say about celebrating Women’s Equality Day today?

Many women have taken to social media to acknowledge that while the 19th Amendment gave some women the right to vote, it didn’t give all women the right to vote.

In a New York Times interview, Sarah Deer, citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, reflected on the progress that Indigenous women have made with securing rights, but also on what more work remains: “I hope to see more Native women elected to public office — at all levels, tribal, state and national. We have been politically and symbolically disenfranchised for too long. I’m so glad our issues are getting more national attention.”

The passing of the 19th Amendment marked the start, not the end, of ensuring equality of rights for all women.