If you’ve been on the roads at all this year, you’ve seen the lovely purple and white license plates celebrating Utah women being “First to Vote” in the nation. These plates are spearheaded by Better Days 2020 — 2020 being the 150th anniversary of that first female vote and the centennial of the passing of the 19th Amendment, which granted all American women suffrage. But you might not know that Aug. 26 is designated as “Women’s Equality Day,” commemorating the 1920 adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Let me share a little of its history and how we can properly honor it.
Just because a person is granted the right to vote does not mean that person is “equal.” Just like the Civil Rights movement sought to fight racial discrimination, the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s broadened the debate to include employment, family and legal issues. In 1973 Congress designated Aug. 26 as a day to celebrate, not only the end of seven decades of non-violent campaigning to extend the right to vote to women, but also to recognize the continuing efforts toward equality between men and women.
When Women’s Equality Day was announced in 1973, President Nixon acknowledged that voting was just the beginning: “The struggle for women’s suffrage … was only the first step toward full and equal participation of women in our nation’s life. ... Today, in virtually every sector of our society, women are making important contributions to the quality of American life. And yet, much still remains to be done.”
Utah has a strong history of women’s political and civic engagement. Aside from being first to vote, we had the first female state senator in the nation, and, as recently as 1992, had the strongest women’s voter participation in the country. Yet less than 20 years later, in 2015, Utah was ranked 43 of 50 states for the percentage of women registered to vote, and 46 for women who actually voted.
I believe the best way to commemorate our hard-won right to vote is to exercise that right. Not sure if you’re registered? At the Utah’s voter registration website you can check registration, update address, find a polling place, learn how to vote by mail and much more.
We know that Utah women are civically minded. No state has a higher rate of volunteerism than we do, and women are well represented on nonprofit boards (see www.utwomen.org for related studies). Yet, we are below the nation on women holding seats on government boards and commissions. But I would argue that it is more important than ever that more Utah women becoming involved. Studies show Utah women and men differ in their priorities, and we need both to weigh in, propose changes and lead our state.
The first step is to vote. So in honor of Women’s Equality Day, make sure you’re prepared come polling time. Your vote is your voice. And it counts.
Dr. Susan R. Madsen is the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership & Ethics in the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.