This year is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Much has changed since then. Skirt lengths, hair styles, music, technology and just about everything else looks radically different to how it did in 1920. But a century later, women are still pioneering and achieving many “firsts.”
Prohibiting voting on the basis of sex monumentally shifted women’s ability to have a say in the direction of the country. Not only would their opinions be heard, but their futures could now include a place in office.
It took decades to achieve suffrage. The efforts for full equality are ongoing, but the achievements thus far shouldn’t be overlooked. In 2019 alone the country saw milestones reached and history made. Congress saw its first Native American women and first Muslim woman. An American mathematician became the first woman to win the Abel Prize for Mathematics. A woman became the leader of an Army infantry division for the first time. NASA astronauts performed the first-ever all-female spacewalk.
These firsts weren’t exclusive to just the United States. Women all over the world made history in 2019. Several countries saw their first female presidents, prime ministers or representatives. The European Commission even saw its first female president.
There are many more firsts I could mention, but needless to say, it’s an impressive list of firsts. There are always more mountains to climb and glass ceilings to shatter, but there are few places nowadays that you won’t find women changing what the future looks like for the next generation of female opportunity.
It could be said that, without the efforts and works of those women 100 or more years ago, movements like #MeToo wouldn’t be possible today. Speculation over the Harvey Weinstein trial happening in New York are varied, with nobody entirely positive of what the outcome will be. Regardless, the examples of the people who fought for decades to give women the chance to vote — many of whom didn’t live to see the day — show that things can change. And it starts with steps like the Weinstein trial or #MeToo.
Through all the ups, downs and rejection that led to the 19th Amendment, the momentum wasn’t lost — and hasn’t been lost in the 100 years since. In 2019, the Pew Research Center reported that women continued to have a higher voter turnout than men. The messages may change, but women haven’t lost their voice.
It can be easy to feel like not much has changed. I often hear and even participate in conversations lamenting the disadvantages to being female. It can feel overwhelming and almost pointless to hear statistics that 1 in 5 women will be raped at some point in their lives, that 91% of sexual assault victims are female and even that women are 47% more likely to suffer in car crashes because of designs created and tested exclusively by men. Gender disparities in the workforce and domestic or emotional labor are heavy, but this year’s anniversary is the perfect time to look at how many doors have been opened since that historic vote.
Gender disparities in the workforce and domestic or emotional labor are heavy, but this year’s anniversary is the perfect time to look at how many doors have been opened since that historic vote.
The women who achieved all those firsts last year are just some in a long line of females setting examples and opening doors for others. Studies show that girls are more likely to pursue careers in STEM fields, tech and business when they see women in those industries.
One hundred years ago, American women were given what is arguably the biggest step forward in the country’s history in their ability to influence change. Since then, the ball hasn’t stopped rolling. Some estimates say it will take another century to fully close the gender gap, but each first made is a step toward that goal.
Acknowledging and celebrating the 19th Amendment isn’t just a matter of being grateful for the right to vote. It’s about remembering that each change made, each stride forward is one that is worth taking, even if we can’t see the end result in the immediate future. That’s the precedent and example that suffragists more than 100 years ago set, and it’s one that women all over the world should keep in mind as they continue to pave the way for many more firsts to come.