Today is Women’s Equality Day, the anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment that gave some women, but not all women, the right to vote on August 26, 1920.
The truth is that barriers such as literacy tests and poll taxes blocked many Black women and other marginalized groups from being able to cast their ballot. Laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act blocked some Asian American women from citizenship, and therefore, the right to vote. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 allowed more Native Americans to vote, but states such as Arizona, New Mexico and Utah didn’t grant that right until decades later.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was intended to remove barriers that prevented many Black women and other women of color from being able to cast their ballot. Just two days ago the House passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to strengthen the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, but it still needs approval from Congress.
As modern-day barriers to voting remain, here are words of wisdom from suffragists from history who fought for the right to vote.
On the power of women uniting…
“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”
~Sojourner Truth, a former slave who became one of the most powerful voices of the women’s suffrage and abolitionist movement
On the need for truth…
“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
~Ida B. Wells, a former slave who became a prominent journalist, civil rights activist, and suffragist
On lifting others up…
“Lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go, struggling and striving and hoping that the buds and blossoms of our desires will burst into glorious fruition ere long … Seeking no favors because of our color nor patronage because of our needs, we knock at the bar of justice and ask for an equal chance.”
~Mary Church Terrell, a former slave and the first president of the National Association of Colored Women, which fought for women’s right to vote
On managing expectations…
“Let us not look for good or justice: then we shall not be disappointed!”
~Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (Zitkala-Sa), suffragist and voting rights activist who fought for Native Americans’ right to vote
On thinking for yourself…
“Do not allow the Church or State to govern your thought or dictate your judgment.”
~Matilda Joslyn Gage, co-author of the “Declaration of Rights of Women” and suffragist who impeached the federal government for not protecting women in their right as citizens from the states who had made it illegal for women to vote
On taking action…
“Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
~Frederick Douglass, abolitionist and one of the greatest male allies of the women’s suffrage movement