The Final Battleground in the Fight for Suffrage

Aug 17, 2020 · 62 comments
LilaScout (Florida)
I keep getting frustrated bc the 19th gave White Women the right to vote. You need to use White Suffrage. I know you know that Black Women did not get the right to vote for several decades yet. Please we must educate people and tell the truth. I am White and 60 years old. Tell it like it is, White Women got the right to vote and did not have Black Women's back's and they marched right along side of us....for several more decades.
Kevin Crane (Nashville, TN)
The documentary "By One Vote" Woman Suffrage in the South" can be seen in it's entirety at
S. A. Samad (USA)
As an octogenarian and Master of philosophy in the year, 1964, what I learned through books and life, the term and tenor of the word 'equality' itself precipitate unending confusion and controversy! Equal, an adjectival form of the noun, equality. The advanced learner's dictionary of current English by A. S. Hornby, E.V. Gatenby & H. Wakefield published in the Oxford University press defines the term equal: 'as the same in size,amount,number, degree etc'. In that sense man and woman differ substantially each other in kind and quantity. Woman are endowed with motherhood. They are generally considered sensibility to kindness, so rightly chosen as preferred candidate for nursing profession rather than combatant role in the war field. According to my view, perhaps we mix up equity with equality more often, as like efficiency with equality. That does not mean woman won't have the equal opportunity to optimize their potentials at the apex! No, never!They will and they must. Any caring and conscientious mind would realize the truth! Any knowledge society does! Because 'knowledge is light', 'knowledge is power', 'knowledge is virtue'.
syfredrick (Providence)
The celebration of the 19th amendment stands in stark juxtaposition to the blatant voter suppression efforts of Republicans using every technical excuse that they can construe: from counting beans in a jar, poll taxes, and literacy requirements, to photo id, voter registration purges, felony disenfranchisement, decreasing the number of polling places, shortening the window for early voting, and now voting by mail. As everyone who has fought for voting rights understands, the vote is ultimately the most powerful tool that citizens have in a democracy. We must, each of us, vote in each election as if it were the last chance we will ever have. In this case it may well be.
Other (NYC)
I remember in my early teens (when my friends and I were just starting to like boys), my best friend and I would talk sometimes about why some boys(not all, but some) put girls down for being girls,and felt boys were innately better.One time, a particularly vocal group of boys stated that boys are smarter- this coming right after comparing test grades where all the boys grades were lower than ours.Go figure.So we decided to analyze it “scientifically.” We wrote a list a what girls and boys could do - as a group to compare them. Both could carry heavy objects, both could do math, both could be nice, both could be mean, both could speak multiple languages, both could dance, both could raise children well, both could raise children poorly, both could contribute 23 chromosomes to offspring etc etc etc.Each group had at least some in it who could do each of the things on our list... except one item.Only girls could build and produce a human being. So our young teenage minds were sure that we had come up with the reason for all the mean boys out there who were horrid to girls because they thought boys were better(not all boys did, just some).Our epiphany: They were suffering from womb envy! Girls could do what boys could.But boys could never build and produce a human being. We’d solved the mystery! I’m sure this was just silly thoughts of young girls mad at some mean boys.But every once in a while, I look at the battles women face, like suffrage and wonder if we were that far off.
Emil (Pittsburgh, PA)
Did you ever consider taking the franchise away from men entirely. Yes, women are better suited for leadership, they like to feel involved; they need more recognition and reward, and by necessity, coexist with each other in a much more complex societal arrangement. They are better than men in many important ways—doubtless more civilized. Their inner-beasts may express themselves more gently—life giving, protecting, and at times, nurturing. Yes the more I think about it, I'd gladly give up my right to vote if I didn't have to worry about the government doing stupid things like getting us into wars, or plundering the environment with fossil fuels.
Wan (Bham)
Many interesting comments. Several are happy that Ms. Harris was chosen by Mr. Biden to run as his Vice-Presidential running mate. What would be much better, in my view, would that the Presidential candidate not be given the right to make this selection. There is a not insignificant chance that the Vice-President will ascend to the Presidency, either by the death or the incapacity of the President. Such a choice should be made by the American people as a whole, not by a candidate and his coterie of advisors. As well, the choice is too often made based on predominately political calculations. I did not love John McCain anyway, but surely one of the greatest insults ever made to the American people was his choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate. Unforgivable.
Louise (USA)
So, we have the vote... Women are still 2nd class citizens in this country.... If weren't not, where's equal pay, ability to control our bodies/our healthcare, domestic violence + gun control policies with teeth, Head Start for all children, max funding for our public schools that most children attend, family leave, child care, tax rates that don't favor the 1% and big corporations so we have a government that works, children that aren't hungry, living in poverty, a living wage... I could go on and on... Wake up! We have the vote but nothing else...
Barb Davis (NoVA)
Yes to progress--teaspoon by teaspoon...
Margaret Renkl, thank you. History, ornithology, your garden. In another life I would live to be your neighbor. Your kindness and empathy resonate.
Susan (Paris)
I read a very disheartening article in the NYT a week ago about the Christian Evangelicals in Sioux Center, Iowa who have supported Donald Trump from the beginning and still support him. In the article a wife and mother from the town talked of how she “valued submitting to her husband” and was quoted as saying “It takes a stronger woman to submit to her husband than to want to rule over him. And I would argue that point to the death.” How sad that the idea that a husband and wife i.e. man and woman might have an equal partnership does not enter into her thinking.
JessiePearl (Tennessee)
"Tuesday marks 100 years since the Tennessee General Assembly voted to ratify the 19th Amendment, which gave American women the right to vote and shifted the national political landscape as thoroughly as any earthquake, tornado, and tidal wave combined." August 18th is my birthday and celebrating the right to vote will make my day. I love this column. Thank you, Mrs. Renkl.
Tuvw Xyz (Evanston, Illinois)
If the Founding Fathers and their legislative heirs were less hypocritical and more attentive to the laws proposed, there would have been no need in such Amendments as the Bill of Rights, Prohibition and its Abolition, and Women's Vote. In a society originally ruled by slaveholders and later by White rich males, inter-class and inter-generic conflicts ripen, and create a need of reforms. So it has been and so it will continue to be.
Son Of Liberty (nyc)
For women’s suffrage to really succeed in America we are going to have to removal most GOP politicians from our government. In fact, Americans should "celebrate" Donald Trump for clarifying the GOP position on women when he bragged about being able to grab women between the legs with impunity. Republican policies in areas such as access to reproductive health services, particularly birth control and abortion services; the prosecution of criminal violence against women; the definition of rape for the purpose of the public funding of abortion; and workplace discrimination, all show the GOP war on women. Honoring Women's suffrage would mean proclaiming these people have no place in a 21st American government.
njglea (Seattle)
No woman on the face of the earth can continue to allow their suppression by centuries old male religious dogma. In OUR United States of America the only way to stop the constant governmental interference into Women's lives and bodies is to PASS THE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT NOW! White, supposedly christian women who love power over others think they are not suppressed. They are wrong. Women - every single one of them - has been suppressed since the time of recorded HIStory and probably longer. The reasons are as outdated as dinosaurs. They have no place in OUR United States of America and OUR world. Men who love and value the women in their lives know it and they must stand up with Women of every race, color, religion, political affiliation and creed to Stop The Suppression and Interference Into OUR lives Right Now! PASS THE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT. NOW!
Deb (Blue Ridge Mtns.)
We finally got the right to vote, yet we fight still against oppression by those who would and are actively doing their best to take away another right: that of autonomy over our own bodies, by forcing women to give birth no matter what. And further, enacting laws charging women who may miscarry with murder. We know which party is responsible for this - the same "party of life" whose indifference to the 170,000 plus pandemic deaths warrants only a shrug. Women's votes this election are critical to retaining the vote and our reproductive health choices.
Osborn (New York)
After reading this piece I couldn't help but think how much I would want it to be an ingrained part of a core curriculum for my 2 college attending granddaughters, especially the one in Georgia. Never has the right become so critically important nor the impact become so much a foundation for democracy. It's 100 years later and my observance is without similar Hong Kong and Minsk rallies way too many will continue taking this right for granted, and the yellow roses will wilt in the oppressive darkness trying to surround us. Let's not let the red win.
Donald Enss (Murfreesboro, TN)
The Harry Burn's story is a warm feel good story, but here is the rest of the story that's seldom told. Seth Walker, the Speaker of the House, believed that he had the votes to defeat the Amendment. To provide cover for those who might be on the fence and did not want to anger their constituents by voting for or against it, he gave them a way out. He introduced a motion to table the Senate’s resolution, which had ratified the Amendment 25-4 and sent it to the House. The roll call of representatives began and Harry Burn was #7. He voted to table the Senate’s resolution . This is critical because if the motion to table succeeded, there would have been no vote on the Amendment and no ratification. A second call to confirm the first was conducted and again Burn voted to table. It was Rep. Banks P. Turner who kept hope alive for ratification of the 19th Amendment by twice voting against tabling the motion and it was Turner who cast the final ratifying vote. There were twenty-five state Senators, Democrats and Republicans who voted for suffrage. There were forty-nine representatives - Democrats and Republicans, including Burn, a Republican from McMinn County; Turner, a Democrat from Gibson County; and Independent Joe Hanover from Memphis who voted for the Amendment. All of their votes were equally important and they all deserve our appreciation and gratitude for their votes, but it was Banks Turner whose unexpected three votes carried the day and put it over the top.
gary daily (Terre Haute, IN)
I never read the Harry Burn/mother's declaration story without feeling the thrill of a victory well earned. Margaret Renkl tells it with verve and a deep feeling of pride. And hats off, salutes to, her home city, Nashville, TN. The events they have planned commemorating the 19th amendment and TN role in the passage of that amendment are impressive. Every state and community should try to emulate their example. After all, it's not often that a nation calling itself a representative democracy moves toward making that claim a reality by enfrancising a full half of its citizens in its Constitution. Much work is left to be done, but we have the 19th amendment thanks to Febb and her son Harry . . . and the women and men who worked and sacrificed so much in the century and more before them.
whaddoino (Kafka Land)
The states that rejected the Amendment and voted against ratification were Georgia 7/24/1919 Alabama 9/22/1919 S. Carolina 1/8/1920 Virginia 1/12/1920 Maryland 2/24/1920 Mississippi 3/31/1920 Delaware 6/2/1920 Louisiana 7/1/1920 The correlation with slavery is strong but not 1. Many of the rejecters later reversed themselves. Delaware did so in 1923. Mississippi ratified the amendment in 1984.
whaddoino (Kafka Land)
@whaddoino Correction: To the rejection list add N. Carolina 8/17/1920 This is one day before Tennessee ratified the amendment.
Mag2 (Wisconsin)
It’s significant that all of the states with the exception of Delaware are Southern. The Old South with its prejudices died hard when it came to justice for all. A lot of women didn’t think they should have had the vote still don’t.
Abby (Seattle)
A well-written article apart from the fact that only white women were granted the right to vote in 1920. Women of color didn't have the right to vote until years later. It's important to address the intersection of WOC's identities as women and people of color in any historical piece discussing women's rights.
MM Q. C. (Reality Base, PA)
@Abby ‘Let it Be” - their “divide and conquer” technique shall not be allowed to hold US back! Don’t bite! Kudos to all the brave women and men - whether Black, White, Brown or any other color of the rainbow, who stood with US, fought for US, marched with US. We are the majority in this Country, but only if we stick together. We, collectively are US, and THAT is a force to be reckoned with!
EdnaTN (Tennessee)
August, 1920 was a proud moment for Tennessee. April, 1974 when the State rescinded the initial approval of the Equal Rights Amendment was a shameful one.
Jane Deschner (Billings, MT)
Also tomorrow in Nashville is the culmination of the HerFlag art project: "To celebrate, artist Marilyn Artus of Oklahoma City is constructing an 18x26' flag with 36 stripes to represent each of the 36 states that took part in the ratification of the 19th Amendment. She will sew the final stripe onto the flag at 11am CDT." It will be live streamed on Facebook. She spent several years selecting, coordinating and visiting artists from each of the 36 states who ratified the amendment. I was honored to represent Montana. She added each state's stripe to the flag in an event in their state capitol, persisting as best she could through Covid restrictions. It's a monumental collaborative project! See more at
Kathy Lollock (Santa Rosa, CA)
Well, by darn, thank you, Tennessee, for what you gave us women on August 18, 1920. And, Margaret, I wish that more of our columnists would celebrate with you the 19th Amendment of our Constitution. We indeed have come a long way, have we not? But to paraphrase Robert Frost: We have miles to go before we sleep. We have yet to take that proverbial 3rd step without being pushed back one or two. We are getting closer. Look what happened to the House in 2018. That was our work. And Speaker Pelosi, one of the best in my lifetime. Now, Kamala Harris, our Bay Area lady as is Nancy. (Being a native SFer, I am so proud of them.) Yet, I am shooting for the ultimate reward before I meet my Maker. That is our first woman president. After what will be over 100 years, it is past time. Don't you think?
Marge Keller (Midwest)
@Kathy Lollock Another stellar Kathy Lollock comment!!! Could not agree with you more. Now THAT is worthy of a NYT Pick my dear.
Phyliss Dalmatian (Wichita, Kansas)
@Kathy Lollock I’ll call it right now: Kamala Harris, in 2024. Cheers.
Kathy Lollock (Santa Rosa, CA)
@Phyliss Dalmatian I think you are onto something. When she dropped out of the Presidential race, I predicted in one of my (many) comments to keep an eye on where, that this gal is going places. Been following her for years now. She is remarkable.
Jerry Partrick (Fairfield, VA)
Margaret... I so enjoy your nature’s a place of solace for me...almost like the movies for my parents during the 1920’s depression... A place of retreat, a place of solace. Attacks on our constitution, our very democracy, the fright of the world with coronavirus...and so on:...please do what you do best....tell me of the beauty of nature....I need something to hang onto.... I am dearly sympathetic and caring about anyone’s access to voting..but have strayed into politics.... please tell me good things....let me do say...I do not ignore troubles...just seek some sanity of life. Thank you
Renee (Milwaukee)
@Jerry Partrick that is a disappointing perspective. For many people, myself included, this article is a place of solace, a place of retreat. I consider celebrating 100 years is beautiful and a good thing!
AJ (Colorado)
Interesting piece, but I feel that it implies the fight for suffrage is over, even though voting rights are under aggressive attack. In a broader, unspecific-to-sex sense, the battle continues.
Jon (Illinois)
That's a great story. It reminds me of Abigail Adams' entreaty to her husband John 130 years earlier: "… in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies." He didn't, of course, and would later chastise her for reading Mary Wollstonecraft. These rights are always under assault, it seems. It may never end.
Enlynn Rock (Virginia)
It would be interesting to know what the positions of various churches were on this issue. Were they as politicized then as now? Especially given the stance of male female hierarchy in the family.
Christina Cote (Bozeman, Mt)
Nice piece. For so very long women are just seen as beings that exist solely for the pleasure and comfort of men. Why would those beings need a voice or a vote? As a mother of 3 daughters, I am glad for the progress made, but I know we still have some work to do for all the daughters today and in the future.
Madeline Conant (Midwest)
Maybe women's progress has been slow because we didn't lead armed insurrections. We didn't declare wars, or try to kill our oppressors; possibly because we were raising their babies. In our most extreme moments, we marched, or stopped eating. Instead of violent revolt, we tried to convince our oppressors that we deserved equal treatment. Finally, finally, at long last, the men relented and allowed us to vote. Slowly, we progress, always slowly.
jennifer t. schultz (Buffalo, NY)
@Madeline Conant if you stopped eating they forced a tube down your throat and force fed you as they do geese for the pate. watch iron jawed angels with hillary swank. excellent movie. people in this country died for the right to vote.
K Yates (The Nation's File Cabinet)
@Madeline Conant, I believe it was Malcolm X who remarked that no progress comes without a demonstration of violence. I think about that a lot these days, watching as windows are smashed and properties are looted. What if this IS the only way that people will understand change must come? Let me be plain, I don't recommend these tactics. But the older I get the easier they become to understand.
ASPruyn (California - Somewhere left of center)
And let’s not forget that in many places, the voting age for women was much higher than for men. In response to one place’s law that women had to be 30 or older to vote, one male politician said, “What woman wants to admit she is older than 29?” Some of these places posted lists of women who registered to vote with their real ages attached.
Marge Keller (Midwest)
Women had the right to vote 100 years ago. It took that long for an African-American woman to be on the ballot for Vice President. I certainly hope it will not take another 100 years before a woman is elected president.
Norburt (New York, NY)
Nice piece, but the title is wildly misleading. Ratification of the 19th was hardly "the final battleground" since women of color were still barred from voting for decades and are only now receiving some credit for their long hard work toward suffrage for all women. As Ms. Renkl suggests but does not expand upon, the battle, the war really, is ongoing. Given innumerable forms of voter suppression, especially for people of color, and the very undemocratic Electoral College system, it's increasingly unclear what voting rights actually mean.
EDF (Phoenix, AZ)
@Norburt Thank you: I was about to write the same sentiments. I'm a bit baffled that The Times would publish such a whitewashed piece at this point in history. Ms. Renkl: if the Senator Kamala Harris (presumptive Democratic VP nominee) was an adult in Mississippi on August 18, 1920, what are the chances she would have have actually been enfranchised?
Rebecca (CDM, CA)
Nice article on a very important slice of history. Problem is, things move much more quickly these days, and we don’t have this ‘very, very long time’ to wait for fair voting to happen in the November election. People are literally dying because the US federal government cannot seem to muster the strength to handle an organized response to the coronavirus pandemic, while Trump scrambles to reduce US citizens’ access to fair voting come November. Please write (quickly, quickly) about how we can help the US Postal Service ensure that we ALL get our Biden votes counted in just two and a half months from now! Thank you!!
MM Q. C. (Reality Base, PA)
@Rebecca Some states have Ballot Drop-Off boxes ( independent of the USPS) that are sometimes located at your county clerk’s office, either inside or outside. I don’t understand why Democrats are not screaming for more of these in every state and in more locations throughout each state. No postage required. Only drawback is only one ballot may be dropped off per person. See if your state has any of these
Rebecca (CDM, CA)
Thank you! We do have one at our senior center down the road. I thought it was connected to the US Mail, good to know it’s not!
Judy R (Boulder)
@MM Q. C. In Colorado, any number of ballots could be dropped into the box at a time. Ours are found outside the county court house and other county offices.
Phyliss Dalmatian (Wichita, Kansas)
I disagree, slightly. The REAL final battleground will be a Woman as President. I’m looking at you, Senator Harris. NOVEMBER.
Marge Keller (Midwest)
@Phyliss Dalmatian Exceptional comment PD!!
Marge Keller (Midwest)
@Phyliss Dalmatian Amen to that my good pal. I sincerely hope we see a woman president before I'm on the other side of the grass you continue to mow.
KDN027 (Brentwood TN)
Good and timely column. It pains me that the current Tennessee legislature probably would likely not pass the amendment now.
KDN027 (Brentwood TN)
@KDN027 probably would not or likely would not but please, not probably would likely not! Missed an editing opportunity! KDN
Marge Keller (Midwest)
@KDN027 Welcome to my world. It's comforting to know that I'm not the only one who gets twisted up in one's own words and then its "submit" too quickly. I knew what you meant. And I still love your comment!!
Marge Keller (Midwest)
This piece could not be more appropriate nor timely. Thank you for a wonderful and educational history lesson. I only wish Margaret Renkl's column was a daily one rather than a weekly one. Her words are not only moving and inspirational, but soothing, relaxing and comforting. Dang, I simply LOVE Margaret Renkl and her writing.
Phyliss Dalmatian (Wichita, Kansas)
@Marge Keller Me too ! I read at least twice, and am very disappointed when comments aren’t allowed. Mowing today and tomorrow. I’m just like a Farmer, my schedule, and Life, is determined strictly by the weather. I’m sleeping much better since Kamala. HIS end is in sight, finally. Cheers.
Marge Keller (Midwest)
@Phyliss Dalmatian Be careful mowing although it is excellent exercise. I'm sure there will be a bowl of strawberry ice cream waiting for you once your mowing chores are completed.
Kathy Lollock (Santa Rosa, CA)
@Phyliss Dalmatian I, too, am sleeping better since Kamala was chosen by Joe. I am so excited. Now we have to fix the post office. Who would think that "you-know-who" would stoop that low? But on second thought, the guy is already head deep in his self-dug viper's pit. At least you can mow today. We are having downright mid-western thunder, lightening, and rain just like when we visited my husband's relatives in Chicago one summer. And people deny global warming? Really! This is California, for heaven's sake!
Kev2931 (Decatur GA)
Thanks for this column, Margaret. This is a great and well-researched piece. Women, or any group of people, should not have had to fight so hard for what is a basic right. Perhaps this is as it has been from the US's early days: it takes so long for something right to get done. We saw it then, and we see it today. I hope that, on my next trip to Nashville, I can take in this exhibit.
Frank (Wisconsin)
This was such a moving piece. I’m amazed there are no other comments. History can teach us so much.
Loyle (Philadelphia, PA)
@Frank I agree. I'm always amazed when I hear women say "Oh, I don't vote," as they wave a dismissive hand. I want to shake them and say, "Do you have any idea what it took to get us the right vote? The very least you can do is to vote." Nice article, Ms. Renkl.
Richard Nicoletti (Munsonville NH)
@Loyle 🙏 Loyle. Patriarchy is a false idol!
Joe Pearce (Brooklyn)
@Loyle Fine, but if they have no interest in politics and decide not to therefore inflict an 'ignorant' vote upon the rest of us, that is their right, too. My grandmother was 46 in 1920, when she got the right to vote, and did so. My mom was 16 at the time, and she never did so. Having the right to wasn't involved. My dad took me into the voting booth from the time I was about 4 years old, to impress upon me the importance of voting. (I've voted every year for 61 years.) But he never reproached my mom for not doing so, nor did I. She had a right to NOT vote and exercised it. I understand I have now the right to smoke marijuana, but that doesn't mean I have to do so, just because thousands of other people (idiots, in my opinion) fought for that right. See?
See also