Suffragettes overcame decades of obstructionism and violence to secure the right to vote for women a century ago, on Aug. 18, 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.
When colonists had declared America’s independence from British rule on July 4, 1776, only white men age 21 and older who owned land could vote in America.
Twentieth-century women quickly learned, however, that having the right to vote and being able to exercise that right were dramatically different. They encountered literacy tests, poll taxes, intimidation and more that discouraged and in some cases prevented them from casting their votes. Social norms that women “had their place” — which apparently didn’t include the voting booth — were slow to change.
But politicians came to realize that if they were to be successful in their campaigns for office, they would need to broaden their message to appeal to the newly enfranchised voters. After all, women don’t always see issues the same way their male counterparts do; they bring to bare their varied experiences, values and priorities in deciding for whom to vote.
That dynamic has held true election after election, including in the last presidential election in 2016 in which now-President Donald Trump, a Republican, faced Democrat Hillary Clinton, the first woman to receive a major party nomination for president. In analyzing the 2016 election, Pew Research Center found substantial differences in voter preferences among various demographics, including gender.
Nationwide, “women were 13 percentage points more likely than men to have voted for Clinton (54% among women, 41% among men),” according to the Pew analysis. “The gender gap was particularly large among validated voters younger than 50. In this group, 63% of women said they voted for Clinton, compared with just 43% of men.” That gender gap narrowed among older voters ages 50 and up, with the Clinton-Trump percentage at 48 to 40, respectively.
Around 138 million Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election, according to Business Insider, but that’s only 58.1% of the voting-eligible population, U.S. Elections Project data shows.
Will the turnout for the 2020 presidential election be higher? Possibly. There is much at stake in this election, but the coronavirus pandemic could dissuade some voters from visiting election sites in person. Voters concerned about potentially long lines and increased exposure on Election Day, Nov. 3, should plan to cast their votes early when that opportunity is made available.
Having reaped the benefits afforded by the 19th Amendment, the best way for women to honor the Suffragettes is to ensure their sacrifices were not in vain. The only way to do that is to walk the road they plowed straight to your polling place to cast your ballot.