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Hindsight: The Centennial Anniversary Of The 19th Amendment

Jordan Kirtley

2020 marks the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment that recognizes women’s suffrage rights in the United States. This is a moment to celebrate—but it’s also a moment to consider the relationships, organizations, and challenges that took an idea on a page to an enshrined right.

At every step toward suffrage, extraordinary partnerships between women of diverse talents and convictions shaped the movement. In 1851, when Susan B. Anthony—a single, Quaker, abolitionist—met Elizabeth Cady Stanton—a wife, mother, and woman’s rights advocate—one of the most profound partnerships in civil rights history began. In Stanton, Anthony found a sophisticated philosopher, an articulate and gifted writer whose impassioned thoughts about suffrage could jump off the page to inspire fellow revolutionaries. In return, Stanton found Anthony to be a tireless organizer, strategist, and tactful politician who knew how to bring Stanton’s ideas to fruition. Neither was perfect, but both worked for the expansion of women’s rights—in particular, suffrage rights—though neither lived to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Suffrage did not solve all the problems brought by institutionalized and systemic gender inequality. Initially, the 19th Amendment did not apply to many African American women who lived under the racial restrictions of Jim Crow. It did not eliminate the cultural and social norms that denied women full autonomy of educational, employment, and reproductive rights. However, the early focus and direction at the heart of one of the largest, and most successful, civil rights movements rests on the foundational partnership between Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Dr. Robin C. Henry holds a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Indiana University and is an associate professor in the history department at Wichita State University. Her research examines the intersections among sexuality, law, and regional identity in the 19th- and early 20th-century United States.