College of Arts and Sciences

Remembering the Struggle; Honoring Their Courage


100 years ago, on August 18, 1920, after decades of work to advance their equality, American women won the right to vote at the national level. The struggle to advance their political and economic rights gained strength with the first assertion of their right to suffrage in the Declaration of Sentiments at the 1848 Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. From that moment American women like Ernestine Rose and Sojourner Truth dedicated their lives to women’s equality. Some of these women were also committed to freedom and equality for African Americans.  The journey toward racial and gender equality was arduous and has not yet been accomplished.  Gains for some did not always mean gains for all.  Some white suffragists failed the cause of Black equality, believing that African-American men’s right to vote cost white women theirs. And though some states did allow women to vote in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it was often limited to those who owned property, were widowed, or wealthy. Nevertheless, both Black and white suffragists of various economic classes continued to work for the right to vote for 72 years—two generations of hard labor--until the Nineteenth Amendment was passed on August 18, 1920.


Serious and wearying challenges remained.  Until the 1965 Voting Rights Act, for example, neither African-American women nor African-American men (15th Amendment) could exercise their voting rights in southern states because of poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and literacy tests. Black women continued to fight for equal voting rights to benefit their communities.  Similarly, the Equal Rights Amendment, designed to provide for the legal equality of women and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, although originally proposed by the National Woman’s political party in 1923, did not receive approval from the U.S. House of Representatives until October 1971 or from the U.S. Senate until March 1972. The ERA still awaits the required ratification from ¾ of the 50 states (38 states).


Today, African-American women and white allies continue to struggle for voting rights for all American citizens in this election year.  We pause today to honor the courageous action of our foremothers and commit ourselves to responsible civic action on behalf of the common good.


While Xavier did not admit women 100 years ago to their undergraduate day school, many did attend the evening program; fifty-one years ago the University began admitting women students more generally, advancing women’s right to higher education, one of the original demands in the Seneca Falls Declaration.


We also encourage faculty and staff to honor this anniversary by ensuring as many as possible vote and, if possible, serve in the upcoming election. Young adults as an age group traditionally have had a very low voting rate in this country. Take time in class to get students registered to vote and to help them obtain an absentee ballot if they need one. And encourage them to become poll workers since we have the day off campus and many who would normally serve will not be doing so due to the pandemic.


You can also consider running for office or encouraging your students, particularly female-identified students to run. Our national proportions of women to men in the House and Senate are now comparable to global norms for parliamentary representation by gender—about a quarter of those holding public office are female identified.


Be sure you are registered to vote!

You might also like: