18 August 1920: Women guaranteed the vote in the USA

It may surprise you to learn (given the whole ‘no taxation without representation’ thing) that the USA did not introduce universal suffrage when it threw off the yoke of an unjust monarchical system and declared itself a republic.

Despite the egalitarian pronouncements of the US declaration of independence, it would take another 150 years or so before all adults were allowed to vote. Indeed, it would be nearly a 100 years before anyone but white, property-owning men were allowed to vote.

Unfortunately, when the US Constitution was drafted, it did not define who was allowed to vote. That was left up to the individual states. And most states imposed restrictions.

In 1869, the 15th Amendment prohibited states from denying the vote to citizens based on their “race, colour, or previous condition of servitude”. But many states slyly got round these restrictions by imposing literacy tests and other more nefarious hurdles.

Wyoming was the first state to give women the vote in 1869. But still, most women were disenfranchised.

The National Women Suffrage Association was formed that year by Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In 1878, Anthony and Stanton drafted an amendment to the Constitution that would give women the vote. But it was rejected in the Senate.

A second submission was rejected in 1914. Two more submissions, in 1918 and 1919, also failed. But a further submission in 1919 passed, and it was submitted to the states for ratification.

The last state to ratify was Tennessee. On 18 August 1920, 50 of the 99 members of the state’s House of Representatives voted in favour, and women were finally allowed to vote.

In the UK, meanwhile, property-owning women over the age of 30 were given the vote in 1918. But it would not be until 1928 that all women were given the vote in the UK on the same terms as men.

Also on this day

18 August 1587: The first English person is born in the Americas

The first person born to English parents in the Americas, little Virginia Dare, was born on this day in 1587. But what happened to her is a mystery. Read more here.

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