August 26. Celebrate Today.
It’s August 26 and Do You Know Why You Should Be Celebrating?
Imagine. It’s August 26, 1920. You’re standing in Union Station in Washington, DC awaiting your train. You look around in some awe at what has been described to you as a Beaux-Arts architectural masterpiece. You think, “This is a fitting place to begin the next phase of my life.”
It’s early, about 4 AM. The lobby is almost empty so you easily notice a courier hurrying with a package. You stop him to ask, “What’s the rush? Is there a problem?”
“Can’t stop to chat. I have to get this document to the home of Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby. It contains the ratification papers from the Tennessee State Legislature.”
Quietly he adds, “Women, you know, now have the right to vote. I wouldn’t dare say this to my wife, but I wonder — What’s this world coming to?”
For such an important moment in the history of America, it was surprisingly quiet at Colby’s home when later that morning the courier rang the doorbell and was admitted. And by 8 AM, the official papers had been signed by the Secretary of State in a small private office in his home. Now all necessary documents were finalized and the Nineteenth Amendment was officially certified and part of the US Constitution.
No fanfare. No flashbulbs. No photographs. No movies. No cheers. Colby understood that there was friction between the two branches of the American suffrage movement — the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and the National Woman’s Party (NWP). He wanted to avoid arguments and so refused to allow the press as well as any women from the two organizations to attend.
What Comes Next?
Before moving into the next part of the story, it’s important to note that the 19th Amendment did not give all women the right to vote. Communities of color — Black, Asian, Indigenous, and Hispanic women — were primarily excluded for a variety of reasons and laws. Although several laws were enacted to overcome some of the bias and discrimination, it’s true that the exclusion of these women from the voting continued until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Just imagine — 1964. How could this country allow these women to be excluded from voting — an act we normally think of as a basic right in America!
There’s no need to argue the point. Let’s move on to the celebration of today — August 26 — when we more than just a celebration the 19th Amendment.
Today is Women’s Equality Day
In 1970, 50 years after the Nineteenth Amendment was certified, the National Organization for Women (NOW) called for a Women’s Strike for Equality on August 26. Certainly there had been progress in those 50 years, but women still experienced lower wages than men, less access to education, more restricted entry into many occupations, the need for childcare, and more.
To bring attention to the continuing inequalities in women’s lives, NOW organized protests for gender equality that brought out an estimated 100,000 women across America. Today that number doesn’t seem great but it was the largest of any marches for gender equality up to that date. There were protests in more than 90 cities and towns across the nation. New York City was the site of the largest march with more than 50,000 people participating. It was the first time that major newspapers covered the feminist movement on the front page.
And What is the Link of the Strike to Women’s Equality Day?
In 1971, one year after the Women’s Strike for Equality, Congressional Representative Bella Abzug proposed Women’s Equality Day. (More about Bella Abzug in a minute.) This was intended to be an annual recognition of the certification of the Nineteenth Amendment and a recognition of the continuing issues relevant to women’s full equality that still have not been achieved.
The support for the Women’s Strike and for Women’s Equality Day were forces that finally caused Congress to vote for the Equality Rights Amendment (ERA) and to send it to the state legislatures for ratification in 1972.
ERA, as you may remember, had been proposed in every Congress since Alice Paul and her friend Crystal Eastman first wrote it in 1923.
Although the Equal Rights Amendment fell short of the required number of states, and women still do not have full equality, the amendment is once again receiving attention in state legislatures.
Then in 1973, Congress passed Bella Abzug’s proposed bill into law making August 26 Women’s Equality Day every year.
More About Bella
You may not know of Bella Abzug. She was born in the same year that the 19th Amendment became part of the Constitution and later became a lawyer at a time when few women practiced law. She was a well-known figure in the feminist movement -- a movement that was often called the second feminist movement with the suffragists known as the first feminist movement.
She was an activist both in the civil rights and women's rights movements. For example, to help bring more women into politics, Bella Abzug AKA Battling Bella helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus (along with Betty Friedan, president of NOW, Gloria Steinem, and Shirley Chisholm AKA Fighting Shirley). Her first campaign slogan for her 1970 successful run for Congress was — “This woman’s place is in the House — the House of Representatives."
And What About Those Hats!
Bella was famous for her actions and her hats. She was often called names -- kind ones such as "brash", "outspoken", "truculent", and "courageous". (Yes, there were many more that were less generous--"too loud, too aggressive, too independent, too liberal.")
And those hats? In the two photos shared here, you'll see Bella looking out from beneath a wide-brimmed hat. Those hats were part of her signature look. She explained them by saying that in her early days as a lawyer when she was repeatedly mistaken for a secretary.
She noted, “When I was a young lawyer, I would go to people’s offices and they would always say: ‘Sit here. We’ll wait for the lawyer.’ She knew that many working women wore hats. It was the only way they would take you seriously. "After a while," she said, "I started liking them. When I got to Congress, they made a big thing of it. So I was watching. Did they want me to wear it or not? They didn’t want me to wear it, so I did.”
According to a story that was frequently told, but one I cannot verify, the Sargent of Arms asked her to remove her hat when in the chamber of the House of Representatives. She did. Friends asked her why she did that, why didn't she fight to continue to wear them. She responded, "I pick my fights." It was clear that she didn't want to waste credit on hats when there were so many important causes and rights to be fought for.
Celebrate Women’s Equality Day by acknowledging and honoring the struggles and sacrifices of so many women who worked to obtain the right to vote for women. Then see what you can do to promote more equality in the lives of women you know.
See what you can do
to bring more opportunities
into your own life
and the lives of other women.
We invite you to consider celebrating women's suffrage and all the women (and men) who worked across decades to successfully bring the right to vote to women. One way is to dress as a suffragette with our well-researched suffrage costume accessories. If you are interested, we are offering a 20% discount for the next seven days. Just click on the link below and use the Coupon Code: BeASuffragette20
And what do you get in the Be a Suffragette Costume Accessory Kit?
CELEBRATE THE STRONG, EMPOWERED WOMAN IN YOUR LIFE. Let her know "You Get My Vote" with this 19TH AMENDMENT - BE A SUFFRAGIST - SUFFRAGETTE ACCESSORY KIT includes 6 essential items:
• GOLD SATIN SASH with the words VOTES FOR WOMEN and 18 stars. Many suffrage banners and flags had 18 stars representing the existing 18 states that had ratified Votes for Women Amendment. That was the halfway mark in getting 36 state legislatures to ratify the amendment.
• 3-INCH SATIN RIBBON ROSETTE COCKADE in the American suffrage colors—purple for loyalty, white for purity and virtue, and gold for the sunflowers of Kansas where Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton campaigned for votes for women. Then we attached 3 ribbon streamers in matching colors.
• 2 HANDBILLS used by suffragists as they marched, spoke at rallies, and lobbied. They needed information sheets to pass out in order to persuade women, men, and politicians of the reasons women should have the right to vote. These are authentic handbills from the early 1900s.
• HAND SIGN (9 inch by 6 inch) with Votes for Women in authentic font. We include a birch stick you can attach to the sign using glue, staples, or tape. Women marched with signs like this. It's also fun to use it as a hand sign.
• AUTHENTIC SUFFRAGE GOLD BUTTON based on research into the actual font used by the suffragists for their VOTES FOR WOMEN metal button. Wear it anytime by itself. Use it to hold your sash in place. Share it with a friend.
• 2 HAND-PAINTED SNAP BARRETTES in PURPLE, WHITE, AND GOLD. Again using the American suffrage colors, we’ve hand-painted 2 snap barrettes. Wear them with the other costume accessories to hold your hair in place for special occasions. Wear them all year to show your support of all strong women and let others know you also are a persistent, empowered and courageous woman. Celebrate women's right to vote.