Since 1971, Women’s Equality Day has been celebrated annually on August 26. The celebration falls on the anniversary of American women officially being granted the right to vote.
The Woman Suffrage Amendment was first introduced on January 10, 1878. It was resubmitted numerous times until it was finally approved by both the House and Senate in June 1919. During the following year, suffragists lobbied states trying to round up support from the required two-thirds of them needed to ratify the amendment. By just one vote, Tennessee became the last state needed to approve the amendment when its final vote was officially recorded in favor of woman suffrage on August 24, 1920. That one vote belonged to Harry Burn, who heeded the words of his mother when she urged him to vote yes on suffrage. US Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the amendment into law on August 26, 1920.
Fifty years later on August 26th, 1970, Betty Friedan and the National Organization for Women organized a nationwide Women’s Strike for Equality. Women across the political spectrum joined together to demand equal opportunities in employment and education, and for 24 hour childcare centers. This was the largest protest for gender equality in US history. There were demonstrations and rallies in more than 90 major cities and small towns across the country and over 100,000 women participated, including 50,000 who marched down Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Several other acts occurred on that day to help the cause and prompt more press coverage on the Women’s Movement. For example, women in New York City took over the Statue of Liberty, hanging two 40 foot banners from the crown. One read: “March on August 26 for Equality.” The other: “Women of the World Unite.” An organized group stopped the ticker tape at the American Stock Exchange, and they held signs with slogans like, “We won’t bear any more bull.” Women also filed a lawsuit against the New York City Board of Education in which they demanded gender equality in appointing educational administration positions. The case lasted about 10 years and finally resulted in a larger increase in female principals.
While the strike did not halt the activities of the nation, it drew national attention to the Women’s Movement. The New York Times, for example, published their first major article on the Feminist Movement by covering the events of the day. It even included a map of the route the marchers took through New York City.
In 1971, Representative Bella Abzug (D-NY) introduced a successful bill designating August 26th of each year as Women’s Equality Day. Part of the bill reads that Women’s Equality Day is a symbol of women’s continued fight for equal rights and that the United States commends and supports them. It decreed that the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of woman suffrage and the 1970 Strike for Equality. Women today continue to draw on the history of these brave and determined women.
Read President Obama’s proclamation for Women’s Equality Day 2013 here.
Photo credit: Library of Congress (c. 1913)