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Women’s Equality Day – Celebrating the Thunderclap

Women’s Equality Day – Celebrating the Thunderclap

“ I know many years from now there will be many other women in politics but  you have to start a thing.” Lillian Exum Clement

The 19th Amendment was the single biggest democratizing event in American history according to scholar Akhil Reed Amar. After 72 years of advocacy which began in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848, when the original call for women’s suffrage, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, started at the Women’s Rights Convention and ended in August 1920, the 19th Amendment became law of the land. However ,NC was not one of the original 36 states to ratify the amendment.

Why? Although there was lots of support for suffrage or the right to vote for women, in NC-- many state representatives could not agree to recognize women’s suffrage rights. In fact, 63 of the 120 NC House members promised in a signed telegram to the legislators in Tennessee not to ratify on grounds that it would interfere with the sovereignty of NC and other states in the Union.

The vote to ratify in August 10, 1920 failed in the NC legislature dimming the hopes of many who wanted NC to become the 36th state to vote in favor to ratify and make the right for women to vote law of the land.  Tennessee’s legislature voted to ratify the 19th Amendment  -- despite NC’s objection, making it the 36th state. As a result, the right for women to vote became legal across the U.S. even in NC.

NC led the advocacy in many ways before the vote in 1920. In 1897 the bill for women’s suffrage had been introduced in the state Senate by J.L. Hyatt, a Republican from Yancey County. The bill died after it was referred to the committee on insane asylums!

Today one of the arguments used to advocate for women’s suffrage holds true – women are well-suited to politics. Following the passage of the 19th Amendment, the League of Women Voters advertised to explain ramifications of the right to vote and encouraged women to register to vote in national, state local and special elections. The advertisement also promoted the fact that women could vote without paying a poll tax. One aspect of the promotional brochure is as true today as it was in 1920, women will contribute their best to the state and Nation by using their vote for better government.

In the most recent 2018 election there were 6.8 million registered voters in NC., 53% of registered voters are women and generally women are the majority in casting ballots in general elections. Women are now the majority of voters in NC.

Women are contributing our best to the state and the Nation. From Senator Elizabeth Dole to Governor Beverly Purdue we are serving the state and Nation. From Eva Clayton, first African American woman to represent NC in Congress since 1898 to Alma Adams elected in 2014 to the U.S. House of Representatives making her the 100th woman serving in Congress, NC women are proudly serving to improve America.

On August 26, 2019 – Women’s Equality Day, we recognize women who are leading as public servants, from those appointed to boards and commissions by Governor Roy Cooper, to those elected by voters to serve as judges, members of the cabinet and general government. We acknowledge the 72 year struggle and magnitude of the 19th Amendment. We must also renew our commitment to exercise the right to vote. Although all women did not receive the right to vote until much later and NC did not vote to ratify the 19th Amendment until 1971, we must remember the words of Lillian Exum Clement, the first woman to run and win a seat in the N.C. House of Representatives in 1920

Mary Williams-Stover

Executive Director

NC Council for Women and Youth Involvement