Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution facts for kids

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Ratified on August 18, 1920, Nineteenth Amendment (Amendment XIX) to the United States Constitution granted American women the right to vote. The amendment marked the end of a long struggle for women in the United States that began in the mid-nineteenth century. The movement, called women's suffrage, marked a radical change in how women were viewed in America. When the Constitution was written, it was accepted that a woman did not have a separate legal identity from her husband. Women's suffrage challenged that concept. The Nineteenth Amendment overturned an earlier decision by the United States Supreme Court in Minor v. Happersett. The Court held that the right to vote, guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to all citizens of the United States, did not apply to women. Women were citizens, but did not have the right to vote. The Nineteenth Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878 by Senator Aaron A. Sargent. The bill calling for the amendment was introduced unsuccessfully every year for the next 40 years. Finally, in 1919, Congress approved the amendment and submitted it to the states for ratification. A year later Tennessee gave the final vote needed to add the amendment to the Constitution.

Text

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Background

In Colonial America, women had fixed gender roles they learned from their mothers. Growing up, a woman was legally subordinate to her father. When she was married she became a feme covert (French: a married woman). Her property and her legal status transferred to her husband. The intent of this protected-class status was to protect women from the evils men dealt with including politics. In addition, the custom was also used to ban women from professional jobs, higher education, voting, serving on juries and testifying in court. Single women were limited to the jobs of teaching and nursing.

In 1848, the women's suffrage movement began on a national level. A convention in Seneca Falls, New York was organized by abolitionists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott that also demanded a woman's right to vote. Susan B. Anthony, along with other activists, joined Mott and Stanton in forming organizations that demanded the right to vote. Many of the early orgainzers never lived to see the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment some 70 years later.

Leser v. Garnett

When the Nineteenth Amendment became law, it guaranteed the right to vote could not be denied on account of sex. However, it was not the same as women being allowed to vote. The Supreme Court case of Leser v. Garnett (1922), while not intended to do so, established this right. The plaintiffs challenged the Nineteenth Amendment as being unconstitutional. They argued first, that the amendment was invalid because it increased the electorate without the state of Maryland's consent. They argued secondly that ratification was based on several states that denied women the right to vote in their state constitutions and therefore their legislatures did not have the right to ratify the amendment. The third argument was that the last two states to ratify the amendment, Tennessee and West Virginia, violated their own rules of procedure.

In a unanimous decision, the court rejected all three arguments. The first argument is invalid because wording was almost the same as the Fifteenth Amendment. Each used the same method of adoption so one cannot be valid and the other invalid. The second argument, that certain state legislatures did not have the power to ratify based on their own constitutions, is rejected because they were ratifying an amendment to the federal Constitution, and so is a federal function. The Court ruled the third argument a moot point because two other states after Tennessee and West Virginia (Connecticut and Vermont) who followed their own procedures would have been enough to ratify the amendment. But in addressing the substance of the argument, the Court went on to point out that the Secretaries of State of Tennessee and West Virginia each accepted the ratification by the legislatures making the ratification by those two states valid. The Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote but Lesser made it certain the right could be used even in states where the state constitution did not allow it.

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