It came down to one vote. One hundred years ago, on Aug. 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified with the vote of a young Tennessee senator — breaking a tie to tip the scales. American women had won the long, hard-fought right to vote. After a 70-year movement and a four-year war, their voices were being heard across the country. On the 100th anniversary of this major accomplishment, we take note of how our country’s past resembles its present as we mobilize toward a better future.
Just like this year, 1920 was a time of renewal in our nation. The end of World War I ushered in a new chapter of American life and a reinvigoration of the women’s suffrage movement. Throughout the war, women had driven ambulances across battlefields, stitched up wounded soldiers, sewn surgical masks and operated munitions factories. Over 9 million American women participated in the war effort. This swell of patriotic support showcased the valuable role every American plays in our democracy — regardless of gender. As American life shifted back to its pre-war reality, it became clear that women didn’t have enough opportunities to engage in government and express their patriotism.
It was during this same time in the wake of WWI that the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) was founded, on Nov. 10, 1919, providing women with a forum to support their veteran spouses and promote the patriotism that had been so essential to them during the war. Less than a year later, in August 1920, the 19th amendment was ratified and women were given the right to officially and fully participate in our democracy by voting.
One hundred years later, women play an important role in the American political process, and the ALA continues to help young women learn about the way our government runs and the value of their vote. ALA Girls Nation, hosted annually, teaches young women about the democratic process through a week-long, immersive learning experience in Washington, D.C. Participants learn about the power of being an engaged citizen by representing their own states in a mock government as they campaign for political office, craft and debate the passage of legislation, and meet with their real-life counterparts on Capitol Hill. This invaluable program is where young women get to put their patriotism and political aspirations into action and experience a real-world look at the democracy they contribute to daily. To learn more about ALA Girls Nation, or any other American Legion Auxiliary program, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org.
Every moment that led to a woman’s right to vote — from the first woman to step up and join the war effort to that final vote being cast by a 23-year-old senator — is a testament to fighting for our freedoms. We celebrate and honor veterans by utilizing the freedoms they protect and participating in our democracy. As we reach the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, we reflect on this monumental step toward equality. The best way to show thanks for our country and the people who fought for it is to exercise our right to vote.