The nation commemorates two anniversaries this month. Women’s Equality Day on August 26 is federal recognition of the day in 1920 when the 19th Amendment became law and women were granted the right to vote. Around the country, many communities are planning activities. Two days later, Americans will stop and remember the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his stirring “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. A march in Washington and a rally on the National Mall are planned for August 28. It is especially fitting that these two important dates are paired because the fight for racial equality is intertwined in the fight for women’s equality in our country’s history. Ultimately, what history teaches is that there is no racial equality and no gender equality without equality for all. That’s why Vision 2020, a national coalition of organizations and individuals united in the commitment to achieve women’s economic and social equality, works to build bridges across gender and racial divides.
In the 1830s, thousands of women were involved in the movement to abolish slavery. But at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, Americans Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were refused seats on the floor by male abolitionists because they were women. As a result, Stanton and Mott vowed to hold a convention on women’s rights, which they hosted in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. At the convention, delegates adopted a “Declaration of Sentiments,” a document modeled on the Declaration of Independence. It was signed by 68 women and 32 men, including African-American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass.
After the Civil War, the 14th Amendment granted the right to vote to adult males and the 15th Amendment said voting rights could not be denied on account of race. Suffragists were bitterly disappointed that women were excluded from coverage by these amendments and they continued the struggle for women’s rights.
Women of all races finally were enfranchised in 1920. But celebration of this event didn’t occur for five decades, after women were inspired by the positive results of the 1963 March on Washington and other civil rights demonstrations and impelled by the sexism many encountered while making substantive contributions to civil rights.