The 19th at 100

26 August 2020

The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which declared that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” took effect one hundred years ago today. After passing both houses of the United States Congress in 1919, it took over a year for thirty-six states—the minimum required—to ratify the bill. Tennessee was the last to do so when its state house approved the measure by a mere two votes on 18 August 1920. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby received and signed the ratification certificate eight days later. While women had full suffrage in fifteen states before 26 August—including South Dakota, which approved such a measure less than two years prior—ratification meant that women across the nation now had the same voting rights as men.  

One hundred years might seem like a long time, but in historical terms it is merely a blip. Indeed, women have had the right to vote for less than half of this nation’s existence. It is also worth remembering that untold numbers of people of color—both women and men—would remain disfranchised for decades after the Nineteenth Amendment became law. And while the triumph of the suffrage movement marked a transformative moment in the history of voting rights in the United States, it hardly marked the end of women’s struggle for equality.

The centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment provides an opportunity to reexamine the history of the woman suffrage movement. Here at the South Dakota Historical Society Press, we have spent the last few years doing just that, producing a triptych of books that explore the topic: Born Criminal, a biography by Angelica Shirley Carpenter of national suffrage leader Matilda Joslyn Gage; Equality at the Ballot Box, a collection of scholarly essays edited by Lori Ann Lahlum and Molly P. Rozum; and The Voice of Liberty, also by Carpenter, a children’s picture book that will be released on 15 September. In addition, a special suffrage issue of South Dakota History will be available in October.

This historic anniversary has invigorated interest in the struggle for woman suffrage in South Dakota and beyond, but a fuller picture of this diverse and complex movement has only begun to emerge. We hope these works will grant readers fresh insight into women’s quest for equal rights while laying the groundwork for further research on the topic.

Cody Ewert


The above illustration is featured in a visual essay in the upcoming issue of South Dakota History. Depicting a group of women’s rights advocates led by an umbrella-wielding Susan B. Anthony, it originally appeared on the cover of Life magazine in 1913. Library of Congress