Today, millions of people in America will vote for the next president. For the first time in history, a woman may be elected to the highest office in this country. Regardless of political opinion, this achievement is remarkable as a few generations ago–within many people’s lifetimes–women were not legally allowed to vote. (The 2020 election will mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment that granted women this right.) But we must face the truth that not our country was not fully democratic until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
However, our discussion of suffrage is often limited. Like much of history in America, we focus on the white figures to tell the story. While few people know much of women’s history at all, the names Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony are the names they do know. While these two white women were important figureheads and leaders in the American suffrage movement, they actually got the idea for a suffrage movement form Native American tribes in New York. Additionally, Anthony, and other suffrage leaders, worked with Fredrick Douglass to earn votes for African Americans until they decided it was too risky for female suffrage.
History also erases the amazing women of color who worked to earn white women the right to vote. Ida B. Wells was a passionate advocate for all who documented lynchings, taught, and wrote. Sojourner Truth was a former slave and an incredible suffragist and abolitionist. I cannot provide an exhaustive list or history of the movement and its complexities. That is not the purpose of this post. I highly recommend you read this for a deeper and more personal explanation of the white supremacy of suffrage.
Wells once said, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” As modern feminists, humanists, and advocates for equality, it is important to recognize the full truth of our past. We should celebrate the suffragists for the work they accomplished and be grateful for the rights we have today as women. Put an “I Voted” sticker on Anthony’s grave if you can. Where your pantsuits and white to the polls.
However, we should also understand, especially if, like me, you are white, that our history is complex and we have to continue to pave an equal path for all women. Hillary Clinton has referred to her nomination, and potential election, as shattering “the highest, hardest, glass ceiling.” But there are yet more ceilings beyond. How long until we elect a Black woman to the presidency? A gay man? An Atheist? As we celebrate our accomplishments, we must consider the work ahead.