The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives women the right to vote. It says that it “is illegal for the Federal and State Government to deny any U.S citizen the right to vote” (Amendment XIX). This victory in 1920 did not come easy to American women. It was the result of the women’s suffrage campaign. Suffrage was about the fight of women for equality with men. As Elizabeth Cady Stanton said in her 1890 speech it was high time girls regarded themselves “not as adjectives but as nouns” (Spence par. 1). That movement was really impactful and popular in the United States. Still, if one imagines that historical period, the women’s struggle for equality had not just pros but also cons.
First, it was a pro that women became constitutionally equal to men. It meant that they had a chance to become first-class citizens. Indeed, before 1919 and 1920, women did not have a separate political status in the nation. Their only option was to follow the order set by men. In that order, husbands or fathers represented them. The society thought that men were true leaders of their families. Women were not active citizens, but they had to stick to their traditional roles in a family. Men invented true ideals of womanhood and they wanted women to follow them. That was how women took part in the civil life. Also, the society believed that fathers and husbands acted in the best interests of their families. The society was sure that men protected women and children’s interests. When the 19th Amendment was passed, women got a chance to play “upon the field of political life.” Men compared women’s chance with getting into “a modified war” and into “the arena of conflict” (Root 522).
Another advantage of the 19th Amendment was that it gave a blow to the existing norms of gender. It said no to the men’s dominant role and women’s submissive role. Many women who were active in the movement called themselves “new women.” Those brave women believed that men’s norms about marriage, sexual life, and family were unfair. They thought those norms restricted their freedom. As a result, when the 19th Amendment was passed, the society started to change. Men began paying attention to how smart women are and looking for women’s merits. Earlier they simply paid attention at how women looked or dressed. It was the first step towards bigger respect for women in the society. It was important because earlier women had faced a lack of respect in press, songs, or cartoons (Dodd 710).
Besides, when the 19th Amendment was ratified, it was a sign that reason won. Fulford says that the Amendment was the act of reasonable thinking. Reason won because the Constitution now recognized women’s moral leadership. And that had always been seen as truth. The Amendment showed to men that women were really higher in morality and virtues (Fulford 206).
Now, let’s look at the cons of the women’s suffrage campaign. If imagine someone who lived at that time, one of the biggest cons was that women’s victory could spoil the family values. The opponents said that suffragists did more than letting women to vote. In fact, they saw the following threat: the change could lead to women’s independence from men. They believed that could destroy families. They saw it as bad because women might no longer want to perform this role: “serving society as caregivers to the next generation and as the guardian of the future of civic virtues” (Dodd 722). Some men even said that women’s victory was “a direct blow to civilization” (Dos Passos 3).
Another con to the suffrage movement was that women were too frail to take part in politics. For example, Elihu Root, a famous politician who had a Nobel prize, wrote that if women were to get the voting right, they would get the weapon. That was dangerous for them because they were unfamiliar with. Root thought that women were not able to use the weapon. Since women’s character was noble and sweet, Root said, it was contrary to their nature to take part in “struggle, strife, contention, bitterness, heart-burning, excitement, agitation” (Root 523).
To sum up, the movement for getting the right to vote had pros and cons at that time. While for us today the cons seem difficult to grasp, for a person who lived then all these things probably made sense.
- Amendment XIX. Cornell Law School, n.d., https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxix. Accessed October 23, 2018.
- Dodd, Lynda. “The Rhetoric of Gender Upheaval During the Campaign for the Nineteenth Amendment.” Boston University Law Review (2013), pp. 709-727.
- Dos Passos, John. “Equality of Suffrage Means the Debasement Not Only of Women but of Men,” Woman’s Protest (January 1913), 3-5.
- Fulford, Roger. Votes For Women: The Story of A Struggle. London: Faber & Faber Ltd., 1957.
- Root, Elihu. “Address at the New York State Constitutional Convention (Aug. 15, 1894).” Reprinted in 2 Revised Record of the Constitutional Convention of the State of New York (1900), pp. 521-523.