A century ago — on March 10, 1920 — West Virginia became the 34th state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving all United States citizens the right to vote no matter their sex.
In order to become law, however, 36 states needed to ratify the constitutional amendment.
Washington became the 35th state on March 22.
Tennessee followed on Aug. 18, 1920, becoming the 36th state to ratify the amendment. When Representative Harry Burn changed his vote to support the amendment, it so angered Tennessee representatives against the amendment that they reportedly chased him and he escaped from a third-story window of the state Capitol building, according to historians.
Numerous other states didn’t ratify the amendment until years later. Mississippi was the last state, finally ratifying it on March 22, 1984.
Nationally, the amendment was first introduced by U.S. Sen. Aaron Sargent, of California, in 1878. His proposal remained stuck in a Senate committee for nine years before it was voted on by the full Senate in 1887 and rejected by a 16-34 vote.
Forty-one years later, in June 1919, the U.S. Congress finally passed the Nineteenth Amendment.
In 1867, Samuel Young, a minister and state senator from Pocahontas County, first introduced “an unsuccessful resolution calling for the enfranchisement of women in West Virginia,” according to e–WV.
In 1913, a women’s suffrage amendment to the West Virginia Constitution passed the House of Delegates, but was rejected by the state Senate.
In 1915, the amendment passed the full West Virginia Legislature, but the ensuing statewide constitutional referendum was voted down by the state’s all male voters by more than two-to-one the following year.
In 1920, the House of Delegates passed the amendment, but it deadlocked in the state Senate with a 14-14 tie. Senator Jesse Bloch, of Wheeling, cut his vacation short to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of women’s suffrage, according to historians.
West Virginia’s suffragists were led by Lenna Lowe Yost, of Marion County. Later that year, according to historians, Yost became the first woman to chair a major party convention at the Republican National Convention.
Earning women the right to vote was a hard fought battle that had begun nearly 100 years prior to passage of the Nineteenth Amendment – in the 1820s.
Women such as Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), Lucy Stone (1818-1893), Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947), Alice Stokes Paul (1885-1977), among others were leaders in the suffrage movement and became known as suffragists.
In 1848, Stanton and Mott, along with other advocates, organized the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., which historians believe launched the official start of the suffrage movement and which became known as the Seneca Falls Convention.
Nearly 250 people participated in discussions that Stanton and Mott termed “the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.”
In 1869, Anthony and Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association to support passage of an amendment giving women political equality. The two worked together for more than half-a-century for women’s rights.
“No man is good enough to govern any woman without her consent,” Anthony once said.
Though she died 14 years before its passage, the Nineteenth Amendment was nicknamed the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment” in recognition of her years of dedication and hard work. In 1979, Anthony’s portrait was also placed on one-dollar coins, making her the first woman to be featured on a circulating coin.
Catt also served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She was also the founder of the League of Women Voters and the International Alliance of Women.
Sculpted by artist Adelaide Johnson, a statue of Anthony, Stanton, and Mott now stands in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.