August 26, 2020
Day 239 of 366
August 26th is the 239th day of the year. It is Repentance Day in Papua New Guinea, which is a day of prayer ceremonies across the country.
Historical items of note:
- In 1789, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was approved by the National Constituent Assembly of France.
- In 1791, John Fitch was granted a United States patent for the steamboat.
- In 1883, the eruption of Krakatoa entered its final, most violent stage.
- In 1918, physicist and mathematician Katherine Johnson was born. Her calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent United States crewed spaceflights.
- In 1952, actor Michael Jeter was born.
- In 1970, actress, comedian, producer, and screenwriter Melissa McCarthy was born.
- In 1976, actor Mike Colter was born.
- In 1980, actor Macaulay Culkin was born.
- Also in 1980, actor Chris Pine was born.
In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution took effect, giving women the right (on paper) to vote.
Initially introduced to Congress in 1878, several attempts to pass a women’s suffrage amendment failed until passing the House of Representatives on May 21, 1919. Passage in the Senate followed June 4th of the same year, and it was then submitted to the states for ratification. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee was the last of the necessary 36 ratifying states to secure adoption. The Nineteenth Amendment’s adoption was certified on August 26, 1920.
Prior to 1776, women had the right to vote in several of the colonies in what would become the United States, but by 1807 every state constitution denied even limited suffrage. Organizations supporting women’s rights became more active in the mid-nineteenth century and, in 1848, the Seneca Falls convention adopted the Declaration of Sentiments, which called for equality between the sexes and included a resolution urging women to secure the vote.
Several legal arguments were struck down by the United States Supreme Court, so organizations with activists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton called for a new constitutional amendment.
The problem with the Nineteenth Amendment is that it only guarantees its rights on paper. Disenfranchisement continues for women in minority and underprivileged communities, often coupled with gerrymandering by political parties. Additionally, heroes of the movement like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were well-known for their views that bordered on white supremacy.
Stanton warned that white women would be degraded if “Negro” men preceded them into the franchise, and actively endorsed the myth of black rapists. Anthony supported similar views, vocally campaigning for women’s suffrage before that of minorities.
In historical context, some argue that their views were not racist, but such statements and endorsements emboldened the campaigns of hatred waged across the American South by the Ku Klux Klan.
On the 50th anniversary, in 1970, the nationwide Women’s Strike for Equality took place. About 50,000 women gathered for the protest in New York City and even more did so throughout the country. It was the largest gathering on behalf of women in the United States, and it had three primary goals: free abortion on demand, equal opportunity in the workforce, and free childcare. The strike also advocated for other second wave feminist goals more generally, such as political rights for women, and social equality in relationships such as marriage.
At the time of the protest, women still did not enjoy many of the same freedoms and rights as men. Despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibited pay discrimination between two people who performed the same job, women comparatively earned 59 cents for every dollar a man made for similar work. Women were also restricted in terms of their access to higher education and were generally funneled into one of four occupational choices: secretarial, nursing, teaching, or motherhood.
In many states, women were also unable to obtain credit cards, make wills, or own property without a husband, and were limited in the number of hours they could work per week. Women are still fighting these battles on many fronts today.
Since 1972, and officially designated in 1973, Women’s Equality Day is celebrated on the anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment’s certification.
The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.
For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.