Tuesday, June 04, 2019

The Centenary of The Nineteenth Amendment

The Nineteenth Amendment passed the US Senate exactly one hundred years ago, the House having passed it a few days earlier:

The opening of the Amendment's text reads, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
The passing of the Nineteenth Amendment did not initially mean a new-and-immediate franchise for all American women*, but it was a necessary stage in the very long, and still uncompleted,  progress to more equality in the rights of men and women.  Some of that equality is now endangered.


* This WaPo article discusses the history of African-American women's participation in the suffrage-movement and the racism within the movement.

It also covers the fact that many Native American women wielded political power long before the white settlers arrived to this continent:

“It didn’t start with white women; that’s not the point of entry into women having political voice,” said Sally Roesch Wagner, who received one of the first doctorates in the country for women’s studies, while at the University of California at Santa Cruz. “Indigenous women have had a political voice in their nations long before white settlers arrived.”
All of which is important to add to the American form of how-women-won-the-suffrage.

However, that article — and almost all the coverage of the Nineteenth Amendment I have skimmed today — ignores the fact that women already had the vote in many other countries with different histories.

For instance, in Finland:

The area that in 1809 became Finland was a group of integral provinces of the Kingdom of Sweden for over 600 years. Thus, women in Finland were allowed to vote during the Swedish Age of Liberty (1718–1772), during which conditional suffrage was granted to tax-paying female members of guilds.[113] However, this right was controversial. In Vaasa, there was opposition against women participating in the town hall discussing political issues, as this was not seen as their right place, and women's suffrage appears to have been opposed in practice in some parts of the realm: when Anna Elisabeth Baer and two other women petitioned to vote in Turku in 1771, they were not allowed to do so by town officials.[114]
The predecessor state of modern Finland, the Grand Duchy of Finland, was part of the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1917 and enjoyed a high degree of autonomy. In 1863, taxpaying women were granted municipal suffrage in the country side, and in 1872, the same reform was given to the cities.[109] In 1906, it became the first country in the world to implement full universal suffrage, as women could also stand as candidates. It also elected the world's first female members of parliament the following year.[115][116]

My point is not to single out Finland for praise (well, not my only point...), but to remind you, my sweet and erudite readers (who would never be guilty of this), that the general thought frames used in analyzing US politics often simply ignore everything that happened or happens elsewhere as unimportant, because of the assumed special role and elevated place of the United States), or treat most other countries as if they had or have no agency at all (because of the immense power of American imperialism).

That just might be one of the few cases where it's true that "both sides do it," though for different reasons.