Women reflect on anniversary of 19th Amendment

One hundred years ago, on March 10, 1920, in a 15-14 vote, the West Virginia state senate ratified the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. Now a century later, organizations across the state are celebrating the occasion and informing young women of the sacrifices it took to get there. President of the League of Women Voters of the Huntington Area, Helen Gibbins, said although people celebrate the right to vote, it was not easy. 

“In the 19th and early 20th centuries the suffragists bucked the social norms of the day, alienated their families and were ridiculed,” Gibbins said. “They raised their voices at public events, published articles and newspapers. They marched. They demonstrated in front of the White House. Many went to jail where some of them were tortured.

“Women were not given the right to vote. They fought for it,” Gibbins said.

Program Coordinator for the Women’s and Gender Center at Marshall, Claire Snyder, said for women, voting is not just a right, but it is a privilege that needs to be understood. 

“I think it is important to understand the history, the activism and the sacrifices that were made because voting is a right, but we also understand that it is a privilege for us to live in a nation and a time where we have the ability to have a voice in our government and we didn’t always have that,” Snyder said.

Wendy Thomas, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, said she has participated in many events to celebrate the centennial. Some of the events include working with the state celebration committee in planning the program at the West Virginia Legislature and sponsoring Meet the Candidates Forums to help voters becoming knowledgeable of issues. Thomas said she wants young people, especially young women, to understand the history behind voting rights. 

“I believe if young women know the history of the struggle to attain the ratification of the 19th Amendment, they will understand and appreciate the struggle to attain it and become seek to participate in the voting process and protect it for other generations,” Thomas said.

Although the ratification of the 19th Amendment should be celebrated, Thomas said she does not think it should be a one-time thing. 

“Women have made and continue to make great strides in most areas of society,” Thomas said. “We celebrate those accomplishments, but to have women involved in all areas of society making decisions and elevating themselves shouldn’t be a rare occasion but a common practice, a true reality.”

Getting young women to understand why their vote is important is one major issue facing the country today, Thomas said. One of her major fears is young people not voting because they do not believe their vote matters, she said. 

“My fear is that if our young people will not grasp the significance of their right to vote, become disenfranchised by current or future political situations and just not vote.” Thomas said.

Thomas said she is working with various organizations to inform young voters about the political process.

“We need to help them understand that there is power in the voting and that every vote does matter and every vote does count,” she said. “That power is in the hands of every U.S. citizen of voting age. It shouldn’t be taken likely and certainly not for granted.” 

Snyder said disillusionment to the political process can be a barrier to many people, including young women, especially those in West Virginia. 

“In West Virginia, people often feel that the way our state will go with the electoral college is predetermined and they feel that their vote doesn’t matter,” Snyder said. 

“Votes do count, both in national and state and local elections. We want people to understand that they can impact their communities directly through their vote.”

To view a full list of events celebrating the centennial and to get information on the voting process visit the West Virginia Secretary of State’s website at: https://sos.wv.gov/about/Pages/WV19Amend.aspx

Kyra Biscarner can be contacted at [email protected]