Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Ida B. Wells, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone — these are just a few of the women who played pivotal roles in shaping the United States. By hosting conventions and both protesting and lobbying Congress, they tirelessly fought for women’s rights and suffrage. They paved the way for future women activists.
2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote. It’s also a presidential election year that saw more female candidates running than ever before. Two of the biggest contenders who dropped out just days after Super Tuesday were Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Although they survived until there was just a handful of candidates left, they did not receive enough support to continue. Throughout their campaigns, they were victims of typical attacks aimed at women. One example: Bernie Sanders’s alleged comment to Warren in a private meeting that a woman could not be elected president. Comments like these have the potential to influence voters’ minds and their opinions on a woman’s possibility of becoming president.
A recent CNN poll indicated that one in five women doubt a woman can win the presidency. The same poll showed that men were more hopeful that a woman will one day occupy the Oval Office.
As the anniversary of women’s suffrage approaches in August and women reflect on the milestone of gaining the right to vote, there’s no clear consensus on whether the past century of women’s progress is a cause for celebration or scorn.
Over the course of the last 100 years, women have made significant breakthroughs — including serving in the armed forces during World War II, aiding in space exploration and becoming Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
While these achievements have created a pathway for women to continue to push forward in a male-dominated world, some argue that more progress should have been made, particularly regarding women holding positions in government.
The 116th Congress made history last year as the Congress with the most female members ever. However, women still only account for 24% of both chambers, totaling just 131 of the 535 current members. While women have finally been considered serious contenders for the presidency during the last couple elections, one has yet to be elected.
The League of Women Voters focuses on nonpartisan voter education and the protection of voting rights, encouraging women to vote for candidates who pledge to govern in ways that can positively affect women.
Catherine Gray, co-president of the League of Women Voters of the City of New York, reflected on female figures throughout history. “We’ve had some outstanding women in the last 100 years that could’ve been president and should’ve been president but didn’t get the opportunity,” she said.
Marisol Zenteno, president of the League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade County, feels like these last 100 years have been a game of catch up because women were so far behind. “In terms of how far we’ve come, we definitely haven’t come far enough,” she said. “That is granted because it seems like we are still under attack. Although we have the right to vote, it shouldn’t even be an issue to begin with.”
Both Zenteno and Gray mentioned that African American women continued to face voting obstacles even after the 19th Amendment was ratified. “There were a lot of states that put in very decoding laws, along with Jim Crow, poll taxes and literacy taxes that made it nearly impossible for black women in the South to vote,” said Gray.
Zenteno believes women don’t have an equal “share of the pie” when it comes to representation amongst elected officials and candidates running for office.
Zenteno is looking forward to the next century because women are waking up and seeing the power they have. They are ready to face the next challenge. “We really think with more women running for office and … actually winning that women can have a fair chance at changing society,” she said.