Women's Equality Day

Tuesday, August 26th   is Women’s Equality Day, which marks the 94th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920. This amendment finally granted the right to vote to women throughout the nation after 131 years without a guarantee of this most basic civil right under federal law. 

While state-sanctioned gender discrimination in voting rights is unimaginable today, winning passage of the 19th amendment required a fight that spanned eight decades, and was met with fierce opposition.  Over 40,000 marched in a suffrage parade in New York in 1915, with many of the women dressed in white.  A highly publicized hunger strike later that year by jailed picketers from the National Women’s Party gave the movement added momentum. The final suffrage bill passed by Congress contained the exact same language as the first women’s suffrage bill introduced there in 1878.

Women will gather here in Charlotte at Trade and Tryon Streets at 11:00 on Tuesday to celebrate the accomplishments of extraordinary Charlotte and Mecklenburg women, and their enormous contribution to our civic and political life. We will celebrate pioneers in education, medicine, business, law and other fields, and all those have helped lift up those in need and remove barriers to inclusion and equality not only along gender lines, but also on racial, ethnic, class, sexual orientation, religious and other fault lines that have traditionally divided us. 

The dramatic story of the historic campaign for women’s suffrage, and the path it created for women to play a far more active and vital role in improving the quality of life for everyone, also serves as a reminder today of the ways in which voting rights and voter participation should never be taken for granted.  In North Carolina and other states opportunities to register and vote have been reduced through recent legislation in ways that appear more driven by partisan interest than by a desire to protect and promote this cherished right. Our state’s success in increasing voter participation in recent elections is threatened by these changes. 

We already have a big problem with low voter turnout, and our systems to get citizens registered and make voting more convenient for them generally lag behind those of other developed countries. Efforts to create modernized registration and voting systems and more uniform standards that would increase voter participation have mostly failed due to partisan disagreement. 

There are many issues of core concern to a clear majority of North Carolina women that are not yet public policy in our state—a higher minimum wage and pay equity; greater access to quality, affordable health care through Medicaid expansion; worker and family friendly policies on child care, paid sick days and paid maternity, paternity and family leave; and sufficient investments in public education to help all children succeed, for starters. 

Anyone who wants to celebrate what women have done for our city and county, and who wants to help work to get women organized and mobilized for the upcoming election, and for every election thereafter, is welcome to join on Tuesday. Many of the women in attendance will again be wearing white, as a reminder of the progress we have made, and of how far we still have to go in making our democracy work for everyone. 

Pat McCoy - Executive Director, Action NC