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Perspectives on Women’s Equality Day

Celebrate the 19th Amendment with diverse readings from our free curriculum.

Today—August 26—is Women’s Equality Day, an annual commemoration of the day in 1920 when Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby confirmed the ratification of the 19th Amendment. This amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, 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 power of the vote is undeniable, yet it is important to remember that many Americans, particularly people of color, did not enjoy this power for years after the passage of the 19th Amendment. It took until 1965 for the Voting Rights Act to secure the vote for African Americans. And it wasn't until 1970 that the act expanded to protect the vote for members of language minorities. The U.S. Congress designated August 26 as Women’s Equality Day in 1971—51 years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment. But the Americans with Disabilities Act, which ensured access to the polls for voters with disabilities, wouldn't pass until 1990. And today, more than six million Americans have been denied the right to vote due to criminal convictions.

Even the protections ensured by the Voting Rights Act met a setback in 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that it was no longer necessary for the Department of Justice to approve changes to voting procedures in jurisdictions with a history of discrimination. Since then, voter ID laws have increased, voter rolls have been purged, and opportunities to vote have been radically decreased as polling places have reduced their hours or closed altogether.

In honor of Women’s Equality Day, Teaching Tolerance staff selected relevant texts available in our Perspectives Text Library to highlight their importance today. These texts, described below, help bring alive some of the voices, themes and history of the women’s rights movement. Educators can couple these diverse readings with student tasks and teaching strategies to build literacy, to ask students to demonstrate their anti-bias awareness and to encourage civic engagement. In doing so, students learn about the nuanced history of women’s rights in the United States, and also reflect on how the march for full inclusion, equal opportunity and gender equity continues today.

 

“Ain’t I a Woman?” by Sojourner Truth

Grade level: Fifth grade
Lexile score: 750
Text type: Informational
Subject: History
Anti-bias domains: Identity, Justice, Action

In 1851, years before emancipation, decades before women’s suffrage and a century before the modern civil rights movement, Sojourner Truth spoke with the voice of an American woman about the indignities of not being seen as one. Her witty, biting and impassioned words cut across boundaries of race, religion and class—exposing the fact that women are equal to men and, thus, deserve the same rights. Truth’s speech, as powerful now as then, shows that while the struggle for equality has come a long way, it’s far from over.

Scott McDaniel, technical lead

 

“Declaration of Sentiments, Seneca Falls Conference, 1848,” by Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Grade level: 11th grade, 12th grade
Lexile score: 1480
Text type: Informational
Subjects: Civics, History
Social justice domains: Identity, Justice, Action

Using the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the anti-slavery movement as models, “Declaration of Sentiments” outlines the disenfranchisement and unjust circumstances for women in the United States and insists they be immediately granted all the rights and privileges afforded to full citizens. This text, signed by attendees at the Seneca Falls Conference of 1848, concludes with a statement of action to maintain that equality: “We shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object.” Today, these words still hold true, and the march for women’s equality continues with the recognition of injustices and the importance of collective action.

Sara Wicht, senior manager of teaching and learning

 

“Redstockings Manifesto,” by Redstockings

Grade level: 12th grade
Lexile score: 2330
Text type: Informational

Subjects: Civics, History, Economics
Social justice domains: Identity, Diversity, Justice, Action

In this 1969 document, the feminist group known as Redstockings spells out its most fundamental beliefs about gender oppression and liberation. After 46 years, many of the tenets of this manifesto can still be the subjects of debate. To what extent does oppression exhibit itself on both individual and institutional levels? Is it ever possible to “repudiate” one’s privilege? The document raises these questions and numerous others. “Redstockings Manifesto” works as a perfect starting place for a lively classroom discussion on the nature of oppression, class consciousness and privilege. This text will challenge older high school students to examine the philosophical considerations behind the struggle for women’s equality.  

Steffany Moyer, program coordinator

 

“Susan B. Anthony,” by Alexandra Wallner

Grade level: Second grade (read-aloud), fourth grade
Lexile score: 1030
Text type: Informational
Subjects: Civics, History
Social justice domains: Justice, Action

This historical biography depicts the courageous life of activist and suffragist Susan B. Anthony. “Susan B. Anthony” not only introduces students to Anthony’s inspirational story; it tells of various injustices toward women in the United States at the turn of the century—many that relate to injustices today. This text is a great way to educate students about justice and equality and expose them to a woman who dedicated her life to making a change. 

Jarah Botello, teaching and learning specialist

 

“1920: Women Get the Vote,” by Sam Roberts

Grade level: 10th grade
Lexile score: 1220
Text type: Informational
Subjects: Civics, History, Economics, Geography
Social justice domains: Justice, Action

This article, originally published in a 2010 issue of The New York Times Upfront magazine, provides a succinct, accessible history of the women’s rights movement for teens. It traces important milestones and addresses how women remain underrepresented among elected political officials in the United States today. One interviewee says, “I think the [suffragists] would have envisioned that within 90 years, you would have seen sweeping participation by women in the electoral system." This article helps students situate historical victories such as the 19th Amendment alongside present-day barriers to full gender equality. Pair “Women Get the Vote” with “The Awakening,” a visual text that illustrates the nation’s slow acceptance of women as fully enfranchised citizens. Only white women are pictured in the drawing, a fact that reflects the reality that many African-American women did not receive full voting rights, even after the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Maya Lindberg, writer/associate editor