American women’s rights leader Susan B. Anthony said, “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.” Before the bicycle was invented, women had few options for going any local distances independently. The bicycle allowed women to travel distances that would have been inconvenient to walk whenever and wherever they wanted to go. Of course, almost everyone has cars now and can move freely, but take a moment to imagine the thrill women of the late 1800’s must have experienced as they pedaled forward on her own path for the first time.
Several new children’s books have been published to teach young boys and girls about leaders in women’s history, many of whom have been left out of the traditional history curriculum. Your children will enjoy meeting these women leaders through these colorful, bestselling children’s books: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (published by Timbuktu Labs, Inc., 2016), Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History (published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2017), Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World (Ten Speed Press, 2016), and She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World (Philomel Books, 2017).
Today, voting may feel like an inconvenience. Sometimes it requires physically going to a location, taking time off from work, or standing in long lines. The candidates may be uninspiring, and there are so many other things you could be doing! When you’re wondering if voting is worth the effort, it may be worth remembering the dramatic history that allowed American women to get in line to vote in the first place.
After the suffrage amendment failed to pass in 1878, it was reintroduced in every session of Congress for the next 40 years. Then, one dramatic day changed history. The House of Representatives held another vote in 1918. Spectators packed the galleries, and several congressmen came to vote despite illness. Unable to walk, Henry A. Barnhart, a congressman from Indiana, was brought in on a stretcher. Representative Frederick C. Hicks of New York left his wife’s deathbed—at her request—to vote for the amendment.
The House approved the amendment, but the Senate defeated it. In 1919, the Senate finally passed the amendment and sent it to the states for approval. By late August 1920, the required number of states had ratified what became the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment says, “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.”
While the amendment was a step in the right direction, black women (and men) continued to face barriers to voting until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Is there a better way to celebrate women’s history than by making more of it? If you are a woman, get involved in local or national politics to make the changes you want to see in your community. Men, you can show your support by encouraging the women in your life to make a run for office and campaigning for them. Many organizations have emerged recently with the specific goal of helping women get involved in politics, including sheshouldrun.org and runningstart.org. Women hold only 19.8% of seats in Congress, and those numbers won’t improve until more women run!
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