Today is a huge day in American history for women – but most of them don’t have a clue why.
On February 27, 1922, the US Supreme Court under Chief Justice William Howard Taft (the only President to follow up his White House career by moving down the street to become one of the nine Supreme Court Justices) ruled in Leser v. Garnett that the 19th Amendment was constitutional – and that women did have the right to vote.
So if the US passed the 19th Amendment in 1920, why did Oscar Leser even bother to bring a suit against women participating in the voting process?
African-Americans struggled after the 13th Amendment legally freed all slaves, and just because a law goes down on the books doesn’t mean that what’s in the hearts and minds of men changes overnight.
Women faced that kind of prejudice across the US when they were legally granted the right to vote. Those who did register to vote usually voted the way their husbands and fathers instructed them to do so. When Cecelia Streett Waters and Mary D. Randolph registered to vote in Baltimore in October of 1920, a local attorney named Oscar Leser (along with a few other men), filed a lawsuit to have their names stricken from the rolls. Maryland’s state constitution limited voting rights to men only.
It takes 3/4 of the states to ratify an amendment before it goes into effect across the entire country. Maryland’s legislators had refused to pass the 19th (and didn’t till 1941, even waiting to send the ratification document to the State Department until 1958!).
So Leser sued Garnett, the man who registered the two women to vote. The battle played out in 1922, and the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the 19th Amendment was legal and women were granted the right to vote in our country.
Why didn’t they have that basic right to begin with? Women were considered delicate creatures, much too emotional and not nearly the intellectual equals of men in order to exercise such a heavy responsibility. The struggle for women to achieve the vote was a long one. Just watch HBO’s Iron Jawed Angels, and you’ll have a fresh appreciation for the sacrifices women made along the way.
As a 21st century woman, I am proud that my daughter and I do have the right – and the priviliege – to exercise our civic duty and make an informed decision when we cast our ballot, be it in a local school board election all the way up to voting for the next President of the United States. Who might be a woman. Some day.
So hold today in history dear, ladies. And remember the next time an election rolls around…just do it…and go vote.