Today we celebrate National Women’s Equality Day. In 1971 the U.S. Congress designated August 26th as “ Women’s Equality Day.” This action commemorated the adoption of the nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment prohibited the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States based on sex. This granted women the right to vote.
March 31, 1776: In a letter to her husband, Founding Father John Adams, future first lady Abigail Adams makes a plea to him and the Continental Congress to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
July 19-20, 1848: In the first women’s rights convention organized by women, the Seneca Falls Convention is held in New York, with 300 attendees, including organizers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Sixty-eight women and 32 men (including Frederick Douglass) sign the Declaration of Sentiments, which sparked decades of activism, eventually leading to the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.
January 23, 1849: Elizabeth Blackwell becomes the first woman to graduate from medical school and become a doctor in the United States.
Dec. 10, 1869: The legislature of the territory of Wyoming passes America’s first woman suffrage law, granting women the right to vote and hold office. In 1890, Wyoming is the 44th state admitted to the Union and becomes the first state to allow women the right to vote.
Suffragette Movement; 19th amendment
May 15, 1869: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton found the National Woman Suffrage Association, which coordinated the national suffrage movement. In 1890, the group teamed with the American Woman Suffrage Association to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
October 16, 1916: Margaret Sanger opens the first birth control clinic in the United States. Located in Brownsville, Brooklyn, her clinic was deemed illegal under the “Comstock Laws” forbidding birth control, and the clinic was raided on October 26, 1916. When she had to close two additional times due to legal threats, she closed the clinic and eventually founded the American Birth Control League in 1921—the precursor to today’s Planned Parenthood.
April 2, 1917: Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a longtime activist with the National Woman Suffrage Association, is sworn in as the first woman elected to Congress as a member of the House of Representatives.
Aug. 18, 1920: Ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is completed.
May 20-21, 1932: Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman, and second pilot ever (Charles Lindbergh was first) to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic.
Rosa Parks, Civil Rights and Equal Pay
Dec. 1, 1955: Black seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. The move helps launch the civil rights movement.
May 9, 1960: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the first commercially produced birth control pill in the world, allowing women to control when and if they have children. Margaret Sanger initially commissioned “the pill” with funding from heiress Katherine McCormick
June 10, 1963: President John F. Kennedy signs into law the Equal Pay Act, prohibiting sex-based wage discrimination between men and women performing the same job in the same workplace.
July 2, 1964: President Lyndon B. Johnson, signs the Civil Rights Act into law; Title VII bans employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin or sex.
Title IX; Battle of the Sexes
June 23, 1972: Title IX of the Education Amendments is signed into law by President Richard Nixon. It states “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Jan. 22, 1973: In its landmark 7-2 Roe v. Wade decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declares that the Constitution protects a woman’s legal right to an abortion. In June 2022, the Supreme Court.
Opportunities: Court, Space, Politics and More
July 7, 1981: Sandra Day O’Connor is sworn in by President Ronald Reagan as the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. She retires in 2006, after serving for 24 years.
June 18 1983: Flying on the Space Shuttle Challenger, Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space.
July 12, 1984: Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale names U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (N.Y.) as his running mate, making her the first woman vice president nominee by a major party.
March 12, 1993: Nominated by President Bill Clinton, Janet Reno is sworn in as the first female attorney general of the United States.
Jan. 23, 1997: Also nominated by Clinton, Madeleine Albright is sworn in as the nation’s first female secretary of state.
Sept. 13, 1994: Clinton signs the Violence Against Women Act as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, providing funding for programs that help victims of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, stalking and other gender-related violence.
Jan. 4, 2007: U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) becomes the first female speaker of the House. In 2019, she reclaims the title, becoming the first lawmaker to hold the office two times in more than 50 years.
Jan. 24, 2013: The U.S. military removes a ban against women serving in combat positions.
July 26, 2016: Hillary Clinton becomes the first woman to receive a presidential nomination from a major political party. During her speech at the Democratic National Convention, she says, “Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come.”
January 20, 2021: Kamala Harris is sworn in as the first woman and first woman of color vice president of the United States. “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” Harris said after getting elected in November.
Work to be done: The need to Advocate and Vote
In 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment, designed to guarantee protection against sexual discrimination for women under the law, passed both houses of Congress and was sent to the individual states for ratification. It would be the 28th Amendment to the constitution. The ERA was ratified in 35 states but needed 38 states by Congress’ deadline of June 30, 1982, so it was not adopted as a Constitutional amendment.
In January 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA, which was first proposed in 1972. Congress has the authority under Article V of the Constitution to set and change deadlines for the ratification of constitutional amendments and has done so on numerous occasions. For instance, in 1992, the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting immediate congressional pay raises, was successfully ratified after 203 years. That amendment was initially proposed as part of the original Bill of Rights in 1789.
However, pending legal challenges, the amendment’s future remains uncertain.
June 24th, 2022: In a vote of 6 to 4, the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, ending women’s right to an abortion upheld for 50 years. Many states enacted or plan to enact trigger laws dating back to the turn of the 20th century. These laws criminalize most if not all abortions and some will restore the “Comstock Law;” forbidding birth control.