American women have continuously advocated for equal rights, challenging the status quo, and making the changes in society themselves.
By Victoria Vidales
Although women only achieved the right to vote 100 years ago, throughout American history women have advocated for equal rights for themselves, and others. Their contributions to American society have been irreplaceable, as they stood together, and for each other to create a more just, and fair society for the next generation of women. Some of the most famous women of the movements for equal rights have found their names in history books, however, there are so many more that the world will never know, yet whose sacrifices have made differences so great, and meaningful.
Women have always been politically active, expressing their desires for more rights for themselves for hundreds of years. In the United States what many see as the beginning of the feminist movement occured in 1848 with the first women’s rights convention. According to Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics, the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York in order to advocate for the anti-slavery movement, and women’s rights. The event was headed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott, among others in order to establish rights for all. They developed the Declaration of Sentiments which outlined rights that they desired (Rutgers).
Following this convention, women began to enter into the political world, hoping to change the political climate by changing the political players. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was also the first woman to run for Congress in 1866 as an Independent for the state of New York in the House of Representatives (Rutgers). She was joined by the first woman to run for President of the United States, Victoria Woodhull, who in 1872 ran as part of the Equal Rights Party, about 100 years before the Feminist Movement of the 1970s. In 1887 Susanna Salter was the first woman to be elected Mayor, serving for Argonia, Kansas (Rutgers).
The activism of women to enter into the political profession continued. In 1896 Martha Hughes Cannon became a state Senator of Utah, becoming the first woman in the state Senate (Rutgers). Jeannette Rankin made history as well in 1916 by becoming the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives, serving Montana. She was also the only representative to vote against U.S. intervention in World War I and II. Each action was a step towards women’s consideration in politics.
All of these women made entrance into the American political world before the Nineteenth Amendment was passed in 1919, and ratified in 1920 which gave women the right to vote in U.S. elections. Even before their ability to vote women were trying to make significant change for their sex, regardless of the political, legal and social challenges they were faced with.
Following the establishment of the Nineteenth Amendment, and that same year the creation of the League of Women Voters, women of color also began to gain ground in the political field. New Mexico elected its first female Secretary of State in 1923, Soledad Chacon who was the first Latina to hold a statewide office. A Democrat, she was also the first woman of color to hold an executive position (Rutgers).
In 1924 the Michigan state House of Representatives elected Cora Belle Reynolds Anderson, the first Native American woman to do so (Rutgers). Minnie Buckingham Harper in 1928 became the first Black woman to be in a state legislature for West Virginia, and Patsy Takemoto Mink became the first woman of Asian-Pacific Islander descent to serve in the House of Representatives for Hawaii in 1965 (Rutgers).
One of the most known women of the 1970s feminist movement was Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to not only serve in the House of Representatives, but the first Black woman to run for President of the United States in 1972. Chisholm proved that women, particularly women of color, should be able to not only run for president, but be supported in their run by voters.
Women also entered into the legal system, Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman elected to the Supreme Court in 1981, and Janet Reno became the first woman to be Attorney General of the U.S. in 1993 (Rutgers).
In 2016, after decades of public service Hillary Rodham Clinton became the Democrat Party’s nominee for President of the United States. She became the first woman to be nominated by one of the two main parties. In 2020 Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris to be his Vice President nominee; their victory would make history with the first woman in that office.
These are just some of the examples of women who have been the ‘firsts;’ with each action they inspired another woman to be the second, and the third, and so on.
The claim has often been made by political analysts that women are the people who can and will determine the outcome of elections. Women are not all the same, they all bring with them different experiences, beliefs, and identities when they vote. However, women can all share with each other in a universal understanding of desiring to be heard, for their voices to be recognized by all.
With their power to vote women are strong, they are devoted, they are a force that will never be broken. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, educators, doctors, athletes, lawyers, journalists, nurses, soldiers, caretakers, warriors, and so much more. Women are powerful, strong, and deserve to be heard. Although social progress has been made, so much more needs to still be achieved. Regardless of how long the fight for equality may take, one thing is for certain: women will never stop fighting for themselves, and each other.
Victoria Vidales '21,