The Declaration of Independence states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” But nowhere does it mention women.
When I was growing up, I was told that the word “men” was intended to refer to all mankind, including women, a comforting notion. Howevere, I no longer believe that, in large part because I now know that Abigail Adams* wrote to her husband John in March of 1776 with the words “remember the ladies”. Since I’m quite certain he did not have dementia at the time, it’s obvious that the ladies were deliberately excluded.Nor are women mentioned in the US Constitution, and the right to vote is not delineated. In the early history of our nation, laws about who could vote were decided by each individual state. None allowed women to vote. Wyoming Territory gave women the right to vote in 1869, followed by Utah Territory (1870) and Washington Territory (1882). When the territories became states, they preserved women’s suffrage. It may seem odd that these Western states were the first, but given the fact that women were scarce in the Old West, I suspect suffrage was a way of attracting more women to settle in the Far West. Or perhaps the Western territories were more egalitarian, since there was no existing old-style patriarchy to run things, like there was back east. Hard to say for sure. You can find out what year your state first allowed women to vote at the National Constitution Center’s website.
My point is, women’s rights are not something we can take for granted. The right to vote was hard won by several generations of women, starting in 1848 and finally culminating in victory in 1920 by passage of the 19th Amendment, 130 years after the Constitution was ratified.
As our current president would say, “Sad.”
I hope to live long enough to see full gender equality.
In the meantime, have a happy and safe Fourth of July!
* For more on Abigail Adams, check out Alina K. Field’s Fourth of July post.