Opinion » Letters

Suffragists fought for all women

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Correction: An earlier version of the headline included a typo, which was fixed to better reflect the content of the letter. This same typo is included in the print edition. New Times regrets the error.

An Aug. 27 New Times article on the centennial of women voting ("Local political leaders reflect on 100 years of women's suffrage") quotes the San Luis Obispo mayor as saying: "When we were all growing up, we just heard the story of the 19th Amendment and never really had to grapple with the reality that it was only white women ... . We're in the middle of another uprising that hopefully will do for people of color what suffragists did for white women."

The 19th Amendment makes no reference at all to race. It states: "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." Women were denied the vote at the founding of our country, and again in 1870 when the 15th Amendment gave the vote to men of all races, but not women. The 19th Amendment healed this great constitutional injustice by eliminating male-only voting privileges.

What if we could travel back in time and ask the courageous Black women and men suffragists this question: "Are you fighting to win the vote for 'only white women?'" They could have been outraged at the mere suggestion. To be clear, these fierce Black voting rights advocates—such as Sojourner Truth, Frederic Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, or Nannie Helen Burroughs, to name a few—bravely fought for the vote for all women, not "only white women."

It is shamefully true that racism infected factions of the suffrage movement, and American society in general, then as now. It is also true that, despite the passage of the 15th and 19th Amendments, officials engaged in voter suppression, then as now, motivated by sexism and racism. Such toxic prejudices undermine democracy and must be eradicated. But, their existence does not justify any attempt to rewrite the suffragists' paramount goal, i.e. winning the vote for all women, regardless of race.

During this centennial year, let us fight for the enactment of the Equal Rights Amendment and give thanks to the 19th Amendment by casting our ballots in November!

Jan Marx

former mayor, SLO College of Law dean

San Luis Obispo

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