Aug 24 2020
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On August 18, 1920, Tennessee ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to our Constitution. As the 36th state to do so, their decision to give women the vote pushed the amendment past the three-fourths threshold required by the Constitution. The amendment was adopted, and women would finally be able to more fully participate in the public life of the United States.
But the struggle for women’s right to vote had a long history, and the Nineteenth Amendment was just the culmination of the suffragists’ work. Pro-suffrage organizations have existed since the early days of our nation, and by the end of the 19th century, the idea that women should have a voice in government was steadily gaining traction.
As a Nebraska woman, I am proud to look back on the history of this movement. We were the 14th state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, and many prominent suffragists called Nebraska home.
Before the Nineteenth Amendment was passed, the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Organization successfully petitioned the state government to put the right for women to vote in city elections on the ballot. It didn’t pass the first time, but in 1917, pro-suffrage Governor Keith Neville helped get a bill granting both municipal and presidential suffrage to women through the Nebraska Legislature.
This meant that Nebraska women were able to vote in some elections, but not in all of them. And many states further west, such as Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho, had passed laws granting women the right to vote in previous decades. Even so, the majority of women remained subject to laws they had no control over – the very same situation that led to the American Revolution.
Because of the trail the suffragists blazed, women like me are able to run for office. Many inspiring Nebraska women have come before me, such as Kay Orr, Nebraska’s first female governor and the first female Republican governor in the United States, and Virginia Smith, who served as my congressional representative and was the first woman from Nebraska to hold a seat in the House of Representatives.
Every single woman in this country contributes to our national life with our fortitude, daring, and tenacity. As much as anything else, the women’s suffrage movement was about expanding women’s participation in public life.
When I was first elected to the Nebraska Unicameral in 2004, a female reporter asked me if I planned to focus on women’s issues. I asked her, “How do you define women’s issues?”
She told me that women’s issues are “education and child care.”
I told her, “Every issue is a women’s issue,” and I proceeded to list property tax relief, economic development, education, infrastructure, and many more.
I went on to focus on roads, water, technology, agriculture, and education finance in the Nebraska Legislature – issues that affect everyone, not just women or men. In the U.S. Senate, I’ve added national defense to the list. These are all women’s issues, not just the few that some think of as pertaining to women.
The right to choose your own path is what the suffrage movement and the Nineteenth Amendment were about. We cannot forget the pioneers who fought in the 19th and early 20th centuries for the rights of millions of women to participate in the core function of our republic, but neither can we forget the free-thinking spirit that animated them.
The story of women in American politics is far from over. Our history, our diversity, and the mentors we look up to will continue to encourage and inspire the generations of women who will write the next chapter.
Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.
This column was adapted from an essay Senator Fischer wrote for the National Museum of American History’s “Creating Icons: How We Remember Woman Suffrage” exhibit.