Drafted by Susan B. Anthony herself, and first introduced to Congress by A.A. Sargent of California in 1878 (Episode 33), the Susan B. Anthony Amendment for national women’s suffrage was once again up for a vote in Congress. The wording of the proposed amendment was exactly the same as when it was first introduced: “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.” It took 41 years for the bill to get to this point in history.
For an amendment bill to pass Congress, ⅔ of the present and voting representatives in both the House and Senate must vote in favor of it. Then, it must be ratified by ¾ of the states to become law and be added to the Constitution.
On January 10, 1918, the national suffrage bill was introduced and passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 274 to 136. The Senate kept delaying taking a vote. Finally on October 1, 1918, they voted. The bill fell short of the ⅔ requirement with a final count of 53 to 31. Then on February 10, 1919, the Senate took a second vote. Suffragists hoped the lame duck Senators would want to leave a positive legacy since they had already lost their seat in the election in 1918. The vote still failed by a count of 55 to 29.
1918 had been an election year and progressives won a majority. When the 66th Congress convened on March 4, 1919, Representative James R. Mann of Illinois was able to get the bill through committee and up for a vote. The suffragists successfully lobbied Congress by emphasizing the patriotism and capabilities that American women showed during WWI. The bill passed in the House by a vote of 304 to 89 on May 21, 1919.
On June 4, 1919 the Senate passed the bill by 56 to 25. (If the total number of votes don’t always add up the same, it’s because Senators and Congressmen can be absent, abstain from a vote, or vote “present” rather than go on record as a “yes” or “no”.) Now it was on to the state legislatures. The state legislatures need only a simple majority to ratify an amendment but ¾ of the states must do so in order for the amendment to be added to the Constitution. That meant 36 out of the 48 recognized states were necessary to obtain national suffrage. Territories such as Hawaii and Alaska were not qualified to ratify the amendment.
Although 2 proposed Amendments in the 20th century have had time limits for ratification put on them, the Constitution does not explicitly state that there is a time limit for an amendment to be ratified. In fact the newest amendment, the 27th, which limits the ability to raise the salary of Congressional representatives while in office, has the very unique distinction of having been proposed in 1789, languishing on the books for decades, and being ratified 202 years later in 1992.
This week’s song pick:
“New Dawn” by Nina Simone with an animated video https://youtu.be/CJA69C6SlRk
Brush up on all 27 Constitutional Amendments with this simple overview:
The 27th Amendment