How Much was 19th Amendment, Women's Suffrage a Victory or Opportunity Lost?

Aug 19, 2020

CNY women's rights crusader broke with the women's suffrage movement as it became more segregated and dropped equality issues as it sought ratification of 19th amendment.
Credit WAER File Photo

The 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment was widely celebrated Tuesday, but one women’s rights expert sees it as an ‘opportunity lost’ as much as a victory.  Doctor Sally Roesch Wagner directs the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center in Fayetteville.  Gage fought for suffrage along with Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others.  

But Wagner says Gage left the movement when it became more white and more exclusively Christian.

“State auxiliaries were allowed to segregate.  National movements segregated as well.  And so, while they furthered freedom in one direction, the did it at the expense of larger issues of freedom.”

Wagner adds the women’s movement then included struggles that are still going on now.

“Gage in the 1850s is talking about equal pay for equal work, women being the great unpaid laborers of the world.  This was at a time when women were making about a third to a half of what men were making.”

The movement abandoned that issue and reproductive rights to get southern states to support suffrage.  Wagner acknowledges women’s progress in the political arena, seen today for example by Kamala Harris, a woman of color as Vice Presidential Candidate, as an outgrowth of suffrage.

The Fayetteville Gage Museum highlights a number of the civil and human rights issues on which she worked. Gage lived in Fayetteville from 1854 to 1898

“... and then I hear Matilda Joslyn Gage thundering in my ear, saying, ‘are you kidding me , it’s 2020 and this is finally happening?’ And I think about the extraordinary loss of leadership of omen of color for how many years.”

She adds African American women were blocked in many ways from voting until the voting rights act of 1965.  So she sees the 19th amendment anniversary as a bittersweet victory for women.

The Matlida Joslyn Gage home and museum in Fayetteville has been closed due to the COVID pandemic.  The Gage Foundtaion is hosting a fundraiser oline, fetaureing the film Without a Whisper-Kannon:Kwe, which highlihgts the contributions of indegenous women to the beginnings of the women's rights movement.  Find out more here.