It’s one of those quirks of history that even though Washington state had recognized women’s right to vote 10 years previously, the state’s Legislature was the 35th state — next to the last necessary for adoption — to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which opened voting booths to most women across the country.
Last month, the nation marked 100 years since a vote in Tennessee’s legislature on Aug. 18, 1920, provided the 36th and final state approval needed for the amendment’s ratification.
As hard fought as the struggle for women’s suffrage was in the decades before the vote in Nashville, the century since has seen a long, difficult effort to extend recognition of those rights to Black Americans, Native Americans and young Americans between the ages of 18 and 21. The work continues to fully employ that right to vote to achieve equity and equality for women and minorities in their lives and in their representation at all levels of government.
And it was a right available to women in Washington state 10 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified, when voters — all men, of course — recognized women’s right to vote in elections within the state on Nov. 8, 1910.
Women in Washington Territory had the vote much earlier — in 1877, when first allowed to vote in school board elections. That right was expanded briefly in 1883, then denied by the territorial Supreme Court, a year before statehood in 1889. The vote wouldn’t be restored — except for a 1892 vote on the state flower — until the 1910 election.
Fittingly, the amendment’s centennial has arrived during an election year of great consequence and one of increased voter interest and participation.
While representation in elected bodies such as the state legislatures and Congress is far from a 50-50 level of parity, Washington is — as it was 110 years ago — a leader among the 50 states.
Nationwide, women make up nearly 29 percent of state legislatures and about a quarter of the membership of the U.S. House and Senate. For Washington state, 41.5 percent of state lawmakers are women; and both U.S. senators and five of 10 House representatives are women; a number that is likely to increase to six with the election of either Beth Doglio or Marilyn Strickland to Rep. Denny Heck’s vacated 10th District seat.
Nationwide, there’s been increased interest among women — Democrat and Republican — in running for Congress. More than 583 women filed for House or Senate posts, including a record 227 Republican women. With most primaries complete, 211 Democratic women and 98 Republican women remain in the running for November’s congressional elections.
Even 100 years on, there’s still an effort required to raise awareness about the history of women’s suffrage and their achievements. Efforts in recent years in the Legislature and by officials, including current Secretary of State Kim Wyman, to streamline voter registration and election participation have helped. A record turnout is expected for the general election.
Elections — as evidenced by the efforts expended to win recognition of that right for women, Black Americans and others — are of immense consequence to our nation and our lives, most especially the election that is now just a couple of months away.
Register to vote, learn about the candidates and issues, watch for your ballot in the mail, then make full use of it. More than a right, it is a duty.