A Non-Whitewashed History of the 19th Amendment and Women’s Right to Vote

On the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, we celebrate the women of color who history forgot

Iris Kim
Published in
5 min readAug 18, 2020


Photo illustration of a portrait of Ida B. Wells against a background image of women voters.
Photo illustration; Image sources via Getty: Photo: Fotosearch/Stock Montage

On August 18, 1920, Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment — granting women the right to vote under federal law. The year 2020 marks 100 years since this milestone in feminist history.

We most often glorify key suffragist figures and events that supposedly ushered in a new era of women’s rights to the United States: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and the Seneca Falls Convention. We laud these women for giving all women a voice in their government and taking an important first step in the fight for women’s rights.

This story, however, presents an incomplete narrative. The 19th Amendment did not grant the right to vote for millions of Black, Native American, and Asian American women.

To celebrate the centennial as a liberation for all women would be a disservice to the women of color who were often shunned and discounted by the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement. The campaign to grant all women voting rights is a much more prolonged and arduous crusade.

The heroism of the Black, Asian American, Latina, and Native American activists must not be buried.

Prior to 1920, White suffragists traditionally excluded women of color from their ranks. Racism and classicism were ingrained in the movement, which viewed American women as solely White and middle-class.

White suffragists won over Southern politicians by employing racist rhetoric, arguing that the only way to counterbalance the influx of the “uneducated” Black man’s vote would be to permit the White woman’s vote. Black women and other women of color were not invited to attend the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 despite their significant contributions to the abolitionist and women’s rights movements. Stanton and Anthony even overlooked African American suffragists’ involvements when penning the 6,000-page publication entitled History of Woman Suffrage.

Following 1920 and the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the mainstream White…