NACOGDOCHES, Texas – In celebration of the passage of the 19th Amendment, the bells of Griffith Fine Arts Building on the Stephen F. Austin State University campus will ring 19 times shortly after noon on Wednesday, Aug. 26, to commemorate the U.S. Constitution article that guaranteed women the right to vote.
The 19th Amendment states 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 was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, ratified on Aug. 18 then certified on Aug. 26 of 1920, formally adding it to the U.S. Constitution and providing suffrage to all citizens.
Starting in fall 2018, a group of local interested people – Nineteenth Amendment Celebration, or NAC – began meeting to plan events for 2020 to commemorate the passage of the amendment, according to Dr. Dana Cooper, professor of history at SFA. The onset of COVID-19 changed those plans.
“The Nineteenth Amendment Celebration group had such good intentions for 2020,” Cooper said. Among the events were readings, symposiums, exhibitions, living histories and more.
According to Cooper, the fight for the right to vote was a long struggle that officially began in 1848 with the Seneca Falls convention, which was attended by some 300 men and women. During the conference, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote the Declaration of Sentiments, which outlined the rationale for women's suffrage and was based upon the Declaration of Independence. Stanton's document was signed by 100 people, including 68 women and 32 men.
“This is typically considered the formal beginning of the fight for suffrage in the United States,” Cooper said.
Numerous battles ensued in the courts and at the state level, and many women attained suffrage in specific states before the amendment was ratified at the federal level. Texas voted to ratify the 19th Amendment on June 28, 1919, making it the first southern state to do so.
“As one of the original events planned by NAC to commemorate this moment in history, the ringing of the bells on Aug. 26 will honor the long fight – by so many and for so long,” Cooper said. “Different people of different backgrounds, perspectives and races fought for decades to provide equality at the polls and the opportunity to partake in democracy, a process that is arguably more important than ever.”
Plans are underway to move some of the planned commemoration events to Zoom so that the celebration can continue on campus and within the community, regardless of the restrictions imposed by social distancing, according to Dr. Linda Levitt, professor of communication studies at SFA.
“We want to find ways to continue our celebration despite the need to change our context,” she said.