Pennsylvania marks 100th anniversary of vote in favor of women’s suffrage

    Women mark Pennsylvania's ratification of the 19th Amendment in the Capitol rotunda. (Photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

    On June 4, 1919, the U.S. Congress passed the 19th Amendment to give women the right to vote.

    But that wasn’t the end of the story.

    To amend the U.S. Constitution, Congress sent the question to the states, where three-fourths of the 48 legislatures were required to ratify the change.

    On June 24, Pennsylvania became the seventh state to do so.

    Led by Acting Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, lawmakers and cabinet secretaries clad in white gathered in the Capitol rotunda Monday to mark the occasion’s 100th anniversary.

    “This day showed incredible foresight by Pennsylvania leadership,” Boockvar said.

    Boockvar noted that the 19th Amendment “not only gave women access to the voting booth,” it also gave them access to public service.

    “We here represent that promise,” she said.

    The amendment was not certified until August 26, 1920, after Tennessee narrowly voted to ratify women’s suffrage.

    “Believe me, votes matter,” Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, said.

    As Boockvar noted, the 19th Amendment did not end the fight for suffrage for black women and women of color, who continue to face voter suppression laws across the U.S.

    “When we think about the right to vote, and how long it took for women in this country to get the right to vote — and then how long it took for women who look like me to get the right to vote — there is something to be said about us having the opportunity to raise our voices and use them as our power,” said Rep. Joanna McClinton, a black Democratic lawmaker from Philadelphia.

    “It takes power to be able to lead, to be able to serve, to be able to participate,” McClinton continued. “But more than anything, when we think about the fact that women who got the right to vote — whether it was 100 years ago, or 50 years ago — it’s power that brings 13 women to the Pennsylvania Senate. It’s power that brings 52 women to the Pennsylvania House.”

    The November 2018 election, as well as special elections since then, have brought record numbers of Pennsylvania women both to the General Assembly and to Congress.

    Still, Pennsylvania has never sent a woman to the U.S. Senate.

    Lynn Yeakel knows a thing or two about that. In 1992, she came within two percent of unseating Republican incumbent Arlen Specter.

    She’s now the founder and president of the Vision 2020 coalition at Drexel University, which she said Monday is working to mobilize female voters and gain 50-50 parity in legislative bodies.

    Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, also used the opportunity to encourage Pennsylvanians to register to vote.

    Voting is a precious right in our democracy and there’s no better way to honor Pennsylvania’s trailblazers than encouraging everyone you know to register to vote,” Wolf said in a statement.

    Associate Editor Sarah Anne Hughes covers the governor and Pennsylvania's agencies. Before joining the Capital-Star, she was the state capitol reporter for Billy Penn and The Incline, and a 2018 corps member for Report for America. She was previously managing editor of Washington City Paper, editor-in-chief of DCist, and a national blogger for The Washington Post.

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