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Women’s Equality Day is Aug. 26

Since 1971, Women’s Equality Day has been celebrated annually on Aug. 26. The celebration falls on the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment which granted women the right to vote. 

According to the Library of Congress site the Woman Suffrage Amendment was first introduced to Congress in 1878. It was resubmitted numerous times until it was finally approved by both the House and Senate in June 1919. This was the culmination of a massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women. It had its’ formal beginnings in 1848 at the world’s first women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York. 

The bill needed to be approved by two-thirds of the states, so suffragists spent the next year lobbying state legislatures to gain support for the bill. On Aug. 24, 1920, Tennessee became 36th and final state to ratify the amendment, which passed by only one vote.

That one vote belonged to Harry T. Burn. He heeded the words of his mother when she urged him to vote for suffrage. The Secretary of State signed the amendment into law on Aug. 26, 1920. The site noted further milestones in women’s rights.

Fifty years later Aug. 26, 1970, Betty Friedan, and the National Organization for Women (NOW) organized a nationwide Women’s Strike for Equality. Women across the political continuum joined together to demand equal opportunities in employment and education, as well as 24-hour childcare centers. This was the largest protest for gender equality in United States history. There were demonstrations and rallies in more than 90 major cities and small towns across the country and over 100,000 women participated, including 50,000 who marched down Fifth Avenue in New York City.

In 1971, Representative Bella Abzug (D-NY) introduced a successful bill designating Aug. 26 of each year as Women’s Equality Day. Part of the bill reads that Women’s Equality Day is a symbol of women’s continued fight for equal rights and that the United States commends and supports them. It decreed that the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of woman suffrage and the 1970 Strike for Equality. Women today continue to draw on the history of these brave and determined women.

Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action

More than two decades ago there was a historic gathering in 1995 in Beijing, China guided by UN Women. Internet sites explain that The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted by governments, corporations, and change-makers committed to achieving gender equality. On that occasion a woman from Chicago, the First Lady of the United States at the time, later, the U.S. Secretary of State, and long advocate for women and children, made history. In her historic speech Hillary Clinton declared: 

“If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.” 

More women are continuing to vote. According to a Rutgers University 2019 article voter turnout rates for women have equaled or exceeded voter turnout rates for men in recent elections. Women, who constitute more than half the population, have cast between four and seven million more votes than men in recent elections. In every presidential election since 1980, the proportion of female adults who voted has exceeded the proportion of made adults who voted. Let us all continue to vote to better our country, state, county, town, and our schools. Our democracy depends on using our right to vote.

Compiled by Janice Walker, president of the League of Women Voters - Barton County Great Bend. She was a member of NOW  and was present in  Beijing in 1995 the week prior to the Platform for Action as a runup to it with the NOW group. Email Walker at