Q&A: Reflecting On 100 Years Of Women's Voting Rights

historic photo of Woman Suffrage Headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio in 1912.
Woman Suffrage Headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio in 1912. [Everett Collection / Shutterstock]
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Listen. Engage. Vote 2020

The 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, was ratified 100 years ago — Aug. 18, 1920.

ideastream’s Ida Lieszkovszky spoke with past and present leaders of the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland — including Susan Murnane, a historian and past chapter co-president, and Catherine LaCroix, the Greater Cleveland League’s current co-president  to reflect on 100 years of voting rights and fights.

Susan, how far have women come over the last 100 years? 

Well we’ve come quite a way. In 1920 women were just beginning to go to college in large numbers, women were of course just beginning to participate in political parties and the political process and now we’re the majority of people who graduate from college and universities and we are a majority of voters, even though we have not yet become anywhere close to a majority of people involved at the upper echelons of political parties or in government itself.

How influential has the female vote been over the past century? 

Well, it has not been that influential until recently. It’s been large but women have tended to vote pretty much the way men do. But recently, the voting gap between how women vote and how men vote has really widened drastically.

Do you find that younger women take their right to vote for granted? 

I find that younger women take all of the rights for granted. When I was in high school, I lived in Buffalo, New York, and my father worked for a congressman’s campaign and I tagged along and I would be sent to the kitchen to lick envelopes while the men talked politics. I’m not that old, this was in the 1960s. When I got out of college, they still had two lists for employment [options] and if you applied for a job on the man’s list because you thought you were qualified for it and you wanted to do it you might be told, and I was told, ‘We don’t hire girls for that.’ Young women really do take their rights for granted, and they are endangered now, and I hope this shocks them into taking their rights seriously.

These days, the League of Women Voters is active in getting voters to the polls. Catherine LaCroix, as the local chapter’s current co-president, which groups do you think continue to face challenges to their right to vote today? 

Although we all have the right to vote, not all of us are able to surmount the practical hurdles that are placed in our way as we try to vote. So for instance, the proliferation of ID laws effects people who are challenged in their ability to obtain the requisite ID. So, there’s that. People with disabilities have difficulty voting. 

It strikes me that on the one hand a centennial is a significant milestone, but on the other hand, women have only been allowed to vote for the last 100 years! What’s the significance of this centennial? 

When my grandmothers reached age 21, they were not able to vote and I know my maternal grandmother, this made a really big impression on her. Her entire life after that she was very active in the League of Women Voters and she was a poll watcher and very involved in elections precisely, I think, because of that reason.

A centennial like this is a useful heads up to everybody, you have to exercise your rights. People fought very hard for your right and it’s important to go out and exercise it.

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