Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution also known as women’s suffrage. The amendment states that “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.”
A hundred years is not that long ago. It was one year before my mother was born. The organized women’s suffrage movement had started in 1848, many decades before the amendment was passed. The brave women who led the movement and persisted during years of disappointment are names we read about in history books — Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, to name a few — but there were many who demonstrated, lobbied, advocated and were jailed over the years to fight for their gender to participate in our government. They fought for women they knew and for women they would never know.
Momentum had been building in the decade leading up to passage of the 19th Amendment. Sixteen states had enfranchised women in their individual states, and the proposal had come before the Congress every year for several years. Finally, on June 4, 1919, the amendment was proposed by Congress to the state legislatures for ratification.
At that time, there were 48 states, so 36 states (three-fourths) were needed for ratification. What happened in Maryland? You may be as surprised as I was. Maryland rejected the 19th Amendment in 1920. It not only rejected the 19th Amendment, the General Assembly sent a delegation to West Virginia to
lobby their legislature to reject it. That action backfired as West Virginia ratified it on March 10, 1920, and the Maryland delegation came back to Maryland with their tails between their legs.
Poor record keeping does not afford us any details of the official debate in the Maryland Legislature surrounding consideration of the 19th Amendment. Records show that there were four resolutions prepared on the topic. Two of them were in favor of the amendment, one rejected it with no explanation and one (SJ 2) rejected the amendment based on the guise of states’ rights. SJ 2 was the only resolution that advanced to the floor for a vote and passed. The vote in the Senate was 24-0 in favor of SJ 2 and thus rejecting the amendment. There is no record of the roll call vote in the House, but the resolution rejecting the amendment passed, and researchers speculate it may have been unanimous.
The 19th Amendment constitutional ratification was completed on Aug. 18, 1920, with ratification by Tennessee. Maryland ceremoniously passed a resolution ratifying the 19th Amendment in 1941 unanimously by both chambers after it had been the law of the land since 1920.
What is the status of women today as part of Maryland’s political process? Maryland’s elected women formed a Women’s Caucus in the General Assembly in 1972. It was the first Women’s Caucus in the country. The 12 elected Maryland women who organized this caucus are the mothers of all of us women who now serve in the Maryland Legislature. There were no leadership positions for women at that time. Sometimes, women were the brunt of jokes by their male peers in the Legislature. But over the years, some women have risen through the ranks and now serve as committee chairs and vice chairs. And this year for the first time a woman, Adrienne Jones, serves as speaker of the House of the Delegates.
There are 72 elected female legislators of a total of 188 legislators or 38%, seven female Cabinet members, four female judges of the Court of Appeals, three female judges of the Court of Special Appeals, 73 Circuit Court female judges, and 50 District Court female judges.
However, Maryland has never had a woman elected to a statewide office. Our state treasurer, Nancy Kopp, is a statewide official but elected by the Legislature to the position. There are no women currently in Maryland’s congressional delegation, although Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Frederick County’s own Congresswoman Beverly Byron, Congresswoman Donna Edwards, Congresswoman Connie Morella, Congresswoman Helen Bentley, and Congresswoman Marjorie Holt are women who have served Maryland at the federal level.
It is important that women continue to progress and expand their influence in our political process. We need to maintain our seat at the table and bring our perspective to policy discussions and decisions. We need to encourage young women to keep elected public service as an option as they plan their career paths.
And women need to remember their for mothers and their fight to bring women their constitutional right to vote. This letter is a call to action to register to vote and vote. Be passionate about your rights and exercise your rights. Many people fought long and hard (and continue to fight) for you to have your rights.
Carol Krimm is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. She represents District 3A, which is in Frederick County.