Not-so-well-known facts about another centennial

By Susanne von Bassewitz, International President

What was achieved in June 1919 with the 19th Amendment passing the U.S. Congress was obviously a big success, but female suffrage remained a controversial cause until it was officially ratified in August 1920. 

Casey Cep, author of the article “Finish the Fight,” published in the 8th/15th July issue of the New Yorker, reminds the reader that, at this centennial, it is worth considering why women had to fight so hard and who, exactly, was fighting against them. 

Did you know that New York’s original voting laws included mention of “he or she” and “his or her ballot,” but that the female pronouns were struck in 1777?

Have you heard of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy of six indigenous nations gathered in the region of the Great Lakes to form an egalitarian society, and that Haudenosaunee women helped select the chiefs and had a say in matters of war and peace? Which was witnessed firsthand by the 19th century suffragists?

And, were you aware that when suffrage was finally passed in the state of Tennessee, the last step to fully ratify the 19th Amendment, the final vote in the Tennessee House of Representatives was 46 ‘nays’ and 50 ‘ayes?’ 

Cep directs us to two books that seem to be a valuable read: The Women’s Suffrage Movement (Penguin) and Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote (Harvard).

Looking back on June 1919: ‘Lift-off’ for Zonta

By Susanne von Bassewitz, International President

June 1919 was a milestone month for women’s history in the United States. After decades of petitions, silent vigils, hunger strikes and protests, in June 1919, the U.S. Senate passed the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing all American women the right to vote. The amendment would not be fully ratified until 18 August 1920; however, its passage was a victory for women suffragists who had fought tirelessly to be given an equal voice and to be fully recognized as American citizens.

The weeks immediately preceding and following the passing of the 19th Amendment encouraged tens of thousands of women to use their newfound voices. The women who would become the first Zontians had gathered only a few months ago to conceive of a different kind of women’s organization. Soon they would already count some hundred (!) pioneer women who would, on 8 November 1919, form Zonta. In hindsight, the creation of Zonta was an even more remarkable achievement since this organizational effort was made in times of snail mail and a just developing telephone infrastructure.  

I think it’s not exaggerated to say that the successful fight for women’s right to vote was the “lift-off” for Zonta. The drive and admirable energy that our founding sisters felt encourages us to take more bold steps on the road for gender equity.