It would be difficult to accurately calculate the impact women have had on American history and governance in the 100 years since the Constitution was amended to allow women the right to vote. But it’s hard to imagine the world we live in today without it.
This month marks 100 years since the House voted in favor of that amendment, 304-90. That was a significant step toward the eventual ratification of the 19th Amendment. Today’s House members marked the milestone last week by noting that the body currently contains 127 women, which is a record.
Various studies have attempted to show what women have brought to Congress in terms of trends and legislation. That’s difficult to do, considering women representatives tend to be as diverse in political thought as their male counterparts. However, it may safely be said that they have brought to the fore legislation concerning matters of importance to women, which previously had been ignored by men. Also, they seem to be more effective legislators, passing a higher percentage of their bills than their male counterparts.
More importantly, they effectively represent the people of their districts, male and female.
Utahns always have had a hard time imagining a democratic system that excludes women. As a territory, Deseret granted women the right to vote in 1870, just ahead of Wyoming. That is a stunning fact little known in the rest of the nation, especially given attitudes in a nation that then was less than 100 years old. A schoolteacher by the name of Seraph Young was the first woman to cast a ballot on Feb. 14 of that year.
At the time, the rest of the nation hadn’t caught up to Utah’s enlightened views on the subject, and too many critics tied it to fears of polygamy. Congress forced the territory to abandon women’s suffrage, but the newly formed state of Utah reinstated it in its constitution in 1896. Later that year, Utah made Martha Hughes Cannon the first female member of the state Senate.
With such an illustrious and enviable background, it’s too bad Utah has fallen behind other states in terms of female representation, not only in Congress but in the state Legislature. Currently, six members of the state Senate and 19 members of the House are female, comprising only 24 percent of the whole. This is well behind neighboring Nevada, where more than half the Legislature is female, and it lags the national average of 28.7 percent.
We’re not much interested in quotas. Utahns should elect the best representatives possible, whether male or female. But the energy that pushed 19th century Utah women to the forefront of women in politics seems to have waned, and we have no doubt many capable and successful women are not considering public service or politics.27 comments on this story
This may be a symptom of an overall lag in political participation. Utah has seen a slide in voter turnout through the years, notwithstanding a surge in the 2018 elections. That may have been more of a reflection of some eye-catching ballot initiatives, including one to legalize medical marijuana, than of any deep and considered involvement in political matters.
A century after women gained a foothold in American politics, there is much to celebrate and much yet to be accomplished. The best news, of course, is that government today is more representative of the people it serves. But that representation will only be as good as the people who agree to step up and run.