Helena group celebrates 100th anniversary of 19th Amendment

The Billings Gazette

August 19, 2020

A group of women from the Helena League of Women Voters gathered at the Capitol building on Tuesday to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.

The Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibited voter discrimination based on sex, was officially ratified on Aug. 18, 1920. It was then certified on Aug. 26, 1920.

The moment was the culmination of years of fighting for women's suffrage. According to HLWV co-president Margaret Bentwood, the anniversary also marks the 100-year anniversary of the league.

"We are still here and we are still working," Bentwood said. "We are still in favor of democracy."

Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney said the day is a big one for Montana women. According to a brief history lesson Cooney provided, Montana women played a major role in the national women's suffrage movement. This includes electing the first-ever congresswoman, Jeannette Rankin, in 1916.

"Her relentless work laid the foundation for the Nineteenth Amendment," Cooney said. "I'm so proud and honored to be joining you today for this celebration."

Cooney said the Nineteenth Amendment was the start, but not the end of the fight for equality in the United States. Native Americans weren't given citizenship until the Snyder Act of 1924. It still took over 40 years for all 50 states to allow Native Americans to vote. It wasn't until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that Black women in America were given the right to vote, said Cooney.

"We must all work to continue to ensure our voting rights now," Cooney said. "For all citizens, not just those with the most power."

Raph Graybill, chief legal counsel for the governor's office, shared a bit about the ongoing work to ensure equality for everyone.

"The work of equality is never done," Graybill said. "The Nineteenth Amendment was a big step."

Graybill spoke briefly about the Equal Rights Amendment, which passed Congress in 1972 and included a seven-year ratification deadline by three-quarters of the states. Montana ratified the ERA in 1974 and Virginia became the essential 38th state to ratify it in January 2020, but it is unclear whether the amendment can be adopted after the ratification deadline.

The aim of the ERA is to guarantee legal rights to all Americans regardless of sex. This would include ending distinctions between men and women in matters such as employment, divorce and property ownership, among others.

Graybill said the governor's office is working to "force the Congress archivist to accept the ERA," giving it recognition as part of the Constitution.

"That's why Montana is still fighting," Graybill said.

At the end of the speeches, the women of the HLWV placed roses at the feet of the statue of Jeannette Rankin in the Capitol building. They then took a celebratory lap around the building.