Women's Equality Day
Also known as
Women's Rights Day
annually on August 26th (since 1970)
Women's Equality Day commemorates the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibits denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex. Prior to its adoption, women were not guaranteed the right to vote on the national level. The first time an amendment dedicated to women's suffrage was introduced was in 1878, and similar amendments were introduced numerous times over the next 41 years until the House and Senate both approved the amendment in 1919. Then it needed to be approved by two-thirds of the states, and it was lobbied for by suffragists. On August 24, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state—and final state needed—to ratify it. On August 26, 1920, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed a proclamation that added the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
Fifty years to the day later, The National Organization for Women, led by Betty Friedan, held the Women's Strike for Equality. The day was known by some as Women's Equality Day. It was the largest protest for gender equality in United States history up until that time. Protests and rallies were held in more than 90 cities, with 100,000 women participating. In New York City alone, 50,000 women marched down Fifth Avenue.
In 1971, Congresswoman Bella Abzug [D-NY] introduced a resolution to designate August 26th as Women's Equality Day. It did not pass. The following year, President Richard Nixon issued Proclamation 4147, designating August 26, 1972, as Women's Rights Day. This was the first official proclamation for a day dedicated to women's equality. In the proclamation, Nixon said that "as significant as the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment was, it was not cause for ending women's efforts to achieve their full rights in our society. Rather, it brought an increased awareness of other rights not yet realized," and that "in recent years there have been great strides in extending the protection of the law to the rights of women, and in promoting equal opportunities for women." He also called "upon all our citizens and particularly those organizations concerned with the protection of human rights to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities."
In 1973, Abzug once again introduced a resolution for Women's Equality Day. This time it passed, and H.J. Res. 52 became Public Law 93-105 on August 16, 1973. It officially established Women's Equality Day at the national level, and said that "the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation in commemoration of that day in 1920 on which the women in America were first guaranteed the right to vote." Traditionally, the president makes a proclamation for Women's Equality Day each year. In 1973, President Nixon issued Proclamation 4236, where he said in part:
Now, Therefore, I, Richard Nixon, President of the United States of America, do hereby call upon the people of the United States and interested groups and organizations to observe August 26, 1973, as Women's Equality Day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. I further urge all our people to use this occasion to reflect on the importance of achieving equal rights and opportunities for women and to dedicate themselves anew to that great goal. For the cause of equal rights and opportunities for women is inseparable from the cause of human dignity and equal justice for all.
How to Observe Women's Equality Day
Some ways you could observe the day include:
- Rededicate yourself to the cause of gender equality.
- Support an organization that is fighting for gender equality.
- Read a book about the women's suffrage movement.
- Explore resources from the National Women's History Alliance.
- Visit the National Women's History Museum.