A Hundred Years of Women Voting
By Jean Godden
Just 100 years ago this week, women across the nation were registering to vote. It had taken an incredible 72-year-long crusade culminating in passage of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920, but women were finally able to participate in public life. Or -- sad to say -- white women had that opportunity. Native women and many African American women still had to fight to exercise the franchise and, alas, would do so for many years.
The hope of those who fought so hard for the vote -- the many who did not live to see victory a -- was that women's votes would make a major difference in this nation. The suffragists thought women would work to improve the lives of this nation's people. They believed that we could expect better health care, more educational opportunities and a higher standard of living. They thought corrupt politics and politicians would no longer dominate public life.
Once again expectations far exceeded reality. When women went to the polls along with men for the first presidential election in 1920, they helped elected President William Harding, a president quickly caught up in the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal. The mild health care measures that were passed drew vigorous opposition from those in the medical establishment who branded even modest gains "socialized medicine."
Instead of health care, what the nation got was what many had predicted, some had feared: Prohibition. The Volstead act implemented the 18th Amendment banning alcohol in 1920. Instead of Prohibition's hoped-for public health gains, there followed unintended consequences. It's true there was an early drop in alcohol consumption, but eventually consumption spiked along with wide-spread lawlessness. Mobsters like Al Capone thrived and corrupt officials collected bribes. The so-called Noble Experiment would feed crime and corruption and eventually be repealed in 1933.
In the early decades of more universal suffrage, women voters generally echoed the votes of the male electorate. Wives were said to follow the lead of their husbands. "Who are we voting for this time, dear?" Seldom have pundits seen men following their wives' votes.
But then, sixty years later, a gender gap began to develop, first appearing during Ronald Reagan's presidency. That gap has continued to widen. And widen. The chasm has never been more apparent than today. The Pew Research Center found that 56 percent of women voters lean Democratic, versus the 38 percent of women who lean Republican. With Black women voters, usually the most reliable group, the numbers are even more soundly Democratic. These numbers are what powered big Democratic gains in the 2018 midterms.
Pouring fire on that gender gap has been their reaction to Trump, who tends to repel women voters. When interviewed, women cite the president's moves to divide the country, his ego and bullying, his disregard for truth and his crashing failure at managing the pandemic. High on his list of negatives, women condemn Trump's misogyny and lack of respect for women.
In Trump world, it's beginning to sound like the sort of insults that were hurled once as an excuse to keep women from voting. In the early days, many men said "women don't have the mental capacity or expertise to vote." Today Trump saves his ugliest insults for women in public life, calling them "crazy," "nasty" and "disgusting." He berates women as "low-IQ" and "dog-faced."
How fitting then, if President Trump should fail in his bid for a second term based on the gender gap, it would become a celebratory way to mark the Centennial of this nation granting women the right to vote. Women can show the nation how to use the ballot wisely.