By the President of the United States of America
"I believe in woman's suffrage, because I believe in democracy." With these words, Congressman M. Clyde Kelly of Pennsylvania summarized the convictions of countless Americans who supported the adoption of the 19th Amendment to our Constitution. This Amendment, which was passed by the Congress in June 1919, ratified by the Tennessee legislature on August 20, 1920, and officially declared part of our Constitution six days later, guaranteed for women the right to vote.
The adoption of the 19th Amendment marked a long-awaited triumph for members of the woman's suffrage movement and the beginning of ever greater participation by women in the day-to-day process of government. By the time the proposed Amendment was presented to the States for ratification -- some 40 years after it had been introduced in the Congress -- women had won equal suffrage in 15 States and in the Alaska Territory. Women could vote in Presidential elections in 12 other States and in primary elections in two States. Yet, after years of hard work at the grassroots level, suffragettes and their supporters knew that full, effective recognition of women's right to vote depended on action at the Federal level. To allow the question to be resolved arbitrarily, by the individual States, would refute the idea of women as coheirs to the God-given and unalienable rights enshrined in our Nation's Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by our Constitution.
Proponents of the 19th Amendment understood that, as long as women were disenfranchised in any State, our Nation deviated from the principles on which it was founded -- including the belief that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. Explaining the link between woman's suffrage and the preservation of democracy, Representative Kelly said:
When officials are chosen without the consent of all, then those who had no voice in their selection are subjects, not citizens. Women are citizens, they are part of the people, and they have a right to help elect those who shall represent them and to help make the laws under which they shall live and to which they must render obedience.
By extending the franchise, the United States took an important step toward fulfilling its promise of liberty and justice for all -- one that would be followed by other legal milestones such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and, more recently, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
Although women have always made vital contributions to the social, cultural, and economic development of the United States, it was not until adoption of the 19th Amendment that they became full participants in our system of self-government. No longer excluded from the voting booth, women began to play increasingly influential roles in public life, overcoming legal and attitudinal barriers to their advancement and sharing their talents and ideas in virtually every field.
As we commemorate the ratification of the 19th Amendment nearly three-quarters of a century ago, we recall the many contributions and achievements of women, as well as our obligation to promote equal opportunities for all Americans. This year, let us also reflect on the importance of having the right to vote and of faithfully exercising that right.
Now, Therefore, I, George Bush, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim August 26, 1992, as Women's Equality Day. I invite all Americans to observe this day with appropriate programs and activities.
In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this tenth day of August, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-two, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and seventeenth.