Early this month, our country celebrated a major milestone as we recognized the 100th anniversary of the congressional passage of the 19th Amendment, which ultimately guaranteed women the right to vote.
That victory was not an easy one. It arrived more than 70 years after the Seneca Falls Convention, which launched the women’s suffrage movement in our country, and more than 40 years after the amendment was first introduced in Congress.
As with all constitutional amendments, clearing the U.S. House and Senate was not the final step; it took approval from three-fourths of states, as well.
Kentucky, I’m proud to say, was on that list, and Tennessee became the 36th and final one needed when its legislature ratified the amendment on Aug. 18, 1920. The outcome there was in doubt, however, until a young legislator changed his mind at the request of his mother.
In the push for equality, Kentucky has been a pioneer in many ways. In 1838, Kentucky became the first in the nation granting limited voting rights to women statewide. In this case, they could only cast a ballot in school-related matters and only if they were single and owned property. (Regrettably, Kentucky revoked this voting right in the early 1900s.)
Shortly after the 19th Amendment was ratified, Boyd County’s Mary Elliott Flanery blazed a path by becoming the first woman in the South to be elected to a state legislature. In the Kentucky House chamber, there is a commemorative plaque on the desk she used during her tenure, and her accomplishments included sponsoring the legislation creating what is now Morehead State University.
Kentucky became the seventh state to have a woman serve as governor when Martha Layne Collins was elected in 1983, and the Kentucky Commission on Women was one of the first of its kind in the nation when it was created in 1964.
As much progress has been made in recent decades, much more remains to be done.
Less than 360 women have been elected to Congress since the first arrived in 1916, for example, and a third of those are serving right now. The National Conference of State Legislatures says women hold 29 percent of state legislative seats nationwide, and have a majority in Nevada’s legislature. The rate in Kentucky’s General Assembly is 22.5 percent, which puts us in the middle among southern states.
Fortunately, more women are running for office, and it was in the mid-1990s that they began outpacing men when comparing college-attainment rates for those in their mid- to late 20s. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics says that the college gender gap for that age group doubled between 2000 and 2017, and it more than tripled when just looking at four-year and post-graduate college degrees.
That points to a brighter future, and it hopefully also means better days are ahead when it comes to such other persistent challenges as pay equity and glass ceiling issues. If we have shown anything in the last century, though, it is that we are committed to overcoming the hurdles before us. The goal now is to take much less time to see true equality, in the statehouse as well as on the job site and elsewhere. There certainly is no need to wait.
If you have any questions about this or any other issue affecting Kentucky, please let me know. My email firstname.lastname@example.org, while the toll-free message line is 1-800-372-7181. If you have a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896-0305.
Thanks for all you do and holler anytime.