On August 26th, Women Take the Stage will be streaming for free around the nation. The event is bringing together entertainers, politicians, and activists to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and to also inspire Americans to vote this coming November.
The right for women to vote didn’t come easily. In fact, it took nearly 100 years of activism. In the 1820s and 1830s, the initial idea of suffragism began to spread, but it wasn’t until the summer of 1848 that the movement was truly ignited. In July of that year, the Seneca Falls Convention was held to discuss women’s right to vote. Activist Elizabeth Candy Stanton delivered a formal address which began with,
“We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed—to declare our right to be free as man is free…”
At the time, women were subjected to the ideals of the “Cult of True Womanhood”. Society told women that they should be pious, submissive wives and mothers, who only focused on domestic duties and her family. It was believed that a woman had no business in making political choices because her only role was within the home.
However, the Civil War was about to change everything. In the years shortly after the North won, new amendments were added to the constitution. In 1868, the 14yh Amendment said all white men, regardless of class, could vote. And in 1870, the 15th Amendment would grant black men the right to vote, stating, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Suffragettes (women seeking the right to vote) saw these new amendments as a doorway. They knew that if the nation was willing to open up the vote to various classes and races, there had to be a way to ensure a woman’s right to partake as well.
In the later decades of the 1800s, the movement had started gaining major traction. Elizabeth Candy Stanton, along with Susan B. Anthony, formed the National Woman Suffrage Association, which fought for a universal right to vote. Another group, the American Woman Suffrage Association, decided to fight for the right to vote on a state-by-state basis. In 1890, the two groups merged together to combine their resources and efforts.
By the start of the 1900s, some western states, like Utah and Colorado, had already granted women the right to vote, but it wasn’t until World War I that the country saw the true power of women. As men were overseas fighting, women had to enter the workforce, proving that they were just as capable and as patriotic as men. In fact, by 1918, munitions factories were the single largest employer of women in the country.
Around this time, a new suffragette organization, the National Women’s Party, led by Alice Paul, began making national news through flamboyant, eye-catching protests like hunger strikes and pickets throughout Washington DC. Finally, on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, and just a few months later, more than 8 million women were able to vote for the first time in the 1920 Presidential Election.
Now, 100 years later, our nation once again finds itself on the verge of a new era. It’s an election year, and there has never been so much on the line for American citizens. I was able to catch up with activist Aly Palmer, one of the bandmembers of BETTY, and co-organizer of the Women Take the Stage event. I wanted to hear what she had to say about the upcoming event, and what voting means to her.
So, to start, I’d love for you to explain what the Women Take the Stage event is.
Well, it’s part concert and part rally. It’s a celebration of the milestone that is the 19th Amendment. It’s going to be filled with live performances and excellent music. And woven in-between the performances will be the history of women’s empowerment, starting from the Native peoples, into the colonial era, through to the 19th Amendment, and up to the present day. We talk about how, with voter suppression, there are still hurdles many people face in this country.
Do you think that people’s eyes have really been opened to these issues in recent years?
Yeah, I think they have. But worst of all, is that so much of the attempted voter suppression right now is right out in the open. We have government leaders who are trying to discredit mail-in voting and defund the postal service….during a deadly pandemic! But I need to say, our event is nonpartisan. We want to encourage women, and everyone, to go out and vote. They can vote for whoever they want, as long as they feel empowered and inspired to do it.
What do you hope the event can do for voters around the country?
We think this event will be a success if we can do two things. First, we want to inspire people to vote. It’s been found that 53% of registered voters who don’t actually vote are women. And when asked why, a vast majority of them said its because they just weren’t informed enough. So, we want to help inform them. We want to educate the country on the journey that marginalized people have had to take to achieve equality. And secondly, we want to inspire those who already are voting to be activists. We want to inspire them to go out and encourage their friends and family to register to vote.
And how about the performances? What can you tell us about the show’s entertainment?
Oh, it’s such a fantastic lineup! We have rising stars like Skip the Needle, which is a group of super fierce Oakland natives! My band BETTY (best known for performing the theme song to The L Word) will be performing as well, and we’ve also got absolutely stunning talent like Sweet Honey in the Rock, Kate Pierson, Indigo Girls, and Lily Tomlin, along with activist Gloria Steinem and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, among many, many others. It’s going to be such an incredible night of music, storytelling, and community!
Women Take the Stage will be streaming on various platforms (including YouTube) on August 26th at 9 pm. They will also be holding a live pre-show and big-screen airing of the event at the Finger Lakes Drive-In in New York. If you’re not already registered to vote, find out how to do so at Rock the Vote—registering only takes a few minutes!