Equality Day: Since 1971, Women’s Equality Day is celebrated annually on 26 August. The festival is celebrated on the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote.
The Woman Suffrage Amendment was first introduced on January 10, 1878. It was reintroduced several times until it was finally approved by both the House and Senate in June 1919. The bill needed to be ratified by two-thirds of the states, so suffragettes spent the next year lobbying state legislatures to garner support for the bill.
On August 24, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th and final state to ratify the amendment, which passed by only one vote. That one vote belonged to Harry Byrne, who heeded his mother’s words when she urged him to vote for suffrage. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the amendment into law on August 26, 1920.
Fifty years later, on August 26, 1970, Betty Friedan and the National Organization for Women organized a nationwide women’s strike for equality. Women from all across the political spectrum came together to demand equal opportunities in employment and education, as well as 24-hour childcare centres.
It was the largest protest for gender equality in the history of the United States. Demonstrations and rallies took place in more than 90 major cities and small towns across the country and were attended by more than 100,000 women, including 50,000 women who marched down Fifth Avenue in New York City.
In addition to the march, women’s groups participated in publicity stunts aimed at further recognition of gender inequality. Women in New York City occupied the Statue of Liberty, and hung two 40-foot banners on the crown that read “March for Equality August 26th” and “Women of the World Unite.” An organized group blocked the ticker tape at the American Stock Exchange, and held up signs such as “We will tolerate no more bullishness”.
Female teachers also filed a lawsuit against the New York City Board of Education demanding gender equality in the appointment of educational administration positions. This affair went on for about 10 years and eventually led to an increase in the number of female principals.
Although the strike did not stop the nation’s activities, it brought national attention to the women’s movement. For example, the New York Times published its first major article on the feminist movement, covering the events of that day. It also included a map of the route the marchers would take through the city.
In 1971, Representative Bella Abzug (D-NY) introduced a successful bill designating August 26 of each year as Women’s Equality Day. A portion of the bill states that Women’s Equality Day is a symbol of women’s continued fight for equal rights and that the United States appreciates and supports them.
It ordered that the President be authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually commemorating the women’s suffrage and equality strike of 1970. Women today continue to draw inspiration from the history of these brave and determined women.