A Woman’s Right to Vote: New film traces struggle behind 19th Amendment

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Aug. 19, 2019 – With the 19th Amendment’s centennial just a year away, Annenberg Classroom has released “The 19th Amendment: A Woman’s Right to Vote,” a video about women’s struggle to secure the right to vote and the amendment’s long journey to passage.

Featuring Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy and other legal scholars, the new film traces the fight for equal rights. It begins with the emergence of the suffragist movement from the anti-slavery movement of the 1800s and progresses with the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, which adopted the “Declaration of Sentiments,” a set of resolutions written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

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“Voting is the most basic right of a citizen,” Ginsburg says in the film. “The most fundamental right and obligation is to participate in choosing the people who will make the laws of our country.”

Annenberg Classroom’s video about the more than 70-year struggle vividly depicts the roles of key figures such as Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, and the surprising parts played by an obscure 24-year-old first-term Tennessee legislator named Harry T. Burn – and by Harry’s mother.

Ninety-nine years ago yesterday, on August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, which met the constitutional requirement that an amendment be ratified by three-fourths of the states (following approval by Congress). The 19th Amendment became law eight days later, on August 26, a date now recognized nationwide as Women’s Equality Day.

The film also follows key court cases such as Minor v. Happersett (1875), in which the nine justices of the Supreme Court, all men, ruled that the equal protection clause of the newly passed 14th Amendment – “No state shall deny to any person the equal protection of the laws” – did not guarantee women the right to vote.

The 26-minute film, released by Annenberg Classroom, is a project of the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania in partnership with the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands. The film is close-captioned and comes with a lesson plan. It is available free for streaming or download here.

Annenberg Classroom provides resources for middle and high school students, and it features a library of more than 60 videos, including conversations with Supreme Court justices, interactive games, a guide to the Constitution and other resources.

The Civics Renewal Network, a consortium of nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations including the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the Newseum and Annenberg Classroom, offers a curated collection of resources for teaching the 19th Amendment.