The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote nationally on August 18, 1920, so why is Women’s Equality Day on August 26th each year?
The simple answer is that even when a constitutional amendment has been ratified it’s not official until it has been certified by the correct government official. In 1920, that official was U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby. On August 26, 1920, Colby signed a proclamation behind closed doors at 8 a.m. at his own house in Washington, D.C, ending a struggle for the vote that started a century earlier.
The New York Times ran the story about the document’s signing on its front page and noted the lack of fanfare for the historic event.
Colby had been asked by women’s suffrage leaders Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt to allow groups in Colby’s office for the document’s signing and to film the event. Instead, Colby told reporters that “effectuating suffrage through proclamation of its ratification by the necessary thirty-six States was more important than feeding the movie cameras.”
The Times explained that Colby was concerned about the rivalry between Paul and Catt and wanted to avoid a public scene at the signing.
“Inasmuch as I am not interested in the aftermath of any of the friction or collisions which may have been developed in the long struggle for the ratification of the amendment, I have contented myself with the performance in the simplest manner of the duty devolving upon me under the law,” Colby said.
A package of documents from the state of Tennessee had arrived by train in Washington around 4 a.m. It included the official ratification document from the state legislature.
How Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, was a story in itself. Congress had passed the proposed amendment a year earlier, and it was supported by President Woodrow Wilson.
By the middle of 1920, 35 states had voted to ratify the amendment, but four other states—Connecticut, Vermont, North Carolina and Florida—refused to consider the resolution for various reasons, while the remaining states had rejected the amendment altogether.
So, Tennessee became the battleground to obtain the three-fourths of states needed to ratify the amendment. Harry T. Burn, a 24-year-old legislator, was set to vote against the amendment, but switched his vote on the Tennessee state house floor at the urging of his mother, assuring the 19th amendment’s ratification.
Yet, even after Burn’s deciding vote, anti-suffrage legislators tried desperately to nullify the previous vote.
In 1971, Representative Bella Abzug championed a bill in the U.S. Congress to designate August 26 as “Women’s Equality Day.” The bill says that “the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote.”
As a footnote, the amendment certification process has changed since 1920. Now, the Archivist of the United States, who heads the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), is responsible for finalizing the ratification process.
Back in 1920, Secretary Colby’s attorney reviewed the documents that arrived from Tennessee. Today, NARA’s Office of the Federal Register reviews the documents and writes the proclamation for the Archivist of the United States to sign.
Section 106(b) of the United States Code spells out the finality of the process:
“The Archivist of the United States shall forthwith cause the amendment to be published, with his certificate, specifying the States by which the same may have been adopted, and that the same has become valid, to all intents and purposes, as a part of the Constitution of the United States.”
Filed Under: 19th Amendment
The next time you think about making fun of Ford Motor’s 1958-60 Edsel, consider that an Edsel coupe in top condition is valued at $16,400 and that a convertible is worth a cool $47,000.
The Edsel was an abject marketing failure, but the car probably would have been a hit if introduced in car-crazy, prosperous 1955–a tremendous sales year for major American automakers.
Instead, the Edsel arrived during a bad recession late in 1957 for the 1958 model year, which was disastrous for most car producers. One historian said that the Edsel’s “aim was right, but the target moved” Making matters worse, the car was given far too much promotion by Ford, raising buyer and media expectations way too high.
The media initially was enthusiastic, but turned against the Edsel when they saw the public didn’t love it.
Moreover, the public was becoming interested in much smaller, more economical cars, such as the Nash Rambler, Studebaker Lark and Volkswagen Beetle. And there were too many autos in the fairly large Edsel’s size and medium-price class.
Even Ford Motor’s established Mercury could be bought for about the price of an Edsel, which was designed to bridge the gap between Ford and Mercury models. Indeed, the Edsel was a Mercury or Ford (depending on the model) under the skin. It had a substantial steel girder chassis and could be had with powerful V-8s of up to 345 horsepower–and every power accessory known to man. It was a solid performer.
And those who think the Edsel’s flamboyant styling was too offbeat, they should consider the gaudy, hugely overchromed 1958 models from General Motors. The car’s grille was criticized, but most weren’t aware that the famous 1930s Bugatti sports car also had a “horseshoe grille.” And the limited-production Gaylord sports car and Packard Predictor auto show cars of the 1950s had variations of the vertical grille concept used for the Edsel.
The Edsel was criticized for having gadgets, but it only had a few unusual items such as automatic transmission pushbuttons in the steering wheel hub and a rotating drum speedometer that changed color as speed rose. Workmanship left something to be desired, but that was typical of the times.
The Edsel resulted from marketing studies done by Ford in the early 1950s. It was meant to compete as two complete car lines–one priced under Mercury with Ford components and one priced between Mercury and Ford’s top-line Lincoln that mostly shared parts with Mercury.
The Edsel would have its own dealers and compete directly against medium-priced General Motors and Chrysler autos. It did fairly well in its first model year, although it arrived as the first of the 1958 models with 1958 prices when most dealers were selling cut-rate 1957 models to get rid of inventories.
Despite everything, sales of 63,110 Edsels let the car outdo a few established rivals, which wasn’t bad for a new auto line in a recession year. But Ford had hoped for sales of at least 100,000 units–and Robert McNamara disliked the Edsel because it used profits from the Ford division he headed before entering government service.
The bewildering array of Edsel models didn’t help matters. The car’s two basic chassis/drivelines were for four separate series–Ranger, Pacer, Corsair and Citation–spread over 18 different models.
There were two- and four-door hardtops, two- and four-door sedans, convertibles and six- or nine-passenger station wagons with two or four doors.
Many car buyers were confused just trying to figure out differences between the top-line, lavishly equipped, 345-horsepower Citation models and base, shorter-wheelbase, 303-horsepower Ranger models.
Even the Edsel’s name seemed all wrong. Ford Chairman Ernest Breech ignored a list of thousands of names from Ford’s advertising agency and decided to call the new car the Edsel–after Henry Ford I’s only son, Edsel Ford I, an imaginative Ford president who had died in the early 1940s after coming up with stylish cars such as the original Lincoln Continental.
But “Edsel” was a flat, meaningless name to most Americans.
Ford hurried to make the 1959 Edsel more buyer-friendly and to give it a more distinct market niche. It now was based only on the Ford chassis and body shell.
Styling, especially the front-end look, was more conservative. Pacer and Citation models were dropped, and only one wheelbase was offered. Plenty of models still were offered, but base prices were kept in a narrow range below Mercury prices. Even a six-cylinder engine was available to attract the growing number of fuel-conscious car buyers.
But it was too late. People who bypassed the Edsel in 1958 weren’t about to buy it in 1959, when only 44,891 Edsels were built as people turned to more-established auto makes.
Only 2,846 Edsels–including just 76 convertibles–were built in 1960 before production ended. The last model was only a mildly restyled Ford–with a conventional grille.
It’s taken decades for the Edsel to get the respect it deserves. Even an Edsel station wagon is valued at $12,900.
(Update August 22nd, 2019)
Right now, THOUSANDS of wildfires are burning down the Amazon, with black smoke plunging entire cities into darkness…
It’s frightening — but Avaaz has just delivered over a million voices to the Brazilian Congress, and this petition is going super viral! With the fires out of control, Brazil’s government has come under massive pressure to act — let’s use this moment to make sure they do. Sign and share with everyone now!
It’s horrifying — in the past year, an area the size of 500,000 soccer fields has been destroyed in the Amazon! Nearly half a BILLION trees torn down and gone… forever.
This is how they do it: armed militia swarm into protected areas, and indigenous leaders who stand up to them are murdered. There’s even stories of planes dropping gasoline to start massive forest fires. And Brazil’s far-right President Bolsonaro is making it even worse by stripping the Amazon of its remaining protections!
Right now, Amazon champions in Brazil’s Congress are considering sweeping new protections for the precious rainforest. And indigenous groups are calling for international support to ramp up pressure to defend their home.
Let’s build a massive call of citizens from around the world to protect the forest — when it’s huge, allies will deliver our voices to Congress in each key moment to silence the chainsaws and stop this Amazon apocalypse!
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Resources: getty images