On August 18, 1920, after many decades of struggle and activism, Congress ratified the 19th Amendment and granted women the legal right to vote. Hurrah, history made, end of story! Well, not so fast. 2020, the 100th anniversary of the amendment, is definitely a cause for celebration. But it would be unjust if we failed to reflect on the full and true history of the suffrage movement, especially the challenges faced by Black, Indigenous, and women of color. Nor should we ignore the continued obstacles many still need to overcome to access their right to vote. Girl Scouts can examine this complex history, and our current political moment, through a new and exciting Girl Scout Suffrage Centennial patch program. Let’s explore.
A Brief History
The early years of the suffrage movement focused on more than just the right to vote—their goals encompassed equal access to education and employment, equality within marriage, a married woman’s right to own property and wages, and control over her body. The Seneca Falls Convention, held in July 1848 in New York, was the first women’s rights convention in the United States and ultimately launched the women’s suffrage movement.
During the final years of the suffrage campaigns, a little organization (Care to guess which one?) called Girl Scouts was founded. Many women supported both movements. From the very beginning, girls earned Civics badges and learned what it meant to be an active participant in democracy. In fact, in 1915, Girl Scouts convened its first National Council Session, engaging women in a democratic process five years before women had the constitutional right to vote.
Now Delve into It!
The Girl Scout Suffrage Centennial patch enables troops to dig into the history of the suffrage movement through simple guides and activities. Girls will have an opportunity to learn about women who shaped history and how their efforts laid the foundation for the Women’s Rights movements. They’ll also discover how they can continue that work through their own positive actions. Find the activity guides and a link to purchase the patch on Girl Scouts of the USA’s (GSUSA) website; there are two—one for younger girls (Daisy, Brownie, and Juniors) and one for older girls (Cadette, Seniors, and Ambassadors).
To commemorate the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the National Park Service and GSUSA teamed up to create the Girl Scout Ranger 19th Amendment Patch Program. As part of this program, girls can visit a national park (in-person or virtually) to deepen their understanding of the history of women’s suffrage and the 19th Amendment. What could you and your troop do? Here are just a few ideas:
- Visit the Pauli Murray Family Home and learn about this trailblazing lawyer whose book States’ Laws on Race and Color was regarded as the “bible of the Civil Rights Movement.”
- See Mount Rainer, where Cora Smith Eaton led a group of women to plant a “Votes for Women” flag at the peak.
- Read the original Declaration of Sentiments, written during the Seneca Falls Convention, and find out more about the 68 women who signed it.
Don’t Stop There
Movements don’t happen in a vacuum. When we discuss the Suffrage Movement, it’s important that we also mention intersectionality, or (to put it broadly) how people are impacted by the different facets of their identity. Many of the activists who were overshadowed by white suffragists or overlooked by history all together weren’t fighting just for the right to vote. Even after the 19th Amendment was ratified, barriers like who was granted citizenship and poll taxes still existed.
Mary McLeod Bethune worked to register Black voters, but also went on to found the National Council of Negro Women to bolster the quality of life for Black women, their families, and communities. Zitkala-Sa co-founded the National Council of American Indians to lobby for Native people’s right to full citizenship. (At the time of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Native Americans were excluded from the citizenship granted to many under the 14th Amendment.)
Tie it to the Future
To make the world a better place, girls first need to understand the world they live in now. One way they can prepare to lead is by starting with the new Civics badges, which offers girls an in-depth look into how local, state, and federal government works—and how they can leverage their voices to create change.
Women’s fight for equality didn’t end in 1920 and rights that were hard-won can (and have) been rolled back and chipped away. Every generation passes the baton on to the next in hopes of bringing a truly equitable world to fruition. Let’s continue the legacy of nurturing civically engaged Girl Scouts who are more than equipped to take on that responsibility.
Lily Yu –Lily is a Program Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. Though she wasn’t a Girl Scout growing up, Lily is making up for lost time as a volunteer and troop cookie manager for her daughter’s Brownie troop. In her free time, she enjoys going for long walks, reading, and spending time with her family (And rescue dog, Neil!).