The Nineteenth Amendment
In 1918, with the United States at war in Europe, the House of Representatives passed the proposed suffrage amendment in January. The more conservative Senate did not debate the amendment until September, citing the importance of war issues taking precedent. President Wilson spoke before the Senate, an uncommon act for a President, and asked the Senate to pass the amendment, saying that it was a necessary measure in support of the war. The Senate failed to pass the amendment by two votes. The NAWSA immediately targeted four of the Senators who had voted against the amendment that were standing for re-election that fall.
After succeeding in defeating two of the four targeted Senators, the NAWSA urged the creation of a league of women’s voters in Missouri, a state which granted women the right to vote in national elections in March 1919. President Wilson called Congress into special session, and in June 1919 the 19th Amendment was passed by Congress and sent to the legislatures of the states for ratification. Three quarters of the states were required to vote for ratification before the amendment could be accepted and enforced as the law of the land. The NAWSA had put in place a process to push through ratification before Congress had passed the amendment.
Although the ratification process went fairly smoothly in the Northern and Western states there was little or no support for ratification in the South, which had been expected. Both the Democratic and Republican Parties endorsed the amendment, removing much of its political toxicity for some, but in the South there was still resistance based on the fear that enforcement would bring with it enforcement of Black voting rights. Gradually southern resistance was overcome by the strategy of the NAWSA and the belief that white women voters would support state laws which limited access by Black voters to the polls.
In late June Texas voted for ratification, followed by Missouri and Arkansas in July. Other states of the Old South rejected the amendment for decades after it became law, Mississippi did not change its vote and ratify the amendment until 1984, North Carolina in 1971, Louisiana in 1970. When Tennessee voted in favor of ratification on August 18, 1920 the required number of 36 states was achieved. After the amendment was ratified and officially the law of the United States it faced yet another challenge, this one beginning in the courts of Maryland, which had not voted for ratification.
Oscar Leser sued to stop women from voting in Maryland, citing the Maryland Constitution as limiting the franchise to men, and because two of the states which had ratified the amendment did so in violation of their rules and procedures. The Supreme Court held that the process of ratification was established by federal law and was thus not subject to state law. The court decision was reached in 1922, allowing women to register and vote in Maryland.