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100 years ago today, Rhode Island enshrined a woman’s right to vote into law…

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One hundred years ago today, the Rhode Island General Assembly ratified the 19th Amendment, giving American women the right to vote,” said Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, kicking off a year long statewide celebration.


Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea today announced several initiatives in celebration and remembrance of the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which enshrined a woman’s right to vote into law, including a collaboration between her office and the Rhode Island Council of Humanities around the 19th Amendment, XIX: Shall Not Be Denied, which seeks to encourage “the use the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage to promote civic literacy and engagement throughout 2020.”

It was on January 6, 100 years ago, that the Rhode Island General Assembly passed, on its first day of a new legislative session, state legislation ensuring women’s suffrage. (That vote was 89-3 in the House and 38-1 in the Senate.) By August of 1920, 36 states ratified the amendment, ensuring that the right to vote could not be denied based on gender.

A year long series of events celebrating the 19th Amendment is planned, and the Secretary of State’s office has established its own website to track events across the state. There are educational materials available, as well as links to historical materials.

The Secretary of State’s office has exhibits in the library and in a State House basement space featuring documents, news clippings and more from the State’s archives about the 19th Amendment, including this document from the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association, which speaks of a “thrilling electric message” from Washington announcing that the “Susan B Anthony amendment to the US Constitution” passed, paving the way for Rhode Island and other states to pass statewide enfranchisement legislation that would ultimately ratify the amendment nationwide:


“One hundred years ago today, the Rhode Island General Assembly ratified the 19th Amendment, giving American women the right to vote… Like any good idea, it took decades and decades of hard work to make it happen,” said Gorbea, speaking to a packed Library featuring at least 16 elected women who are currently serving in the General Assembly. “I think we can all be inspired by the persistence of these trailblazing women who worked to obtain this fundamental right…”


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Gorbea was careful to point out that the 19th Amendment was not perfectly executed. “When the 19th Amendment was passed, it did not guarantee all women the right to vote,” noted Gorbea. “It pushed forward the right to vote of white women.”

Gorbea then announced a collaboration between her office and the Rhode Island Council of Humanities around the 19th Amendment, XIX: Shall Not Be Denied, which seeks to encourage “the use the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage to promote civic literacy and engagement throughout 2020.”

Elizabeth Francis, PhD, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Council of Humanities, described the XIX: Shall Not Be Denied website and the resources available.

“The Rhode Island Council for the Humanities is proud to collaborate with the Rhode Island Department of State” said Francis.”This an opportunity to engage with the history and achievements of the women’s suffrage movement and connect that moment to the work that still remains to ensure equal access to voting and other rights.”

Nellie Gorbea:

Lane Sparkman, Education and Public Programs Coordinator, spoke about the events and educational resources available the Secretary of State’s Office.

“I wanted a more permanent way to commemorate this milestone for future generations of Rhode Islanders,” said Gorbea. “And this also addresses an issue that many young children have pointed out as they go through the State House tours, which is that our walls are filled with one group of guys.”

Gorbea was here referring to the portraits of Governors, all men so far, sprinkled throughout the State House hallways.

Gorbea noted the existence of sculptures featuring Elizabeth Buffum Chace and Christiana Bannister, bust said, “I think we need some more.

“We thought we would commission a piece of public art for the State House so I commissioned a work to be produced by The Steel Yard that will be permanently installed here at the State House to recognize the first women elected to statewide office since the passage of the 19th Amendment.”


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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade. atomicsteve@gmail.com