More than votes
On the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, celebrate seven women who made a difference
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, commonly understood as the constitutional recognition of women’s right to vote in the United States. How should we understand this historical achievement?
We can start by considering its relationship to the 15th Amendment, passed in 1870 during the aftermath of the Civil War. The 15th Amendment states that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The 19th Amendment uses the same phrasing but substitutes that “the right to vote…shall not be denied…on account of sex.” In other words, the 15th Amendment recognized and protected the voting rights of non-white men. The 19th Amendment did the same for women.
Why did a fifty-year gap exist between the two amendments? And why were voting rights still denied to people of color and women after these amendments were passed? The answer can be found in the white supremacist and imperial contexts in which the struggle for the 19th Amendment took place.
The movement to abolish slavery was historically connected to the suffrage movement for women’s voting rights. Slavery relied upon exploiting Black women’s bodies for economic and reproductive labor. Black and white women who denounced the tyranny of slavery advocated for women’s rights to speak in public, to petition the government, and to possess their own bodies; in other words, to be political.
And yet, abolitionists and suffragists also diverged in political goals and strategies. Some abolitionists upheld patriarchal values, and some suffragists espoused racist beliefs. The 14th and 15th Amendments, passed to protect recently freed Black Americans, asserted voting as a right of “male” citizens. The push to pass these amendments divided suffragists, some of whom agreed with Frederick Douglass that this was the “Negro’s Hour.” Others, like Susan B. Anthony, became further entrenched in their belief that educated white women had a greater claim to the vote.
This idea that white women should receive priority gained even greater traction as the United States expanded its geographical empire across the continent and overseas. Or, as Susan B. Anthony stated in her 1902 testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Women’s Suffrage, “I think we are of as much importance as are the Filipinos, Porto [sic] Ricans, Hawaiians, Cubans, and all of the different sorts of men that you have before you. When you get those men, you have an ignorant and unlettered people, who know nothing about our institutions.”
The privileging of white women’s political rights was publicly on display during the 1913 Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C. Fearful of arousing white Southern backlash, organizer Alice Paul wanted to place Black women at the back of the march, segregated from the white suffragists. Mary Church Terrell, founder of the National Association of Colored Women, and journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who brought international attention to lynching, insisted on marching with their state delegation.
This brief history of the politics of the vote reveals that it is important to consider ongoing forms of disfranchisement. The recently deceased honorable John Lewis marched, bled and advocated for the 1965 Voting Rights Act, passed at the height of the Civil Rights Movement against an intransigent Jim Crow South. However, a 2013 Supreme Court decision dismantled some of these protections, and legislative reform is needed to reinstitute them.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s recent speech against misogyny in Congress reminds us how sexism continues to permeate our entire society, resulting in a culture that seeks to demean and silence women. Even with the right to vote and to serve in Congress, women continue to fight to be taken seriously.
Below, faculty from across the UCI School of Humanities recognize seven women who fought to advance gender equity and/or racial equity across the globe either before or after this historical amendment.
- Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, professor of Asian American studies
1. Christine de PizanChristine de Pizan, born Cristina da Pizzano (1364 - c. 1430), was a poet, writer, philosopher, and mother of three. Venetian by origin, she worked at the court of King Charles VI of France. When her husband died of the plague in 1389, to support herself and her family, de Pizan turned to writing. She is best remembered for The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies (1405). The former highlights the importance of women's past contributions to society, and the latter strives to teach women of all estates how to cultivate useful qualities. De Pizan argues that stereotypes of women can be sustained only if women are prevented from entering the conversation. She also maintains that they possess the same moral virtues as men and that, if properly educated, they could become worthy residents of the imaginary City of Ladies.
De Pizan not only theorized but showed in her deeds the equality between men and women. In addition to advocating for women’s rights in her writing, she proved herself capable of supporting her family with her own intellectual work. This is all the more remarkable because she did so in a context imbued with Aristotelian prejudices against women.
- Annalisa Coliva, professor and chair of philosophy
2. Shirin EbadiShirin Ebadi won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2003, becoming the first Muslim woman to claim this prize. Ebadi earned her law degree in 1969 from the University of Tehran and became Iran's first female judge. When the revolutionary government barred women from being judges, she was forced out of her job. This was a stunning blow to Ebadi, a participant in the 1979 revolution and an impassioned promoter of the self-determination of Iranian people. In 1994, she helped establish an NGO, the Society for Protecting the Rights of Children, and litigated many high-profile cases involving human rights abuses. Ebadi's Nobel Prize win underscored her life's work on behalf of women’s and children's rights. She was a member of and helped amplify the One Million Signatures Campaign in Iran, a grassroots effort to reform family law from a gender justice perspective. A learned scholar of Islamic law, Ebadi has consistently asserted that Islam and women's rights are deeply compatible; she has long worked to discourage the state’s narrow and often incorrect applications of Islamic law.
Her life's work has been to democratize Iran from within, and she remained committed to staying and working in Iran for as long as possible. Ebadi was exiled against her wishes in 2009. She has been an outspoken critic of both the authoritarianism of the Iranian government and the dangerous and neocolonial interventions of the West, including sanctions, war, and Western-led human rights projects. Ebadi remains a leading authority on women's rights in Muslim and global South contexts. She helps us think about the importance of human rights activism and discourses that center Iranian women as complex social actors and agents of their own lives.
- Catherine Z. Sameh, associate professor of gender and sexuality studies
3. Annie HollandAnnie Holland (1871–1934) was an African American educator in North Carolina during Jim Crow who worked to expand educational opportunity for rural Blacks in the South. While southern states during Jim Crow developed segregated and unequal public schools with a curriculum for rural Blacks that focused on agricultural work and domestic service, Holland understood that education was essential to the quest for Black political and economic equality. She organized rural Black citizens through public school initiatives and provided female teachers with opportunities to exercise political agency through one of the few professions available to Black women in the South. Holland was a rural supervising teacher in Gates County, with her salary paid by the Jeanes Fund, a northern foundation, and the North Carolina Negro Teachers Association. In 1915, she was appointed state supervisor of Jeanes Teachers across the state, and then supervisor of the state's Negro elementary schools in 1921. While schools remained segregated and unequal across the Jim Crow South, Holland saw the potential in promoting an education system not just as an end in itself, but as an avenue for rural Blacks to participate on a more equal basis in the political and social structure of the state.
- Joan Malczewski, associate professor of history
4/5. Felicita "La Prieta" Mendez and Soledad "Sally" VidaurriFelicita “La Prieta” Mendez and her family lived on a farm in Westminster, California in the 1940s. Since things on the farm were going well, Mendez and her husband, Gonzalo, decided to enroll their kids at a nearby school.
They asked Gonzalo's sister, Soledad “Sally” Vidaurri, to take the kids to the school since she was also planning on enrolling her own kids. When Vidaurri approached the school's administrators, they said her kids could attend but not her niece and nephews. The reason? Her married name, Vidaurri, didn't indicate they were Mexican, and her kids had a lighter complexion than their cousins.
Vidaurri refused to enroll her kids based on this inequality and brought news back to the family. Encouraged and supported by Mendez, Gonzalo then filed a lawsuit against the school district and won, leading to the desegregation of California schools and providing the precedent for the landmark ruling in Brown v. The Board of Education.
It is because of the courage and actions of these two women that, as Mendez said, “Our children, all of our children, brown, Black, and white…have the opportunity [through education] to be whatever they want to be.”
Women like Mendez and Vidaurri prove that women have the power to change the course of history and continue to inspire us all to stand up for what's right.
- Aleah Hernandez, assistant professor of teaching in the Department of Classics
6. Diane RodriguezRaised in San Jose, California, Diane Rodriguez was a formidable Chicanx director, producer, actress, and playwright. In the 1970s, she began her career in the field of Theater Arts at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Upon completing her undergraduate studies, she emerged as an actor for Luis Valdez’s El Teatro Campesino. This theater company produced and performed skits on flatbed trucks and in agricultural employment sites and union halls. It conceptualized and performed these skits as “actos” (acts) meant to render the underestimated realities shouldered by farmworkers and their families and in turn to educate, inspire, and advance their struggles for the improvement of their day-to-day lives.
Beginning in 1973, and continuing for 10 seasons, Rodriguez toured as an El Teatro Campesino leading actor throughout the United States and Europe. During her career she excelled among a handful of Chicanx women leaders in theater committed to inclusive diversity in this field. In the late 1980s, she co-founded Latins Anonymous, a theater troupe dedicated to broadening the limited opportunities accessible to Latinx actors. Throughout her extraordinary trajectory, she directed the Latino Theater Initiative at the Mark Taper Forum (1995-2000) and served as the associate artistic director of the Center Theatre Group (1995-2019). In this role, she participated in the creation of theater productions, collaborating with over 75 artists, including Culture Clash, Nilo Cruz, John Leguizamo, Josefina Lopez, Tanya Saracho, and Janine Salinas. For her groundbreaking contributions and acting talents, Rodriguez was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts/Theater Communications Award (1998) and Obie Award (2007). In 2018, Rodriguez was inducted into The College of Fellows for the American Theatre and appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Endowment for the Arts National Council on the Arts. On April 10, 2020, upon passing away, Rodriguez was remembered for her endless efforts in support of aspiring Latinx artists in theater.
- Ana Elizabeth Rosas, associate professor of history and Chicano/Latino studies
7. Emma TenayucaEmma Tenayuca (1916-1999) was a labor organizer, activist and writer most known for her leadership in the 1938 Pecan Shellers Strike in San Antonio. Growing up on the U.S.-side of the Texas-Mexico border, Tenayuca connected capitalism, citizenship, and Jim Crow segregation, which targeted both Black and Mexican people. Influenced by ideologies of the Mexican Revolution, she believed that economic systems and the labor exploitation of dark-skinned, poor and working-class people were similar on both sides of the border. She advocated for Mexican-origin people to unite regardless of citizenship status, and to ally with African Americans and other oppressed groups against discrimination.
Tenayuca was a teen when she started organizing workers during the Great Depression. Like today’s young people who have been at the forefront protesting anti-Blackness and demanding radical social change in public, she defied middle-class expectations of respectability. As we currently witness, the widespread impact of COVID-19 and the economic downturn have been especially devastating for BIPOC communities. We are all affected, and as Tenayuca noted almost a century ago, our nation persistently disregards dark-skinned, poor, and working-class people in realms such as labor, healthcare, education, citizenship documentation, and housing.
- Isabela Seong Leong Quintana, assistant professor of Asian American studies
ContributorsAnnalisa Coliva is professor and chair in the Department of Philosophy. Her interests span across the history of analytic philosophy, epistemology and the philosophy of mind. Her main books are Moore and Wittgenstein. Scepticism, Certainty and Common Sense (2010), Extended Rationality. A Hinge Epistemology (2015), The Varieties of Self-Knowledge (2016), and Relativism (2020, with Maria Baghramian). She is the editor of From Wittgenstein to American Neo-Pragmatism. The Selected Writings of Eva Picardi (Bloomsbury, 2020) of which a volume of Picardi's essays on Gottlob Frege will soon follow.
Aleah Hernandez is an assistant professor of teaching in the Department of Classics. She considers herself a lifelong Anteater since she received her bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. at UCI. Her current research focuses on the intersection of gender and violence in ancient Greek tragedy.
Joan Malczewski is an associate professor of history who has written extensively about rural Black education in the South. For more information about Holland and the important work of rural Black teachers, see Building a New Educational State: Foundations, Schools and the American South (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2016); "The Schools Lost their Isolation: Institutions and Agency in Educational Policy Development in the Jim Crow South," Journal of Policy History, 23 n. 3 (2011); and, "Philanthropy and Progressive Era State Building through Agricultural Extension Work in the Jim Crow South," History of Education Quarterly, 53 no. 4 (2013).
Isabela Seong Leong Quintana is an assistant professor in the Department of Asian American Studies. She teaches and writes about critical relational and comparative ethnic studies, with a focus on Asian American and Chicanx/Latinx histories.
Ana Elizabeth Rosas is an associate professor of history and Chicano/Latino studies. She is the author of the award-winning Abrazando El Espiritu: Bracero Families Confront the U.S.-Mexico Border (University of California Press, 2014).
Catherine Z. Sameh is an associate professor of gender and sexuality studies. Her book, Axis of Hope: Iranian Women's Rights Activism across Borders (University of Washington Press, 2019) further profiles Shirin Ebadi and other Iranian women's rights activists in Iran and the diaspora.
Judy Tzu-Chun Wu is a professor of Asian American studies and the director of the UCI Humanities Center. She is co-authoring a political biography of Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color legislator and the namesake for Title IX. She co-edits Women and Social Movements in the United States, an electronic journal and database published by Alexander Street Press that features an extensive online biographical dictionary of suffrage movement activists, with particular attention to Black women activists. Wu also co-founded the UC Consortium for Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Histories in the Americas. She is working with faculty and graduate students to create a collective syllabus/digital humanities project on “Empire and U.S. Women’s Suffrage.”
Image: Felicita Mendez, Shirin Ebadi, and Annie Holland