Tag Archives: history

Teachers and suffrage: Remembering the 19th Amendment a century later

After decades of organizing, advocacy, and lobbying at both the state and federal level, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on May 21, 1919, and the U.S. Senate on June 4, 1919. It took over a year to secure the approval of the 36 state legislatures necessary to ratify the amendment and formally add it to the U.S. Constitution, securing women’s right to vote. Texas was the first southern state to ratify the 19th Amendment on June 28, 1919. On August 18, 1920, after an intense showdown, the Tennessee House of Representatives provided the final (and narrow) approval necessary for the amendment’s ratification.

One hundred years later, the legacy of the 19th Amendment is marred by current voting rights struggles that still hinder ballot access for many communities across America. Let’s take a look back at the incredible influence of teachers on the history of the 19th Amendment and reflect on where we stand today.

In many ways, the entree of women into the teaching profession lit the fire for women’s equality. Dana Goldstein writes in her New York Times bestselling book The Teacher Wars that the taxpayer friendly truth that women could be paid less than men helped to secure a legislative appropriation for the first common schools and teacher training schools in Massachusetts. As public schooling grew across the United States, more and more women gained education, small salaries, independence, and community through the profession of teaching. Through their work, female teachers realized their lack of equality in the workplace, and some began to push for equal higher education, equal pay, access to positions typically held by men, and the right to vote.

Susan B. Anthony. Source: Library of Congress

Susan B. Anthony taught school for 10 years before returning home after becoming frustrated with a stagnant salary and no chance of promotion to headmaster. In 1853, Anthony made a speech at the New York State Teachers’ Association condemning the gender-based wage gap that caused the female-dominated profession of teaching to be less lucrative. As Anthony grew in influence and activism, she catapulted into the women’s rights movement alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but both of their efforts slowed as the Civil War bloodied the nation.

While women’s suffrage and abolitionist movements had been linked since the beginning, the eventual extension of voting rights to Black men over white women through the 15th amendment in 1870 created racial and gender-based divisions between white and Black suffragists. Stanton and Anthony split off from other suffragists to fight for a federal amendment to secure women’s voting rights. This strategy was at the expense of Black voices and causes in order to appease anti-Black leaders who would need to approve the amendment. By 1890, suffragists reconciled their differences enough to create the National American Women Suffrage Association. They employed both federal and state-level strategies as suffragists worked the entire country, priming it for the eventual ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Reconstruction-era Black women entered into teaching with extremely high stakes for educating newly freed Black children and adults. Through Reconstruction and beyond, Black female educators were often also poets, journalists, writers, and lecturers, and many traveled the country to promote education, economic freedom, and political empowerment for Black women and men. These educators included Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Charlotte Forten Grimke, Angelina Weld Grimke, Mary Church Terrell, Mary Talbert, Frances Barrier Williams, Anna Julia Cooper, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Septima Clark.

Ida B. Wells. Source: Library of Congress

After losing her parents to yellow fever, Ida B. Wells became a teacher to take care of her siblings. During her time as a teacher, she eventually owned two newspapers and worked as a journalist and publisher. Wells was an advocate on issues such as school segregation, lynching, and voting rights and formed several organizations, including the Alpha Suffrage Club in Chicago (1913). The Alpha Suffrage Club secured voting rights for Black women in Illinois in 1913, ahead of the 19th Amendment.

The cause wasn’t just for white and Black women; educators of all backgrounds joined in the battle for suffrage. Frederick Douglass is a well-known abolitionist and community educator who strongly believed in the power of reading, literacy, and education as tools of freedom. He was an active supporter of women’s suffrage until his death in 1895. Mabel Lee, a Chinese immigrant in America and fighter for women’s suffrage, founded a Chinese Christian Center in New York that offered vocational, English, and kindergarten classes. Zitakala-Ša (Red Bird), a member of the Yankton Daxota Sioux, was a music teacher and advocate for Indigenous people’s rights, including citizenship and the right to vote. Jovita Idár, a Mexican-American Texan, was a teacher before working for, and eventually running, her father’s newspaper. Idár was an activist who wrote about racism, women’s suffrage, and encouraging women to vote.

After the 19th Amendment, also known as the “Anthony Amendment,” was ratified in 1920, individual states could still keep people of color from accessing the voting franchise through intimidation, “grandfather clauses,” poll taxes, literacy tests, and violence. The last state laws prohibiting Native Americans from voting weren’t overturned until 1962. Chinese women were excluded from voting until the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943. It wasn’t until 1965 and later in 1975 (when literacy tests were banned) that federal voting rights legislation was passed to override the inequalities perpetuated by the states.

However, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder gutted the voting rights so many have fought to secure for a fair seat in our democracy, creating lasting impacts across the country. The Shelby ruling eliminated the requirement that local officials obtain federal approval before changing their voting rules and practices, a tenant of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. A study by Dr. Desmond Ang of Harvard University showed that after the ruling went into effect, minority voter turnout took a sharp downturn. Texas was one of the states that immediately took advantage of the ruling, enacting a voter ID law praised by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott. Some states enacted similar voter ID laws while others purged their voter rolls.

Much work is yet to be done at the intersection of education and voting. With historic turnout and impact in recent elections, teachers have shown elected officials that we are as tenacious as ever in our beliefs on the importance of education, equality, and respect for the teaching profession. No matter how you vote this November, let’s honor the work of women before us by voting.

The National Park Service has classroom lessons available on women’s history in their Teaching with Historic Places series, including specific lessons about Mary McLeod Bethune and Mary Ann Shadd Cary. The National Women’s History Museum’s “Crusade for the Vote” project also has lesson plans on a variety of topics as well as an interactive timeline. Find even more resources and information at the Library of Congress.

Senate Education Committee continues hearing House bills

The Senate Education Committee met Thursday morning, May 9, to hear another docket full of bills that have already passed the House. Committee members heard testimony on the following items:

Senate Education Committee meeting May 9, 2019.

  • HB 76, which would allow parents the option of participating in an echocardiogram (ECG) or electrocardiogram (EKG) screening program for any student participating in a University Interscholastic League (UIL) activity that currently requires a physical examination. School districts would be required to provide information about the availability of the tests and would able to partner with a nonprofit to provide the service or could pay for the service themselves.
  • HB 165, which would increase equity and the ability of special education students to receive high school endorsements. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 330, which would allow districts to exclude from their reported dropout and completion rates students who have suffered a condition, injury, or illness that requires substantial medical care and leaves the student unable to attend school. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 391, which would require a school district or charter school to provide instructional materials in printed book format if the student does not have reliable access to technology at home, at parental request. Parent requests must be documented and included in an annual TEA report to the legislature.
  • HB 396, which would allow the instructional materials and technology allotment (IMTA) to be used for inventory software or systems for storing and accessing instructional materials and also for freight, shipping, and insurance.
  • HB 455, which would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop a model policy on recess that encourages age-appropriate outdoor physical activities. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 678, which would allow American Sign Language to count for the graduation requirement of a language other than English.
  • HB 963, which would add technology applications courses to the career and technical education (CTE) allotment, so that students in those courses would receive the same weighted funding as students in CTE courses.
  • HB 1026, which would require the State Board of Education (SBOE) to integrate “positive character traits” into the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
  • HB 1480, which would create an accelerated learning committee (ALC) for students who do not perform satisfactorily on third, fifth, or eighth grade reading or math assessments. The bill would allow accelerated instruction to be provided to the student in the following year. The ALC would develop an educational plan for the student and provide assistance to student. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 2190, which would allows a charter located in Corpus Christi to admit a child of a school employee.
  • HB 2424, which would require the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to propose rules to establish and issue micro-credentials for educators. The agency would approve continuing professional education (CPE) providers to offer micro-credential courses. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 2984, which would require the SBOE to add TEKS to the technology applications curriculum related to coding, computer programming, computational thinking, and cybersecurity.
  • HB 3007, which would require TEA to provide districts with all source data that was used in computing their accountability ratings.
  • HB 4205, which would allow repurposed campuses to be operated in partnership with certain nonprofits that have a successful record of operating a campus or charter.
  • HB 1244, which would eliminate the U.S. History end-of-course (EOC) exam and create an electronic civics test that contains all questions on the U.S. citizenship test in multiple-choice format as a requirement for graduation. Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) substituted language from SB 1777, which simply requires the current U.S. History EOC to include 10 questions from the citizenship test.

The committee also voted to advance the following bills:

  • HB 18, which is an omnibus school mental health bill that would include evidence based practices to address the achievement of certain student groups, and encourage positive behavior interventions and support, such as grief informed and trauma informed care. The bill calls for implementation of comprehensive school counselling services and adds detail to the training required of school counselors. Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), and Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) voted against the bill.
  • HB 65, which would require districts to report information on out-of-school suspensions.
  • HB 109, which would allow charter schools to have a holiday on Memorial Day. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 111, which would create educator training requirements on recognizing the abuse and maltreatment of students with severe cognitive disabilities. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 674, which would require that regional education service centers gather information from districts and report on which state mandates districts report are burdensome and expensive. The House committee substitute for this bill eliminated reporting on federal mandates.
  • HB 906, which would create a “collaborative task force on public school mental health services” charged with studying current practices, training, and impact. The task force would include parents, administrators, institutions of higher education, and foundation people, but not necessarily educators. The task force would have broad power to request information from school districts.
  • HB 1597, which would allow a student whose parent or guardian is active-duty military to establish residency for the purpose of admission to public schools. The bill would make charters subject to law.
  • HB 1734, which would strengthen the law requiring a school district that has successfully sued because a contractor did a poor job to use the settlement to fix the building and pay the state its required portion of the settlement. The bill would allow the attorney general to fine a district that does not spend the money as required.
  • SB 2312, which would subject Harris County Schools to a Sunset review, but without the option to abolish the agency.