The crowd's attempt to intimidate the suffragists failed. The women persisted, despite being roughed up or having banners ripped from their hands. More than 150 suffragists were jailed in 1917 for picketing the White House. Public opinion eventually turned in favor of the women. President Woodrow Wilson announced his support a short time later, setting the stage for Congress to pass the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was incorporated into the Constitution on August 26, 1920.

Despite the victory, the government's failure to enforce the new amendment meant that some women, notably African-American women, struggled for nearly another 50 years to beat down the barriers to their voting. And the fight for some Americans' voting rights continues today.

I became a feminist as a young teacher in the 1970s. Reading those early histories of women, I quickly realized that women have been fighting the same battles for equality for centuries. As Lee Krasner once wrote, "The past is part of the present, which becomes part of the future." Our long crusade for the vote - the right to consent in our government - collided from the start with questions about women's role and function in society, arguments we are still having today.

That is why the 2020 centennial of the 19th Amendment's passage is an extraordinary opportunity for the American people, on par with the 1976 Bicentennial.

The 2020 commemoration will declare women's persistent quest for equality the very stuff of American lives. It will validate the individuals and groups at all levels across the nation who seek equality in a multitude of arenas today.

J.D. Zahniser is an author and historian who lives in St. Paul.

FFI: The 2020 Women's Vote Centennial Initiative (WVCI) is working on a celebration of the anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, honoring the long struggle to win the vote for women and offering the chance to have a nationwide conversation about women's past, present and future. Join in! To learn more, search 2020Centennial on Facebook or visit

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