Sunday is Women’s Equality Day, celebrating the adoption of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. Though the amendment was adopted on Aug. 26, 1920, a holiday celebrating its spirit didn’t arrive until 1971, when Congress, led by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), decided to mark the occasion each year.
Here’s what you need to know about the events leading up to the historic amendment and how Americans celebrate Women’s Equality Day today.
The women’s rights movement began formally in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention organized by abolitionists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Nearly 200 women gathered there to discuss the status of women’s rights and social, political, and religious condition at the time.
By 1870, all male citizens had been given the right to vote in U.S. elections with the 15th amendment—including black men, who had previously been excluded. Most states still barred women from voting, though.
The 19th amendment was first introduced to Congress in 1878 by Sen. Aaron A. Sargent on behalf of suffragettes Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but it took more than 40 years to ratify. The amendment finally passed with more than two-thirds votes in the House in May 1919 and in the Senate in June 1919. It was fully ratified by the necessary approval of two-thirds of states on Aug. 18, 1920. On Aug. 26, it was certified by the U.S. Secretary of State.
On Nov. 2, 1920, more than 8 million American women voted legally for the first time.
Women have had the right to vote for nearly a century, but there is still a long way to go in the fight for equality. In the past year, the #MeToo movement highlighted the outsized amount of sexual harassment, if not assault, that women face in and out of the workplace. What’s more, President Donald Trump has nominated judge Brett Kavanaugh to join the Supreme Court, which some believe threatens Roe v. Wade, the landmark case on abortion rights. In the office, women continue to make considerably less money, on average, than men; meanwhile women of color make less than both white women and white men.
Since earning the right to vote, women and their allies have continued the fight for equality in various ways. This year, like many years before, women are working to make change through policy, education, protests, marches, and support of women-focused nonprofit organizations. Many will also participate on social media, using hashtags like #ToastToTenacity to honor the women in their lives or from history that inspire them.
There is also an increased focus on inclusion in Women’s Equality Day celebrations. In the past, much of the women’s movement was focused on able-bodied, cisgender, white women at the expense of the majority of women who do not identify that way. This year, more women of all types will join the festivities.