As everyone knows, this year is the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It says “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 sex.”
The Amendment was actually introduced in Congress way back in 1878 and was finally adopted by Congress on June 4, 1919. Then 36 states had to ratify the adoption, and Tennessee was the 36th state to do so on August 26, 1920, so we will celebrate the ratification on August 26, 2020.
My sister, Patricia Manahan Anderson, tells me that a good way to celebrate women’s suffrage is to study the lives of the “Supremes” — the four women who have served on the U.S. Supreme Court. So, here is what I know about the four Supremes:
Sandra Day O'Connor
The first was Sandra Day O’Connor. She was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan and served there for 25 years.
She will be 90 years old on March 26, 2020. She is the daughter of Texas ranchers and had to ride a bus 32 miles to school.
After graduating from Stanford Law School, she couldn’t get a job because of her gender, so she worked for no salary and shared a desk with a secretary.
She later was elected to the Arizona Senate and became the first woman majority leader of a state senate anywhere in America.
After President Reagan appointed her to the Supreme Court, she discovered that there was no women’s restroom in the building.
After retiring, she wrote an interesting book called “Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court."
Ruth Bader Ginsberg
The next woman on the Supreme Court was Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
She will be 87 years old on March 15, 2020, and she is still going strong on the court.
Her father was a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine.
After graduating from Columbia Law School, she also could not get a job as a lawyer, but she did get a job teaching law. Eventually she began working on women’s rights cases for the American Civil Liberties Union, where she (and I) served on the Board of Directors.
She has recovered from cancer three separate times.
You can learn much more about her by watching two movies, “On the Basis of Sex” starring Felicity Jones, and “The Notorious RBG,” a documentary starring Bader Ginsberg.
The third woman is Sonia Sotomayor.
She was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, and she will be 66 years old on June 25, 2020.
Her parents are Puerto Rican immigrants, and she was the first Latina justice on the Supreme Court.
She graduated from Yale Law School in 1979, having benefited from affirmative action scholarships.
She became an assistant district attorney in New York, and later became the first Puerto Rican woman to serve on a U.S. District Court (appointed by President George H.W. Bush).
She has written two books that are well worth reading: “My Beloved World” and “Turning Pages."
The last of the four Supremes is Elena Kagan.
She was also appointed by President Obama, but in 2010. She will be 60 years old on April 28, 2020. She is the child of Jewish immigrants from Russia.
She graduated from, taught at and was the first woman to serve as dean of Harvard Law School. As far as I know, she has not yet written a book or starred in a movie, though a biography of her by Meg Greene is fun to read.
When the 19th Amendment was passed, most of the people who voted for it were men (since women couldn’t vote). We are lucky that it finally did pass, since without it these four great jurists — the Supremes — probably would not have served on the Supreme Court of the United States.
James H. Manahan is a Harvard Law School graduate and was named one of Minnesota’s Top Ten Attorneys. He now handles family law, wills and probate in the Lake County area, and does mediation everywhere. He writes a regular column on legal issues for the News-Chronicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jamesmanahan.com.