At the founding of our country, women’s roles were rigidly defined and women were generally excluded from political and, in many ways, public life. Enslaved women were excluded entirely. Considered under the protection and authority of their husbands long into the 19th century, most women could not vote, own property, make contracts, go to court, or control any money they earned.
From the decades-long campaign for voting rights to expanding social and economic equality through legislation, and being recognized as citizens, One Half of the People explores how those before us obtained the rights and privileges of citizenship promised to women today.
One Half of the People is divided into three sections:
- Securing the Vote: Suffragists celebrated a significant constitutional victory when the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920. The 19th Amendment profoundly changed the electorate sending more people to the polls than ever before. However, it was one milestone in a long road to full voting rights for all women. Millions of women remained unable to vote for reasons other than their gender.
- Beyond the Vote: Once women had the right to vote they were citizens. Or were they? After the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, women continued to demand equal rights guaranteed by the Constitution. First proposing an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923, Congress proposed it every session until it was passed in 1972. Although the ERA ultimately failed to achieve ratification in 1982, legal victories in the areas of finance, education, and employment gave women greater social and economic equality.
- Redefining Roles: Despite having limited legal rights at the nation’s founding, women found ways to move beyond their narrow sphere. Explore the diverse stories of 11 women who have pushed the limits of what was expected and accepted of them, including: Sarah Emma Edmonds Seelye, Harriet Tubman, Annie Oakley, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, Willa Brown, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Shirley Chisholm, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Ellen Ochoa.
One Half of the People: Advancing Equality for Women was created by the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC, and is traveled by the National Archives Traveling Exhibits Service (NATES). It is presented in part by Unilever, Pivotal Ventures, Carl M. Freeman Foundation in honor of Virginia Allen Freeman, AARP, and the National Archives Foundation. Additional support provided by AT&T, Facebook, and FedEx. For more information on this exhibit and companion projects at the National Archives, visit: www.archives.gov/women.