Scholars Discuss 19th Amendment’s Achievements and Shortcomings in Radcliffe Panel

Photo by Kathryn S. KuharPhoto by Kathryn S. Kuhar
The Harvard Crimson
October 4, 2020
By Mayesha R. Soshi

Six female scholars from across the social sciences discussed the achievements and failures of the 19th Amendment Thursday evening in the third installment of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study’s event series “Voting Matters: Gender, Citizenship, and the Long 19th Amendment.”

Corinne T. Field, an associate professor of women, gender, and sexuality at the University of Virginia, moderated the event. The panelists included Cathleen D. Cahill, an associate professor of history at Pennsylvania State University; Sarah Haley, an associate professor of gender studies and African American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles; Mae M. Ngai, a history and Asian American studies professor at Columbia University; Reva B. Siegal, a professor at Yale Law School; Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; and Dawn Langan Teele, an assistant social sciences professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Tracing how the 19th Amendment impacted historical discrimination against women along lines of gender and citizenship status, the panelists discussed topics ranging from voting rights to the lack of representation for women in government and politics.

Ngai explained that, even after the 19th Amendment’s passage, American women had limited independence: Their citizenship was tied to their fathers or husbands and they were stripped of their citizenship status if they married an immigrant man. The Cable Act of 1922 expanded women’s citizenship rights, Ngai said, but racial exclusions written into immigration and citizenship laws limited this expansion.

“Full assessment of women’s right to vote has to consider the relationships between citizenship, gender, race, and marriage,” Ngai said.

Cahill discussed the role “layered citizenship” played enabling Native American women to maintain both indigenous government and citizenship in the United States. Before 1920, Cahill said, Native American women advocated for women’s suffrage and established an audience in the political sphere; yet, in 1920, one-third of the Native American population was disenfranchised, affecting women in particular.

Siegal said that, though many Americans may see this year’s centennial of the 19th Amendment as a celebratory occasion, the amendment has failed women in matters related to race, citizenship, and familial identity in many ways.

“The 19th Amendment’s promise of equal citizenship remains unfinished business until we create an infrastructure that distributes and redistributes the burdens of care and dependent persons care across genders and in the community beyond family,” Siegal said.

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