“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
The drafters of the Declaration of Sentiments at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 drew their inspiration from the Declaration of Independence but modified it to demand rights for women. Man, they noted, has “never permitted [woman] to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise. He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.”
Those conditions persisted for another 72 years before women gained the right to vote nationwide. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women suffrage passed the House and Senate in 1919; was ratified on Aug. 24, 1920, and was signed into law on Aug. 26, 1920. Half a century later, in 1971, Congress designated Aug. 26 Women’s Equality Day as a “symbol of the continued fight for equal rights.”
And it has been a fight. Women boldly and tenaciously fought for equality in the face of danger and unpopularity. Women were arrested, tried, fined, and force-fed in prison during that long struggle to earn the legal right to vote.
It is particularly poignant to remember the patriotism and selfless service women showed by volunteering to serve in our country’s military before they were permitted to vote in its elections. When the Women in Military Service for America memorial was dedicated, World War I Veteran Frieda Mae Green Hardin said, “In my 101 years of living, I have observed many wonderful achievements, but none as important or as meaningful as the progress of women in taking their rightful place in society. When I served in the Navy, women were not even allowed to vote.”
As VA celebrates Women’s Equality Day, I offer my particular gratitude to those women Veterans, whose courage and sacrifice helped demonstrate our equality as citizens to the nation. Thank you for your service, and for paving the way for the rest of us. And I promise the women Veterans of today – and tomorrow – that we are committed to ensuring they will receive equal care and benefits within VA.