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The History of Women’s Equality Day

For the last 48 years, Aug. 26 has been known as Women’s Equality Day in the United States. The annual observation celebrates the numerous achievements and advancements made by women throughout all parts of life, including business, politics, medicine, law, science, academia and more. It also marks the struggle women have faced throughout history to be accepted as equals to men in society and the ongoing fight against gender-based discrimination that we are all working towards every day.

On Aug. 26, 1970 — on the 50th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the U.S. — 50,000 women joined together in New York City, locking arms and marching down Fifth Avenue for the Women’s Strike for Equality March. The event was officially sponsored by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and conceived by Betty Friedan, feminist author of The Feminine Mystique, who had originally called for a national work stoppage to mark the historic day.

According to the National Women’s History Alliance, Bella Abzug, a Representative of New York who took part in that march and was inspired by the events of the day, began pushing for an annual recognition of women’s rights to be passed by the federal government. After two years of work, Rep. Abzug’s fight finally paid off, and the day won its annual designation in 1973 when the U.S. Congress declared Aug. 26 to be “Women’s Equality Day.” Since then, every U.S. president has made a proclamation recognizing the annual observation.

“The date was selected to commemorate the 1920 certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote,” the Alliance said. “This was the culmination of a massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women that had its formal beginnings in 1848 at the world’s first women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York.”

Today, the observance of Women’s Equality Day not only honors the passage of the 19th Amendment but also serves as a yearly reason to re-examine women’s continuing efforts toward full equality in all aspects of American life, acknowledging the important achievements made by women in various fields that were once designated only for men. This day is celebrated to raise awareness of the problems faced by women in society in terms of pay disparity, abortion rights, equal opportunities, gender-based violence and gender-based discrimination.

 

 

The joint resolution of Congress, originally introduced in 1971, can be read below.

WHEREAS, the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States;

and WHEREAS, the women of the United States have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex;

and WHEREAS, the women of the United States have designated August 26, the anniversary date of the certification of the Nineteenth Amendment, as symbol of the continued fight for equal rights;

and WHEREAS, the women of United States are to be commended and supported in their organizations and activities,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that August 26th of each year is designated as Women’s Equality Day, and the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote, and that day in 1970, on which a nationwide demonstration for women’s rights took place. 

 

Related: For more recent diversity and inclusion news, click here.

 

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