Pennsylvania Celebrates 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage

On June 24, people across the state commemorated the 100-year anniversary of Pennsylvania’s ratification of the 19th Amendment. The 19th Amendment extended the right to vote to women.

As part of the celebration, Pennsylvania First Lady Frances Wolf rung the historic Justice Bell in Washington Memorial Hall in Valley Forge National Historical Park. The Justice Bell, a replicate of the Liberty Bell, was used by suffragettes to campaign for a state referendum on women’s right to vote. In 1915, they mounted the bell on a pickup truck and drove it through every county in the state. Throughout the trip, the bell’s clapper was chained so that the bell would not ring, a silence that represented the silencing of women in electoral politics. When the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, the Justice Bell was rung 48 times, once for each state in the union, at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

People around the state used the 100th anniversary not just to reflect on the progress in gender equity, but also to highlight inequalities that persist today. Vision 2020, a national coalition of organizations administered by Drexel University, is working to gain 50-50 gender parity in legislative bodies.

Rep. Joanna McClinton, a black Democratic lawmaker from Philadelphia called on a crowded gathered in the Capitol rotunda to get involved in politics and highlighted the difficulties Black women faced in gaining suffrage. “There is something to be said about us having the opportunity to raise our voices and use them as our power,” she said. While the 19th Amendment did not explicitly restrict women’s suffrage to white women, many black women continued to be barred from voting after ratification. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and other voter suppression laws were used to keep Black people from voting well into the 20th century.