100 years ago this week, the Arkansas Legislature met at what is now the Old State House. On that day, they cast their ballots in favor of ratification of the 19th Amendment. Arkansas became the 12th state to support a woman’s right to vote.
This was not the first time the flames of the Suffrage movement burned in Arkansas. As far back as 1868, when our state’s reconstruction constitution was ratified, women activists from all across the state lobbied the state government to include a suffrage amendment, which would have been one of its kind.
Although they were unsuccessful, they never stopped fighting. Their long perseverance was rewarded when in 1917, Governor Charles Hillman Brough signed a law which allowed women to vote in primaries.
Arkansans should look back on July 28, 1919 with tremendous pride. We were one of the first states in the Union to give women what was rightfully theirs. Eleven years later, we sent the first woman ever to the Senate with Hattie Caraway.
Despite these victories, Arkansas women have faced incredible difficulties to this day. Many women are not treated fairly in today’s society, whether that means not being paid at the same rate as a man for similar work or not been taken seriously in a workplace.
With these difficulties fresh in their minds, Arkansas Democrats have been on the front line supporting women’s rights. On several occasions, female Democratic legislators fought seemingly impossible battles for our women and girls.
Representative Tippi McCoullough of Little Rock introduced a bill which would have required state agencies to pay men and women equal pay for equal work, as well as incentivize business to do the same. Unfortunately, the bill failed, with all Republican members of the committee voting against it, including two Republican women who spoke against it, Karylin Brown of Sherwood, and Mary Bentley of Perryville.
“Despite professed support for equal pay, persistent pay disparities make clear that equal pay for equal work is far from a reality. Arkansans work hard and deserve a fair pay equity law.” – Rep Tippi McCullough
Senator Joyce Elliott, also of Little Rock, Introduced a bill which would have made Arkansas the 38th state to ratify the equal rights amendment. This would have enshrined the Amendment into the Constitution.
The amendment simply states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Unfortunately this was too much for Senate Republicans in the Senate State Agencies committee, who refused to second the motion made by Senator Will Bond of Little Rock, the lone Democrat on the committee.
While Democrats are ready to move Arkansas women forward, the Arkansas GOP is determined to stop it at all costs. As long as they remain the majority party, progress will be stymied and women won’t be given what is rightfully theirs.
Like the suffragettes before us, we need to persevere and fight, no matter the odds.
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