The 19th Amendment at 100: Women and the Final Frontier

The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, but this landmark event was neither the beginning nor the end of the story for women and their struggle for the right to vote. Join us in 2020 as we commemorate this centennial year with 12 stories from our holdings for you to save, print, or share. December’s featured image is of astronaut Ellen Ochoa.

In 1993, Ellen Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman to go to space.

Six years later, astronauts Ochoa (left), Julie Payette, and Tamara Jernigan brought an original gold, white, and purple original suffrage banner (used ca. 1916–20) aboard the space shuttle. The banner came from the Sewall-Belmont House, and Ochoa used it in a public service announcement from space, when she discussed the Presidential Commission on the Celebration of Women in American History.

Ochoa was born and raised in California. A Congressional Record entry from January 10, 1878, notes that Senator Aaron Sargent of California introduced a woman suffrage amendment identical to the future 19th Amendment. Ultimately, women in California won the vote nine years before the 19th Amendment was ratified–on October 10, 1911, California joined five other western states where women could vote equally with men.

This map from the Library of Congress shows the march of women’s suffrage from the West across the United States. By the end of 1914, more than 4 million women had voting rights equal to men in 11 states

Ochoa’s path to the stars was also ahead of its time. Unlike the male astronauts who Ochoa saw land on the moon when she was 11, Ochoa did not come to NASA through the military as a pilot. Her background is in engineering. She is a co-inventor on three patents and author of several technical papers.

From top to bottom, Mission Specialist (MS) Steven L. Smith, MS Ellen Ochoa, Commander Michael J. Bloomfield, MS Lee M.E. Morin and Pilot Stephen N. Frick pose in the U.S. Laboratory / Destiny during STS-110’s visit to the International Space Station (ISS). National Archives Identifier 23358873

During her career, Ochoa was awarded NASA’s highest distinction, the Distinguished Service Medal. She also served as the 11th Director of the Johnson Space Center.

This December concludes our special Centennial calendar, created as part of the commemoration of the passage of the 19th Amendment. We hope you have enjoyed learning about these women and their contributions toward voting rights, civil rights, and women’s equality. Thank you for joining us on this journey.

Each month’s graphics–from calendar pages to mobile phone lockscreens–remain available online for you to enjoy!

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