As we saw in Tennessee’s primaries a few weeks ago, sometimes just a few votes can have a major impact. In the fight for women’s suffrage, Tennessee turned out to be the single vote that made all the difference for our country.
Congress passed the 19th Amendment in the spring of 1919, declaring that a citizen’s right to vote could not be denied on account of gender. To be ratified and become law, the amendment first required the approval of 36 of the 48 states. By August 1920, 35 states had approved the amendment, and the Tennessee legislature had called a special session to decide the issue. The decisive vote was ultimately cast by a young legislator named Harry Burn, whose mother had urged him in a letter that day to “be a good boy” and vote for ratification.
These events may seem like distant history, but my own grandmother grew up in a time when women did not have the right to vote. She made a point of going with me to register to vote on my 21st birthday, which was the voting age then. Her dedication and insistence that I not take my rights for granted had a powerful effect on me.
The women in my life today—my mother, my wife, and my daughter Peyton—continually inspire me and motivate me. Peyton will grow up in a country that offers women and girls opportunities my grandmother couldn’t have dreamed of. However, her generation will continue to face challenges.
As we recognize the past victories of women who fought for equality throughout our history, we must work to ensure our public policy keeps pace with a changing world.
As chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, it concerns me that women are underrepresented in technical fields. That’s why a bill I authored, the America COMPETES Act, includes educational resources for women in the sciences at all levels. Ensuring women and girls are not frozen out of science and technology professions is not just a matter of equity, it ensures our growing technology industries can draw on the broadest possible pool of talent our country has to offer.
In the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, there is a single block of marble featuring the likenesses of three of the heroes of women’s rights—Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Behind them, where a fourth face might be, is a mound of unfinished raw marble. The monument is a reminder that the work of women’s equality is unfinished. I hope it continues to serve as a reminder to Congress that there is still work to be done on behalf of generations of women to come.