Today in History

Today in History: June 4

Congress Approves Nineteenth Amendment

Carrie Chapman Catt
Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt,
After the 36th State Ratified,
1920.
Prints and Photograph Division

On June 4, 1919, Congress, by joint resolution, approved the woman's suffrage amendment and sent it to the states for ratification. The House of Representatives had voted 304-89 and the Senate 56-25 in favor of the amendment.

Disagreement on whether the best strategy was to pursue enfranchisement through a federal amendment or by individual state campaigns had divided the women's suffrage movement in 1869. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony worked for a federal amendment under the banner of the National Woman Suffrage Association, while Lucy Stone led the American Woman Suffrage Association's state-by-state battle for the vote.

In 1890, the two groups united to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). NAWSA combined both techniques to secure voting rights for all American women. A series of well-orchestrated state campaigns took place under the dynamic direction of Carrie Chapman Catt, while the new National Woman's Party, led by Alice Paul, used more militant tactics to obtain a federal amendment.

In his 1916 book Woman's Suffrage By Constitutional Amendment, Congressman Henry St. George Tucker of Virginia argued that enfranchising women by constitutional amendment would violate the Constitution:

For three-fourths of the States to attempt to compel the other one-fourth of the States of the Union, by constitutional amendment, to adopt a principle of suffrage believed to be inimical to their institutions, because they may believe it to be of advantage to themselves and righteous as a general doctrine, would be to accomplish their end by subverting a principle which has been recognized from the adoption of the Constitution of the United States to this day, viz., that the right of suffrage — more properly the privilege of suffrage — is a State privilege, emanating from the State, granted by the State, and that can be curtailed alone by the State.

Henry St. George Tucker, Woman's Suffrage By Constitutional Amendment, 4.
Votes for Women, 1848-1921

Henry Wade Rogers, a Yale University law professor, offered a different perspective in "Federal Action and State Rights," an essay within the 1917 collection Woman Suffrage by Federal Constitutional Amendment, compiled by Carrie Chapman Catt. He argued that previous constitutional amendments set a precedent for the demands of suffragists:

…the Fifteenth Amendment provides that "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude…" If woman suffrage is a sound principle in a republican form of government, and such I believe it to be, there is in my opinion no reason why the States should not be permitted to vote upon an Amendment to the Constitution declaring that no citizen shall be deprived of the right to vote on account of sex.

Henry Wade Rogers, "Federal Action and State Rights" in Woman Suffrage by Federal Constitutional Amendment, 67.
Votes for Women, 1848-1921

Rogers's position prevailed. Women's active participation in the war effort during World War I and their broadening role in society highlighted the injustice of their political powerlessness. On August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified.

Signing the Anthony Amendment
Kentucky Governor Edwin P. Morrow Signing the Anthony Amendment,
January 6, 1920.
By Popular Demand:"Votes for Women" Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920

Fort Necessity

On June 4, 1754, twenty-two-year-old Colonel George Washington and his small military force were busy constructing Fort Necessity, east of what is known today as Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Washington's men built the fort to protect themselves from French troops intent on ousting the British from the territory northwest of the Ohio River. Washington's troops were surrounded at Fort Necessity, and forced to surrender to the French on July 3, 1754.

Washington's military activity in the area marked the beginning of the French and Indian War, the American phase of a worldwide war between Great Britain and France. Fighting began over issues of local settlement and trade rights in the upper Ohio River Valley. At the core of the conflict was the larger issue of which nation would dominate the heartland of North America.

portrait young washington
George Washington,
The Glasgow Portrait,
photograph of a painting, copyright between 1900 and 1920.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America, 1880-1906

William Pitt
William Pitt, Earl of Chatham,

photograph of a 1756 painting by William Hoare,
copyright between 1900 and 1920.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America, 1880-1920

The first years of the war were disastrous for the British and colonial Americans. However, the tide changed under England's Prime Minister William Pitt, who spearheaded Britain's war effort. After British troops and their colonial counterparts established control of French Canada, the French were forced to the peace table. The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, ended the French and Indian War and granted Britain all of France's territory in North America east of the Mississippi River.

The French and Indian War helped unify the American colonies. Newspaper coverage (external link) of the war, including articles by Washington (external link), fostered a communications infrastructure. Wilderness fighting trained the American colonists militarily. Ironically, however, England's administration of its expanded empire soon became grounds for a colonial Declaration of Independence. Young Colonel Washington would go on to lead the Continental Army as General Washington during the Revolutionary War. Just twenty years after Britain had secured the territory from France, the 1783 Treaty of Paris granted the vast tract of unsettled territory, the Northwest Territory, to the new United States.

  • To see letters written by George Washington, commander of the Virginia Regiments during much of the French and Indian War, search on the dates 1754 through 1759 in the George Washington Papers, 1741-1799. Of particular interest here is Washington's letter to the House of Burgesses after his "unsuccessful Engagement with the French at the Great Meadows" -- Fort Necessity.
  • The British military surgeon, Dr. Richard Schackburg is said to have written the lyrics to "Yankee Doodle" during the French and Indian War. Also, search the Today in History Archive on northwest territory to find additional information.
  • View the online exhibition John Bull and Uncle Sam, a joint project of the Library of Congress and The British Library.
  • To access a variety of materials concerning the Northwest Territories and the two treaties of Paris search on the terms western territory and Treaty of Paris in A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation.

The Gish Sisters

On June 4, 1968, Dorothy (Elizabeth) Gish died in Rapallo, Italy. Born on March 11, 1898, in Massillon, Ohio, Ms Gish was an American motion-picture and stage actress who starred in early silent-film classics.

Dorothy Gish
Dorothy Gish,
Carl Van Vechten, photographer,
November 7, 1932.
Creative Americans: Portraits by Van Vechten, 1932-1964

Gish and her sister Lillian entered the film industry in 1912 when they were hired by director D. W. Griffith of the Biograph Company. Griffith featured the sisters and their mother in their first silent film, Uneasy Enemy.

In her more than fifty years of acting, Dorothy Gish appeared in over one hundred films and television productions. She had roles in such popular films as Hearts of the World (1918), Orphans of the Storm (1921), Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (1944), and many light comedies. Her last screen performance was in The Cardinal (1963).

Lillian Gish acted in film and television for seventy-five years. Her better-known films are Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916), The Scarlet Letter (1926), The Wind (1928), Portrait of Jennie (1948), and The Unforgiven (1960). She made her final film at age ninety-three in The Whales of August (1987), opposite Bette Davis.

Dorothy and Lillian Gish also had significant careers on stage, having made their theatrical debuts at ages four and five, respectively. Lillian also wrote two books and received special awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Film Institute, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Lillian Gish passed away at age ninety-nine in New York City in 1993.