Maryland bishops praise suffragettes ‘fighting for the dignity of women’ 100 years ago

Women suffragists picketing in front of the White house Women suffragists picketing in front of the White house in 1917. | Public domain

Giving women the right to vote was a "landmark achievement" worthy of celebration, the bishops of Maryland said in a statement on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which granted women the right to vote.

"This amendment was the culmination of decades of steadfast advocacy, often in the face of violence and discrimination, by heroic women from all walks of life throughout our nation," the bishops said in their Aug. 26 statement.

While the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, Women's Equality Day - the anniversary of the amendment - is celebrated annually on August 26, which is the date when the amendment was signed by then-U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby, making it officially legal for women to vote.

The movement for women to vote started as early as the mid-1800s, and picked up steam after the end of the Civil War, though it took nearly 100 years for the amendment to pass. In their statement, the bishops honored the suffragettes who fought for the vote for women even at a time when many disagreed with them.

"Given the contributions of women to the electorate over the last century, it seems almost inconceivable that so many did not support women's suffrage 100 years ago, including some of our predecessors," they stated.

"We express our deep gratitude for the women who devoted their lives to fighting for the dignity of women at a time when this was considered unacceptable," the bishops added.

Signatories of the statement included Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington D.C., Bishop Francis Malooly of Wilmington, as well as the auxiliary bishops of Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

The Church in Maryland and in the United States as well as throughout the world, "has been enriched by women of the greatest caliber, women who have left their mark not only on the Church, but on all aspects of civilization," they stated.

"These women, and countless others, continue to inspire new generations of girls and women to share their unique gifts in service to the Church and for the common good."

The bishops also recognized that "many obstacles still must be overcome to achieve full recognition of the dignity of all women in our society."

The 19th Amendment has faced some recent criticism among some Catholics.

Michael Warren Davis, editor of  Crisis Magazine, argued last week, that women's right to vote should be revoked.

Warren lamented that "fallout" from the 19th Amendment was that it encouraged women to be more independent, by delaying marriage or pursuing a career before marriage. He said that the vote for women drove a wedge between husbands and wives and drove the rise of divorce, and that a sure way to return to "Christian order" would be to repeal the 19th Amendment.

"As in the family, so too in government. Laws do not only exist to secure public order; they exist to guard the social order as well. Our laws should reflect our customs and norms-not some noxious ideology, but our values. Over the last century, we've strayed far from the values that made this country strong. But there is one simple way to put us back on the right track: repeal the Nineteenth Amendment," he wrote.

Invoking Pope St. John Paul II's Letter to Women, the bishops of Maryland said "we must remain vigilant" in ensuring that women continue to be treated with acceptance and respect in the Church, home and workplace.

"…there is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights and the recognition of everything that is part of the rights and duties of citizens in a democratic State," the bishops said, quoting Letter to Women

Much also remains to be done "to prevent discrimination against those who have chosen to be wives and mothers," they said, quoting John Paul II again.

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The bishops also noted that Pope Francis has spoken in support for women's rights on numerous occasions, including his 2019 apostolic exhortation Christus vivit.

Pope Francis said in that text that the Church must acknowledge times in its own history when women were treated unfairly.

"[A] living Church can react by being attentive to the legitimate claims of those women who seek greater justice and equality. A living Church can look back on history and acknowledge a fair share of male authoritarianism, domination, various forms of enslavement, abuse and sexist violence," Francis said.

In their statement, the bishops also noted their appreciation "for women in our own (arch)dioceses, parishes, schools, and Catholic ministries for the witness and encouragement they provide to young people as women of faith, intelligence and leadership. We hold up, as well, all women who provide their children and our society a loving witness to the beauty of family life."

The bishops also expressed their gratitude for all women who had impacted their lives, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose "enduring example of womanhood that Mary provides is a guiding light for all women; it is the ultimate example of unconditional love, sacrifice, strength, grace, and perseverance."

"It is our desire that the next 100 years of our nation's history will serve as a time of continued progress that never fails to recognize the God-given dignity of all women," the bishops said.

"The voices and contributions of women are needed now more than ever as we seek to build a culture that recognizes that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and those rights must be protected and preserved."

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"We pray that all people of good will will join us in celebrating this momentous anniversary for women in the United States and may God's grace continue to bless all women as they seek to live out their vocations."

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