Reclaiming the Long History of the “Irrelevant” Nineteenth Amendment for Gender Equality

38 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2021

See all articles by Tracy A. Thomas

Tracy A. Thomas

University of Akron School of Law

Date Written: April 23, 2021


The Nineteenth Amendment has been called an “irrelevant” amendment. The women’s suffrage amendment has been deemed insignificant as a constitutional authority, reduced to a historical footnote. In the Supreme Court canon, it has been diminished as a text that “merely gives the vote to women.” With the accomplishment of that simple task, the amendment has been assumed to offer little guidance to modern constitutional analysis or gender equality. The Nineteenth Amendment has become a “constitutional orphan,” disconnected from its historical origins and precedential place in constitutional jurisprudence.

This constricting view of the Nineteenth Amendment ignores the structural implications and significant history of this gendered amendment and women’s seventy-two-year fight for equal citizenship. Historical and legal narratives fail to capture a full understanding of the factual, legal, and normative steps and effects of the amendment. This article seeks to correct that conventional narrative by offering a more inclusive, yet concise, overview of the Nineteenth Amendment. The history demonstrates women’s longstanding demands for equal rights, the complexity of those demands, and the depths and racial tones of the opposition. The article then argues that this constitutional history is relevant to interpreting constitutional guarantees of gender equality today. Using historical justifications, it joins other legal scholars in arguing for a more robust reading and constitutional meaning of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Keywords: Constitution, Nineteenth Amendment, legal history, suffrage, gender equality

JEL Classification: K1

Suggested Citation

Thomas, Tracy A., Reclaiming the Long History of the “Irrelevant” Nineteenth Amendment for Gender Equality (April 23, 2021). 105 Minnesota Law Review 101 (2021) , Available at SSRN:

Tracy A. Thomas (Contact Author)

University of Akron School of Law ( email )

150 University Ave.
Akron, OH 44325-2901
United States
330-972-6617 (Phone)
330-258-2343 (Fax)

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