It was only a little more than 100 years ago—when the 19th Amendment was signed into law on August 26, 1920—that women were guaranteed the right to vote in the United States. And that right to vote came after a decades-long, hard-won battle, during which suffrages fought tirelessly and risked everything to give women the opportunity to have their voices heard and their votes counted.
Every year on August 26, we celebrate Women’s Equality Day by honoring this important victory for women’s rights in the United States—and to pave the way for even more equality in the future.
Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about Women’s Equality Day, including the holiday’s history and how to celebrate now:
Thanks to former Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby’s signing of the 19th Amendment, women gained the right to vote on August 26, 1920, but it wasn’t until 1971 that the idea to celebrate the anniversary as Women’s Equality Day was introduced by Congresswoman Bella Abzug (D-NY).
The proposal was introduced in response to the events of the 50th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s passage in 1970. On the anniversary, the National Organization for Women (NOW) called for a strike for equality, drawing more than 100,000 women to participate in rallies, protests, and other demonstrations across the United States—a strike that would become the largest gender-equality protest in the history of the U.S. A meeting with Abzug formalized the following year, when she proposed officially recognizing August 26 as Women’s Equality Day.
The resolution proclaiming August 26 as Women’s Equality Day (H.J. Res. 52) was approved by Congress on August 16, 1973. It included a statement that “the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation in commemoration of that day in 1920 on which the women in America were first guaranteed the right to vote."
It’s important to note that while the Women’s Equality Day holiday originated in the early 1970s, the fight for women’s equality can be traced back all the way to 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention in the United States.
Women’s Equality Day is recognized on August 26 as a way to commemorate the date of the passage of the 19th Amendment.
While there have been significant strides in gender equality in the U.S., the fight for women’s equality continues today—particularly in the workplace.
How? Allow us to elaborate:
Women aren’t treated as equals in the workplace—even when they’re the primary breadwinner. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that nearly half (49%) of employed women in the U.S. are their families’ primary breadwinners—but more than half (60%) of working women report that men do not treat them as equals on the job.
Women still face a gender pay gap. According to data from Pew Research Center, in 2022, on average, women only earned 82% of their male counterparts’ earnings—a number that has remained fairly consistent for the last 20+ years. (According to Pew’s data, in the year 2002, women made, on average, 80% of what men made.)
Women are not guaranteed paid parental leave. The U.S. is one of only a few developed countries that doesn’t offer paid parental leave. And while paid parental leave would benefit parents of any gender, it would be especially helpful to moms. Not only do many moms experience pregnancy and childbirth, which require medical intervention and recovery time, but caregiving responsibilities also disproportionately fall on women’s shoulders (as more than 70% of primary caregivers in the United States are women).
Women disproportionally experienced COVID-related setbacks. COVID was hard on everyone—and that includes women in the workplace, many of whom were displaced during the pandemic. In fact, by June 2021, women’s participation in the workforce had dropped to 56%, its lowest level since 1988. And according to McKinsey and Company, it will take until 2024 for women to restore their standing in the workplace to pre-pandemic levels.
Women are still not guaranteed equal rights. For decades supporters have been advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment, which would guarantee equal rights for all women—but as of 2023, the amendment still has not been signed into law.
It’s not all bad news. There are serious strides being made toward equality in the workplace. For example, as of 2023, more than 10% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. In addition, there are 153 women serving in the 118th U.S. Congress, making up 28% of the governing body—an all-time high and a 59% increase from a decade ago.
Looking for ways to honor and celebrate Women’s Equality Day? Here are a few ideas:
1. Make sure you’re registered to vote. And if not, register now. Then, mark your calendar for upcoming elections, including local ones.
2. Be inclusive. Celebrate all women, including LGBTQ+ women, women of color, women who have different beliefs, women with disabilities, and others.
3. Make sure your local library is well-stocked with reading material about women’s rights. (It doesn’t hurt to ask if they can put some items on display to celebrate the day.)
4. Shop at local, women-owned businesses (and make sure to wish the women who work there a happy Women’s Equality Day).
5. Thank a positive female role model in your life for her impact on you. (Handwritten notes are a nice touch.)
6. Donate to a nonprofit that supports women’s rights, such as Planned Parenthood.
7. Educate a young person in your life about an important woman in history—and the history of Women’s Equality Day.
8. Do something selfless for another woman. It could be as small as letting someone who’s juggling her kids on top of too many groceries at the supermarket cut in front of you at checkout.
9. Use social media for good: Post about positive female figures and why women’s equality matters to you.
10. Have a party to celebrate the women you appreciate.
11. Educate yourself. Read books and watch movies about the history of the equal rights movement.
12. Become a mentor to a woman or girl in your work or personal life.
13. Write a letter to your representatives about an issue that’s important to you, such as supporting reproductive rights or the ERA.
14. Get the word out at work: Send an email reminding your colleagues that it’s Women’s Equality Day, and as for ideas about how to celebrate as a team—karaoke where all the songs are badass women ballads?
One of the best ways to get inspired on Women’s Equality Day? Reading quotes from strong, powerful women, of course!
1. "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." —Eleanor Roosevelt
2. “Women are always saying, 'We can do anything that men can do.' But men should be saying, 'We can do anything that women can do.'” —Gloria Steinem
3. "There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish." —Michelle Obama
4. “Women need a seat at the table, they need an invitation to be seated there, and in some cases, where this is not available, they need to create their own table. We need a global understanding that we cannot implement change effectively without women's political participation.” —Meghan Markle
5. "In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders." —Sheryl Sandberg
6. "You could make a case that, along with the technological revolution, the most provocative, upending, destabilizing, thrilling change in the course of human history is that we’re finally in it. … We're here now. Women are in the world, and we will not be bullied." —Meryl Streep
7. "Women are leaders everywhere you look—from the CEO who runs a Fortune 500 company to the housewife who raises her children and heads her household. Our country was built by strong women, and we will continue to break down walls and defy stereotypes." —Nancy Pelosi
8. "The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be the arrangement of your chromosomes." —Bella Abzug
9. “Making it through the ceiling to the other side was simply a matter of running on a path created by every other woman’s footprints." —Shonda Rhimes
10. “I raise up my voice—not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” —Malala Yousafzai
Deanna deBara contributed reporting and writing to this article.