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Citizenship & Rights

The ratification of the 19th Amendment was a landmark moment in American history that dramatically changed the electorate. It enshrined in the United States Constitution, fuller citizenship for women and a more expansive democracy for the nation. Today, the rules of citizenship can seem simple: You’re a member of this nation either by birth or naturalization. However,   citizenship has meanings that are deeper and more subtle than legal permission to live in this country. It defines an individual’s relationship to their country and thus strikes chords of nationalism and personal responsibility, duty, and rights.


The 19th Amendment is more than giving women the right to vote. It recognizes women as citizens of this country by further defining who “we the people” are in the United States Constitution. This definition adapts with each generation.


What is citizenship and how do we define it today?

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines citizenship as “...a relationship between an individual and state to which the individual owes allegiance and in turn is entitled to its protection. Citizenship implies the status of freedom with accompanying responsibilities. Citizens have certain rights, duties, and responsibilities. In general, full political rights, including the right to vote and to hold public office, are predicated upon citizenship. The usual responsibilities of citizenship are allegiance, taxation, and military service.”



How has the definition of citizenship changed over time?


Defining who “we the people” are in the constitution is an ever evolving process. Prior to the 1920s, women in the United States and in Utah acquired citizenship through marriage to a citizen. Under this system, the wife and children shared the citizenship status of the husband and father as head of the family. In the 19th Century the ideas about the equality of men and women sparked debate about a system in which a woman’s citizenship was not affected by marriage. The ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 was a small step in developing a system of  equality for white men and women. The timeline below shows the complex evolution of citizenship in the United States and notes that it has only been 50 years since all men and women either by birth or naturalization can have a voice.

Where do social movements get their start?

Why does Suffrage matter?

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