August 6, 2020
“THERE WILL NEVER BE COMPLETE EQUALITY until women themselves help to make the laws and elect the lawmakers,” argued Susan B. Anthony, a leader in America’s women’s suffrage movement. In 1872, she was arrested, tried and jailed for casting a ballot for Ulysses S. Grant in the 1872 presidential election.1
It would take several generations of suffragettes marching, lobbying and striking for women to finally win the right to vote. That happened on August 18, 1920 when the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified—and even then, the vote wasn’t guaranteed for all women. Discriminatory practices created barriers for women of color until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.
Since then, significant strides have been made toward achieving full gender equity. Women now vote at a higher rate than men, make up more than half of the U.S. labor force and have acquired a significant amount of wealth. In fact, by 2025 they could hold $110 trillion in financial assets, according to the 2020 report Womentum! from BofA Global Research.
All of these achievements can be traced, in part, back to that victory in 1920. Women used their power at the ballot box to help elect congressmen and women who, over the decades, introduced and passed legislation advancing equal rights and financial equality for women. Yet today only 127 women currently hold elected office2 in Congress, a mere 37 women are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies3 and the wage gap still persists. Clearly, more work needs to be done.
“The suffragettes wouldn’t give up, and today’s activists can take inspiration from them,” says Kirstin Hill, Chief Operating Officer of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. “There’s still a long way to go in the journey toward full gender equality, and Merrill and Bank of America are committed to helping women achieve it.” Visit ml.com/women to explore Merrill’s resources for women and learn more about its commitment to helping them manage their financial lives.
The timeline above highlights six key legislative moments of the last century that have strengthened the financial security of women, including an update on one battle—for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment—still being waged in the halls of Congress. Laws can be changed, after all, but constitutional amendments enshrine the principles they prescribe.
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