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The roaring twenties: Women's courage and politics

The roaring twenties: Women's courage and politics
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Women’s History Month offered 31 days to acknowledge the courage and sacrifices of women in history, celebrate the accomplishments they’ve made, and seize the opportunities available as a result of their advocacy and dedication to the advancement of women.

Historically, the “Roaring Twenties” was a decade of women’s independence, and the new Roaring Twenties looks like it could be a decade of embracing the strength and courage that comes from women’s independence. From winning the right to vote in 1920 to fielding a record number of conservative women running for elected office in 2020, the courage of American conservative women to step up and speak out is evident.

We’ve been diligent in this fight for over a century, and we’ve come a long way. But just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, challenges remain, and one of them is the very low number of conservative women currently in positions of elected power.

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Between the long-fought battles of the women’s suffrage movement (“the movement”) and the challenges of life during World War I, the role of women in society was constantly evolving. Life during the war required more women in the workforce, including jobs they never before held. These new opportunities gave women the chance to gain financial independence, which for many also meant personal independence. When the war was over, many women were not inclined to let that freedom go.

One huge victory for the movement hit the news in 1916 when Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress in the U.S. House of Representatives (as a Republican).

The hard work, courage, and persistence women exuded during this time led to a powerful win in 1920 — the passage of the 19th Amendment. Just at the turn of the decade, women were already beginning to embrace new freedoms and independence. The women of the Roaring Twenties would later become known as the first generation of independent women — and they were just the beginning.

Over the last century, women have continued to show courage and dedication in the fight for equality and a better tomorrow. While Jeannette Rankin and many others have made waves as women elected to Congress, men still hold the majority as elected officials. Of the 500,000 total elected offices in the country, less than one-third are held by women. But that’s changing.

Of the 325 women ever elected to the House, nearly two-thirds have been elected since 1992, which was termed “Year of the Woman” following the election of more women to Congress than ever before.

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This label reappeared, following the 2018 election when a record-breaking 107 women were elected to serve in the 116th Congress. These advancements by and for women are something to be celebrated, just as they were in the 1920s.

Yet, a new inequality emerged. In recent years, the left has been the dominant voice for American women, leaving conservative women feeling more unheard and frustrated than ever before. Of the 127 women serving in the 116th Congress, only 21 are Republican — meaning that there are five times more left-leaning women serving in the United States Congress.

As Ellen Troxclair states in her new book, “Step Up!,” “[w]hile more women serving in office should be celebrated regardless of their party affiliation, the statistics are a wake-up call for women who lean right of center.” She’s right, and that’s exactly why conservative women are acting — because it’s more than just statistics. This fight to be heard is about making sure that everyone is being heard and represented.

That’s why GOP women are stepping up and speaking out now. In 2018, approximately 67 Republican women ran for Congress. They won only 21 seats, but Republican women are not backing down. Over 200 Republican women filed or are expected to run for Congress in 2020.

As women of the 1910s and 1920s began to find their voices and fought for their independence, American conservative women are now doing the same. Tired of being told what to do or how to do it, American conservative women of the new Roaring Twenties are stepping up, speaking out, and fighting for what they believe in.

Shelby Sterling is a policy analyst with the Texas Public Policy Foundation.