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August 26, 2020 marks the centennial of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment, which states that the right to vote shall not be denied on account of sex, represented the culmination of a struggle that began in the 1830s and 1840s, engaged the energy and passion of at least three generations of American women, and resulted in the largest one-time ever increase in voters in this country’s history. The August 2020 update features twenty-eight new suffragist biographies. In honor of the centennial anniversary, these suffrage profiles shift the focus away from the national leadership to the states and localities, providing a wider geographical sweep as well as documenting the contributions of rank-and-file activists. They also represent our commitment to documenting the contributions of African American women to the suffrage movement.
Harriet May Mills (1857–1935) was a key organizer in the push for women’s suffrage. She arranged meetings across New York state for nationally prominent speakers, organized political equality clubs, and earned a reputation as a rousing speaker at farm picnics, in private parlors, and at state legislative meetings. Her activism did not end with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, however. Mills ran unsuccessfully on the Democratic ticket for secretary of state in New York in 1920. Three years later she was appointed the first female State Hospital Commissioner and advocated for the mentally ill. At the age of seventy-five, as an Electoral College delegate, Mills helped send Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the White House in 1933. Her long career as an activist linked the abolitionist roots of women’s rights with the emergence of the woman citizen in the postsuffrage era.