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10 Empowering And Inspirational Quotes From And For Women

Pop quiz! Can you complete this declaration?

We hold these truths to be self-evident,
That all –––

Did you blurt out, “That all men are created equal?”

What if we told you that’s only one acceptable answer? In honor of Women’s Equality Day, we’re going to celebrate suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her declaration from the first women’s rights convention held in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. It goes something like this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal.

Powerful, right? Words—whether they’re those of a declaration against monarchs or inequality—have power. We use them to inspire ourselves, to declare our autonomy, and to move others to action.

And increasingly, we’re using language to say it’s self-evident all people are created equal to include people who identify as nonbinary.

Stanton spoke those words to some 300 activists, many of them abolitionists, who called for the end of any US law discriminating against women. Their organizing and protesting efforts—a 70-year campaign—eventually led to the ratification of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote in 1920.

Now, some 175 years after Seneca Falls, we honor the suffragists’ work with Women’s Equality Day on August 26. The day was designated by Congress to commemorate the 19th amendment. To learn more about this commemoration and why it falls on Aug. 26, read our entry on Women’s Equality Day.

However even after the victory of the 19th amendment, activists didn’t stop their work. At the time, Native Americans were not considered citizens. Asian Americans didn’t have the right to vote. And it took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to counter Jim Crow laws (which allowed for all sorts of discriminatory barriers to casting a vote) so that women and men of any race could vote.

The work of safeguarding the right to vote continues today as states throughout the US have passed laws in 2021 that can affect voter participation by making voting in person or by mail more difficult.

We honor the ongoing struggle of all people to gain—and safeguard—our right to vote with 10 quotes and words about equality from the leaders of and others involved in the suffrage movement.

union

“In union [of women] there is strength.”

—Martha Coffin Wright, Quaker, abolitionist, and organizer of the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention (1806–1875)

You likely recognize the motto of the US as E pluribus unum or “out of many, one.” The word union is derived from the Latin word for “one,” ūnus. Though Wright was far from the only person to take these words as inspiration, she famously used them to encourage unity among the different leaders and activists of the suffrage movement itself. “Our cause will be weakened,” she wrote her sister, Lucy, “and the day of our success postponed, by unwise dissension.”

liberty

“I grew up like a neglected weed—ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it.”

—Harriet Tubman, abolitionist, activist, and speaker on women’s suffrage (1822–1913)

Liberty comes from the Latin word lībertās from the root word līber (“free”).

 

Freedom takes many shapes, and can be expressed in a multitude of ways. Consider these 12 synonyms for freedom, to start.

duty & representative

“When she goes to legislate in the House, she does so in compliance with her divine duty as a mother … she works for the good of all society’s children, whose mothers gave their vote and elected her as their representative to this grand assembly of our people’s government.”

—Ana Roqué de Duprey, educator, journalist, and founder of the first organization for women’s suffrage in the US colony of Puerto Rico (1853–1933)

The words duty and representative stand for concepts long associated with governing. They both have roots in Latin words. Duty ultimately comes from the Latin dēbēre (“to owe”) and representative from repraesentāre (“to represent”).

ballot

“What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist—the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art … The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too. Help, you women of privilege, give her the ballot to fight with.”

—Rose Schneiderman, Polish-born garment union activist (1882–1972)

The word ballot comes to us in English from the Italian ballotta, the diminutive of the word for “ball,” balla. In medieval Venice, voting required placing small balls in an urn to cast an opinion. (The practice originated with the ancient Greeks.)

suffragist

“If Congress refuse to listen to and grant what women ask, there is but one course left then to pursue. Women have no government. Men have organized a government, and they maintain it to the utter exclusion of women. … Under such glaring inconsistencies, such unwarrantable tyranny, such unscrupulous despotism, what is there left [for] women to do but to become the mothers of the future government?”

—Victoria Claflin Woodhull, suffragist and 1872 presidential candidate (1838–1927)

Why do we use the word suffragist? The suffragist is “an advocate of the grant or extension of political suffrage, especially to women,” with suffrage being “the right to vote, especially in a political election.” Suffragette, a term that also is used to refer to women championing for the right to vote, was originally used to disparage them. (The diminutive -ette was added to mock the women.) The word suffrage comes from the Latin suffragium (“support, ballot, vote; right of voting; a voting tablet”).

feminist

“Feminists want nothing more than the equality of opportunity for women to prove their merits and what they are best suited to do.”

—Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, minister and Chinese-American women’s rights activist who led suffrage parades, including a Chinese-American parade in 1917 (1896–1966)

Think you know the words feminist and feminism? When it first came into use in the 1800s, feminism was defined as “feminine qualities or character,” and it’s no longer used that way. Feminism, of course, now has its modern meaning: “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.” A feminist is an advocate of such rights.

 

Learn more about the background and language of feminism, including the many directions it has taken in recent history.

rights

“When woman gets her rights man will be right. How beautiful that will be. … I want to see, before I leave here—I want to see equality. I want to see women have their rights, and then there will be no more war. All the fighting has been for selfishness.”

—Sojourner Truth, abolitionist, preacher, and women’s rights activist (1797–1883)

The concept of rights or civil rights makes use of the word civil, ultimately derived from the Latin cīvis, meaning “citizen.” These are the rights of citizens. The word rights is not a Latin word (surprise!). Instead, it comes from the Old English reht or riht, meaning “just, good, fair; proper, fitting.”

revolution

“Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.”

—Motto from The Revolution, a weekly newspaper created and published by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and women’s rights activist and president of the National Woman Suffrage Association Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906)

A revolution originally referred to the movement of celestial bodies, such as the Earth’s rotation. But in the 1500s, the word took on a political meaning (“overthrow of an established political or social system”) during a change of monarchs in England.

triumphant

“(Suffrage) is going to prevail … it is not merely because the women are discontented. It is because the women have seen visions of duty, and that is something which we not only cannot resist, but if we be true Americans, we do not resist. … I have not come to ask you to be patient, because you have been, but I have come to congratulate you that there was a force behind you that will beyond any peradventure be triumphant.”

—President Woodrow Wilson, addressing a suffrage convention in 1916 (1856–1924)

To be triumphant is to achieve “victory or success, be victorious; successful.” It comes from the Latin triumphus, or “an achievement, a success; celebratory procession for a victorious general or admiral.” This word is in turn related to the ancient Greek thriambos, which means “hymn to Dionysus,” which were sung in processions.

story

“We will all, at some point, encounter hurdles to gaining access and entry, moving up and conquering self-doubt; but on the other side is the capacity to own opportunity and tell our own story.”

—Stacey Abrams, politician, lawyer, voting rights activist (1973–)

The story we tell is our history, as that is where the word originates in the Latin historia. What words will you use to tell yours?

 

Feeling empowered? Take up the task of completing our quiz inspired by these quotes and vocabulary.

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