On this day 100 years ago, the 19th Amendment, which guarantees all American women the right to vote, was adopted into the U.S. Constitution. Radio is also celebrating the 100th year of the first commercial radio broadcast in 2020. As we commemorate these important anniversaries, we remember the vital role radio played to amplify the voices of women throughout history. From the suffrage movement to present day, radio has been an integral part of our democracy.
The road to suffrage was long and hard-fought. In early 1909, Harriot Stanton Blatch’s broadcast in support of women’s suffrage may have been the first public speech by radio. Blatch’s passionate arguments were broadcast to a class of female students at Barnard College on wireless telephony – the new technology enabling radio broadcasts.
Radio has brought to light women’s struggle to win the right to vote. “Women in the Making of America,” a 1930s NBC radio series, dramatized the cultural and social contributions that women have made throughout U.S. history. The series featured programs on several prominent suffragists, including Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, Angelina Grimké and Lucretia Mott. Esteemed suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt also appeared on the radio to advocate for peace and disarmament.
One of the most notable voices from the early days of radio is Eleanor Roosevelt, who used radio masterfully during her 300 broadcasts from the White House – about the same number as her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. During her weekly radio program, Mrs. Roosevelt promoted the New Deal, helped unify the country during the Depression, alerted Americans to the imminent world war and helped rally the home front once the United States joined World War II. Her radio programs challenged conventional views on women as broadcasters and in politics.
Today, radio continues to ensure women’s voices are heard, giving them – and all citizens – the political knowledge they need to be informed citizens and participate in our democracy. Recently, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) announced the launch of a voter education campaign with the League of Women Voters (LWV) featuring public service announcements that are available on NAB’s 2020 Election Toolkit. NAB is proud to partner with LWV as it also celebrates its 100th anniversary and its founding by leaders of the suffrage movement.
During this critical election year, local radio stations across the country are committed to helping Americans understand the importance of exercising their right to vote – honoring the legacy of the women who helped to make our democracy stronger.