A historic trip to Philadelphia marks the centennial of the 19th amendment.
By Melissa Jacobs and Isabella Sanchez Castañeda
For 100 years, the Justice Bell sat in quiet repose in Valley Forge National Historical Park’s Washington Memorial Chapel. But on Aug. 25, it was transported in style to Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park. The unprecedented event marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Once there, the Justice Bell was rung loudly and proudly during the Toast to Tenacity, a telecast sponsored by Vision 2020, a national, nonpartisan women’s equality coalition.
Getting the Justice Bell to Independence Park wasn’t easy—but neither was the fight for women’s suffrage. “I started to really understand the struggles that women [went] through to get this right to vote,” says Maria Bomersbach, president of Washington Memorial Heritage’s board of directors.
Before the bell left the chapel, it was given a send-off by an all-female team of skydivers. The Highlight Pro Team delivered the champagne bottle that christened the Justice Bell’s journey. In July, the team jumped at Seneca Falls, N.Y., where America’s first women’s rights convention was held in 1848. The team did the same in Nashville to recognize Tennessee’s pivotal role as the 36th state to ratify the 19th amendment. “A lot of us weren’t privy to this history growing up,” says team spokesperson Melissa Lowe, who holds 23 world records and three national championship medals. “We get to walk the grounds of history. Now, we have so much more respect for the right to vote.”
At the Valley Forge sendoff, speakers addressed key aspects of women’s suffrage, including the crucial part Black women played in the movement. Women of color were instrumental in this fight, yet many U.S. states suppressed their ability to vote, or even outright denied it.
Bomersbach would like to see the ratification of the 19th amendment commemorated annually. “It’s about civic engagement and encouraging an ongoing discussion for our future generations by educating them on the Justice Bell and its role in women’s suffrage,” she says.