This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. My February column for the Visual Thesaurus looks at the linguistic legacy of the long, persistent effort that led to the amendment.
Full access to the column is paywalled for three months. A subscription is still just $19.95 a year; if you’re hesitating, here’s an excerpt:
Pronouns played a surprising role in the right-to-vote fight. For centuries, grammar guides had insisted that the masculine pronouns he, him, and his were “inclusive” or “generic” — that is, they referred to women as well as to men. This assumption “has even been enshrined in British and American law,” writes Dennis Baron in his new book, What’s Your Pronoun?, adding that “both the UK Act of Interpretation (1850) and the US Dictionary Act (1871) declared that, in the law, words referring to men also include women.” But only when it was convenient to do so and when “the context shows that such words were intended to be used in a more limited sense,” as the Dictionary Act put it. Suffragists seized on this contradiction to argue for their rights. “If you insist on this version of the letter of the law, we shall insist that you be consistent,” the pioneering suffragist Susan B. Anthony argued in 1873: Government should “exempt women from taxation for the support of the government, and from penalties for the violation of laws.” In the end, Baron writes, women in both the UK and the US “won the vote without any explicit legal concession that he includes she.” The 19th Amendment includes no pronouns at all — only the neutral word “citizens.”
Related: Suffragist or suffragette?