The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution reads:
Section One: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Section Two: Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
This simply-worded Amendment gave women the right to vote, and also provided Congress with the power needed to ensure that this right would not be infringed. It is often viewed as a landmark in American history, and as a major step for the feminist movement.
Prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment, women in the United States did not have the right to vote, and a number of avenues of opportunity were closed to them. Women could not be lawyers, for example, and many states had sexist laws on the books prohibiting employment in a variety of industries to women. Many women naturally chafed against this, believing it to be extremely unfair, and they lobbied hard for the passage of an Amendment which would secure their right to vote.
The roots of the suffragist movement can be traced to the middle of the 19th century, when women first began meeting to organize marches and lobbying efforts on behalf of women's rights. Women also started publishing pamphlets and books outlining the basic arguments of the women's rights movement, and they worked in communities across the United States, providing social services to women and supporting movements which contributed to the overall cause.
In 1918, the suffragist movement stumbled upon a brilliant idea: while women could not vote, they could influence the votes of others. A mass campaign was organized with the explicit purpose of asking voters to vote against anti-suffragist candidates, and it proved to be successful, seeding Congress with people who supported the movement. When President Woodrow Wilson put his support behind the idea, the stage was set, and in June 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, referring it to the Senate. By 1920, the 19th Amendment had been ratified by the 36 states needed to add an Article to the Constitution, and women had the right to vote.
For American women, the 19th Amendment was a huge victory which allowed women to engage directly in the political process. With full voting rights, women could vote as a block on legislation which impacted their lives, and they started to become a force of their own in the American political arena.