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The vote gave women a voice in strengthening their financial rights

See how they've used their power at the ballot box over the last century to make great strides toward financial equality

Illustration of women marching. The figure furthest to the left is in black and white, in old-fashioned clothing from the early 20th century. The next woman in line is in muted colors, with a hairstyle common among African American women in the 1960’s. Towards the right side, the women are in full color, with modern hairstyle and dress. The woman furthest to the right holds a sign that says: “Equal Pay.”

“THERE WILL NEVER BE COMPLETE EQUALITY until women themselves help to make the laws and elect the lawmakers," argued Susan B. Anthony, a leader in America's women's suffrage movement.1 In 1872, she was arrested, tried and jailed for casting a ballot for Ulysses S. Grant in the 1872 presidential election.2

It would take several generations of suffragettes marching, lobbying and striking for women to finally win the right to vote. That happened on August 18, 1920 when the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified—and even then, the vote wasn’t guaranteed for all women. Discriminatory practices created barriers for women of color until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.

“There’s still a long way to go in the journey toward full gender equality, and Merrill and Bank of America are committed to helping women achieve it.”

Kirstin Hill, Chief Operating Officer of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management

Since then, significant strides have been made toward achieving full gender equity. Women now vote at a higher rate than men, make up more than half of the U.S. labor force and have acquired a significant amount of wealth. In fact, by 2025 they could hold $110 trillion in financial assets, according to the Boston Consulting Group.3

All of these achievements can be traced, in part, back to that victory in 1920. Women used their power at the ballot box to help elect congressmen and women who, over the decades, introduced and passed legislation advancing equal rights and financial equality for women. Yet today only 143 women currently hold elected office4 in Congress, a mere 38 women are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies5 and the wage gap still persists. Clearly, more work needs to be done.

“The suffragettes wouldn’t give up, and today’s activists can take inspiration from them,” says Kirstin Hill, Chief Operating Officer of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. “There’s still a long way to go in the journey toward full gender equality, and Merrill and Bank of America are committed to helping women achieve it.”

The timeline above highlights six key legislative moments of the last century that have strengthened the financial security of women, including an update on one battle — for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment — still being waged in the halls of Congress. Laws can be changed, after all, but constitutional amendments enshrine the principles they prescribe.

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