WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE: Legal Community Reflects on 19th Amendment

"The sky is now her limit" by Elmer Andrews Bushnell

As the 19th Amendment celebrates its 100th birthday and we celebrate the contributions women have made to society, we take stock of the contributions females have made to the administration of justice in Nebraska. In 1991, the Nebraska Supreme Court created the Task Force on Gender Fairness in the Court. At that time, there were just nine female judges on the bench in Nebraska courts. Today, almost 30 years later, about 2,400 women are licensed to practice law in Nebraska, 58 women have been appointed to various courts in Nebraska, and there are currently 39 female judges, including two women on our Supreme Court and three on our Court of Appeals. Women have contributed much to the bench in Nebraska, and to the legal profession. We have made much progress; now is not the time to let up.

Mike Heavican
Chief Justice, Nebraska Supreme Court


The 19th Amendment was obviously a victory for the suffragettes who worked to achieve it. But it also stands as an example of democratic social change, accomplished by people who were literally disenfranchised – proof that it doesn't always matter who's on the Supreme Court, or who's in the White House, or even who's in the Congress, when citizens work together to create a popular movement demanding recognition and respect for their rights.

But unfortunately, the 19th Amendment also demonstrates that while enfranchisement is a critical tool in the democratic process, it does not guarantee social justice. While the women's right to vote was a great achievement, it also left much to be done, and some of that work remains unrealized. So, while the 19th Amendment shows us how much can be accomplished by active and engaged citizens, it also shows us how those citizens must remain active, engaged, and vigilant if they're to keep what they've won.

John M. Gerrard
Chief United States District Judge, District of Nebraska


Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1916, Jeanette Rankin was the first woman to hold a federal office, and she couldn’t even vote for the laws she helped craft. Her leadership, tenacity and courage paved the way for women to not only vote but to change the course of our nation. We have come a long way, but there is still much work to be done.

Shelly Stratman
Presiding Judge, Douglas County District Court


On this peaceful Arbor Day morning, I have been asked to reflect on the Law Day topic, “Your Vote, Your Voice, Our Democracy: The 19th Amendment at 100.”

Listening to the sweet chirping voices of backyard birds, I try to imagine my life without the ability to do many things, including a constitutional right to vote. It’s nearly unimaginable. I was raised under the arms of five older brothers. I never believed anyone could prevent me from doing anything. And I have the persistent women suffrage fighters, Elizabeth Stanton and Lucretius Mott, organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, as well as Frederick Douglas, and many others who later joined the suffrage movement, to thank.

Their decades long struggles and persistence opened floodgates of opportunities for women far beyond the right to vote. These added bonuses, in addition to a right to vote, has afforded so many opportunities to me personally: a college degree, a law degree and a fine profession. I have voted every year since I turned 18 because I can.

In summary, I recall a cartoon painting by Elmer Andrews Bushnell I viewed last May while touring the American History Museum in Washington, D.C. The title, ”The sky is now her limit.” [Editor’s Note: The cartoon can be found at the top of this article.] The summary, “Cartoon shows a young woman carrying buckets on a yoke, looking up a ladder ascending up to the sky, bottom rungs labeled ‘Slavery,’ ‘House Drudgery’ and ‘Shop Work.’ Top rungs labeled, ‘Equal Suffrage,’ ‘Wage Equality’ and ‘Presidency.’” I stared at the painting for many moments. Bushnell dates the painting, August 20, the same month and year the 19th Amendment was ratified. Little did I know then, I could share this with you now to help us all remember the struggles women endured to afford us so many rights and opportunities today.

Sheryl Lohaus
Presiding Judge, Douglas County Court


After a decades-long women’s suffrage movement, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted, prohibiting the states and federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex.

This year, our nation and state are confronted with a different type of barrier potentially limiting citizens’ ability to participate in the selection of our political leaders: COVID-19.  Although a record number of Nebraskans have requested mail in ballots, there will still be opportunities to vote in your traditional polling locations. Under normal circumstances, most election volunteers are senior citizens – a high risk population for COVID-19. The Secretary of State’s Office is recruiting poll workers for the May primary and is supporting county offices in their efforts to adequately staff each polling location with poll workers and helping to make those locations as safe as possible.

Historically, many lawyers have been called upon to serve as poll workers, particularly to assist sites with addressing the interpretation of eligibility questions as they arise. In an effort to help ensure our counties are able to proceed with the May election, the Secretary of State’s Office has partnered with the Nebraska State Bar Association to put out a call to action to the legal profession: help Nebraskans safely participate in the 2020 elections.

If you are able to serve at your local polling site, please contact your County Clerk or County Election Commissioner and tell them that you are a Nebraska lawyer. You will receive a free, lawyer-specific election training through the NSBA’s OnDemand platform (www.nebarondemand.com) which qualifies for 1.5 hours of CLE. If you are not able to serve at your local polling site, please support the process by encouraging your friends and coworkers to do so.

Steve Mattoon
President, Nebraska State Bar Association


The Nebraska State Bar Foundation is humbled by this year’s theme of “Your Vote, Your Voice, Our Democracy: The 19th Amendment at 100.” To think that it was only 100 years ago that women were given the right to vote is unfathomable.

In the 2016 presidential election voter turnout was 61.4%. One of the NSBF’s goals is to educate through civics, to encourage voting and that begins at a young age. We have recently added the Kids Voting Nebraska-ABC (A Ballot Counts) program. The objectives of this educational program are to create lifelong voting habits in children, to increase family communication about citizenship and to increase voter turnout.

Our hope is that by encouraging children to vote they will become lifelong voters and that all of the efforts of women’s suffrage will be realized.

Steve Guenzel
President, Nebraska State Bar Foundation


One hundred years ago, the government guaranteed the right of citizens to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States on account of sex. This year as we reflect on 100 years of women’s suffrage, we recognize the important contributions of women in our country and continue to encourage all to continue to exercise their individual rights and vote.

William J. Acosta-Trejo
President, Omaha Bar Association


Frederick Douglass said: “When I ran away from slavery, it was for myself. When I advocated emancipation, it was for my people. But when I stood up for the rights of women, self was out of the question, and I found a little nobility in the act.” 

As Nebraskans, we can take pride in the noble men of our state who stood up for women’s rights long before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920.    

In 1881, a super-majority of both houses of the Nebraska legislature voted in favor of a state constitutional amendment to make Nebraska the first state in the union with full suffrage for both sexes. Nebraska’s governor signed the bill. In 1882, one-third of Nebraska voters (men, of course) tried to ratify it. Although this series of events ended in disappointment for women’s rights advocates, it galvanized the national woman’s suffrage movement to seek a federal constitutional amendment.           

Nebraska lawyer William Jennings Bryan was an ardent supporter of women’s suffrage – no doubt influenced by his wife, Mary, an attorney and gifted ghost-writer. Nebraska lawyer John J. Pershing was also a staunch supporter of women’s rights. As commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in 1917, he welcomed the first women to enlist in the military, discrediting the argument that women should not vote because they could not serve.

In 1919, a unanimous Nebraska legislature voted to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment.

On Law Day, we recommit ourselves to the noble act of standing up for the rights of others. That kind of nobility has run in the blood of Omaha lawyers since John Webster and Andrew Poppleton stood up for the rights of an impoverished band of Ponca Indians in 1879, and it continues to be demonstrated by Omaha lawyers daily.  

Although we cannot gather for the traditional OBA Law Day lunch this year, you can hear the educational and inspiring remarks of speaker Dr. Dianne Bystrom on the OBA website. And on June 1, registration will begin for the Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference and celebration of the Centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, scheduled for August 5, 6, and 7, in Omaha. Until then, please stay safe, optimistic and noble!

Laurie Smith Camp
Senior United States District Judge, District of Nebraska
President-Elect, Omaha Bar Association


The right to vote is a fundamental and core right that is critical to the functioning of democratic republic government structure in the United States. The importance of this right, and the power of this right should not be discounted. Elections at all levels have been decided one vote or a handful of votes. Understanding the history of disenfranchisement (and subsequent enfranchisement) of certain populations in America is crucial to understand how far we’ve come as a nation to embracing the notion of “one person, one vote.” 

Dave Sommers
Executive Director, Omaha Bar Association


Women have progressed ... sort of. Is it deep-seated paranoia, or antiquated social bias that make people trust men more than women? I have no answer to those questions, only suspicions that is why we still see fewer women succeed in law, politics, or business. I have listened to arguments that women become “distracted by family,” or other “feminine diversions” that cause them to fall behind in those fields.  But I am not buying that. Until we understand, and overcome why we do not trust women to lead, we will not make the gains that we need to fully realize the capabilities of over 50% of the population. Lack of trust means fewer opportunities afforded to women.

Jill Robb Ackerman
Partner, Baird Holm LLP


Early in life I was inspired to pursue public service due to the historic gubernatorial race of Kay Orr and Helen Boosalis. To honor their trailblazing leadership, I will always work to ensure more women vote, more women run, and more women win in Nebraska and beyond. As a Nebraska civil rights leader and a Nebraska woman in politics this year’s theme of "Your Vote, Your Voice, Our Democracy: The 19th Amendment at 100” is close to my heart. Even amid this perilous time which prevents us from the traditional fun filled Law Day activities we have much to celebrate as we recognize this critical legal, political and societal milestone.

Nevertheless, we must also use this as an important educational moment to remember that voting rights were not widely held and enjoyed by many women of color until many decades after the ratification of the 19th Amendment.  Additionally, we must renew our commitment to knocking down arbitrary barriers that still exist to ensuring each eligible American has the opportunity to vote as voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. Our squad goals at the ACLU for 2020 include: continue to educate front line poll workers about how to facilitate the right to vote for trans and GNC Nebraskans, engage in robust advocacy to make sure every eligible voter can vote safely and securely by mail to strike the right balance between public health and a robust democracy, and empower communities to know and understand their rights regarding the arbitrary and punitive laws that disenfranchise thousands of Nebraskans due to criminal system involvement.

Danielle Conrad
Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska


One hundred years after earning the right to vote, there is a record 102 women serving in the House of Representative (25 in the U.S. Senate), woman are governors of nine states and nine women serve as United States Supreme Court Justices. These all demonstrate important progress, and the 19th Amendment was a critical step toward improving gender equity.  We have come a long way, but with women making up slightly more than half of our nation’s population, it is also clear there’s a lot of work left to do.

Joshua P. Fershée
Dean, Creighton University School of Law


The 1948 First Women’s Rights Convention set the stage for the 19th Amendment and the path for women’s equality. Although women still struggle for equality in some ways today, women have many more opportunities because of the efforts of the key figures from the 1948 Convention: Mary M’Clintock, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others. For example, women today have the opportunity to lead corporations, nonprofit organizations and government sectors; own small or large businesses; and play sports professionally, among other things.  Women today also have the courage and freedom to inspire and influence others to dive into unchartered waters. While it is unfortunate that we cannot meet in person to celebrate such an important part of women’s rights, we are honored to be a part of the OBA Law Day and extend our gratitude to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

Kimberly Brown
President, Nebraska Paralegal Association


Do you have a reflection to share with Daily Record readers for this Law Day? Email it to us at news@omahadailyrecord.com.


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