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Sacagawea's Voice and the 19th Amendment

A woman and man depicting Sacagawea and York standing side by side wearing canvas and cloth with a musket in hand
Sacagawea and York as portrayed by actors in the 2008 PBS York Film

NPS Photo

On November 24, 1805 when confronted with the dilemma as to where to set up their Pacific Coast winter encampment, the captains’ listened to the members of the expedition and each person’s vote was documented. It was an opinion poll. It was not a true democratic election, but nonetheless, it has made history because of its unusual inclusivity. Along with the white men, Sacagawea a Shoshone woman, York an enslaved African American, George Drouillard a Shawnee-French man and Francios LaPage and Pierre Cruzatte both Omaha-French men, cast their vote. The majority elected to settle on the south side of the Columbia River, and soon after, the group constructed and inhabited Fort Clatsop, near Astoria, Oregon, from December 1805-March 1806.

Meanwhile, beginning in the 1800’s, women living in the east were organizing to ratify the right to vote by gathering, protesting, and practicing civil disobedience. Hundreds were sent to jail where they were often victims of violence. It took until 1920 for the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote for women to finally be ratified. Though as a Native American, Sacagawea still wouldn’t have been guaranteed the right to vote.

In 1870 the 15th Amendment to the U.S. The Constitution was ratified, granting African American men the right to vote by declaring that 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 race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Despite the promise of the 15th Amendment, it would not be fully actualized for almost a century. It would take the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the majority of African Americans were able to register to vote.

The 15th Amendment did not apply to Native Americans. Native Americans were not considered citizens until 1924 Indian Citizenship Act. Even with this Act Native Americans had to fight state by state for the right to vote which was finally achieved 1962.

We can look back at the expedition and debate its impacts in history. We can also marvel at the forward thinking of the Captains, on that day in November, for acknowledging the entire membership of their traveling community.

Last updated: January 5, 2021