American Samoa and the 19th Amendment

Picture of territory of American Samoa in gray – indicating it was not one of the original 36 states to ratify the 19th Amendment.
Picture of territory of American Samoa in gray – indicating it was not one of the original 36 states to ratify the 19th Amendment.

CC0

Women fought for the right to vote since the mid-1800s. They marched, protested, lobbied, and even went to jail. By the 1870s, women pressured Congress to vote on an amendment that would recognize their suffrage rights. This amendment became known as the 19th Amendment.

After decades of arguments for and against women's suffrage, Congress finally voted in favor of the 19th Amendment in 1919. This is called ratification. After Congress ratified the 19th Amendment, at least 36 states needed to vote in favor of it for it to become law. In August of 1920, 36 states ratified the 19th Amendment, recognizing women’s right to vote.

The 19th Amendment impacted women differently based on where they lived. Women in American Samoa, a territory of the US, were not able to vote even after the passage of the 19th Amendment. People born in American Samoa are considered US nationals, not citizens. As a result, they are unable to participate in national elections.

Flag of American Samoa, CC0
Flag of American Samoa, CC0.

Women in American Samoa

The Samoa Archipelago is a string of nine islands south of the equator. American Samoa, a US territory, includes five of these islands. Archaeological evidence reveals that the first inhabitants of the island most likely migrated from southwest Asia approximately 3,000 years ago. This Polynesia culture is steeped in a tradition called fa'asamoa (fah-ah-SAH-mo-ah), the Samoan Way.

Women play an important role in preserving Samoan cultural traditions, such as the giving and receiving of ‘ie tōga (fine mats). These mats can only be made by women and are used for special occasions such as weddings and funerals. Fine mats are often passed down from generation to generation. The custom of mat weaving is an important part of a Samoan woman’s identity and shows her role and skill within the community.

In the past, young women would start their own mats or complete ones started by older sisters. Today, mats are often woven by a group of women working in a fale lalaga (weaving house).

Women of American Samoa signing traditional songs. Courtesy NPS.
Women of American Samoa signing traditional songs. Courtesy NPS.

Culture and tradition have always been an important part of life for women living in American Samoa. Until the 20th century, girls were often educated at home. They learned about traditional Samoan culture and customs from family members. Education became more formalized in the early 1900s with the establishment of the Atauloma Girls School on the island of Tutuila. The school was the second educational facility on America Samoa and the first to allow girls to attend. Today, young women attend parochial and private schools, but learning about cultural traditions is still an important part of their education.

Last updated: August 23, 2018