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Women's suffrage in the United States was achieved gradually, at state and local levels during the late 19th century and early 20th century, culminating in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provided: "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."
On June 1848, the Liberty Party, composed entirely of men, made women's suffrage a plank in their presidential campaign. The next month, the Seneca Falls Convention issued the first formal demand authored by US women for suffrage. During the 1850s the National Woman's Rights Conventions and Lucy Stone organized women's suffrage petitions campaigns in several states, and Stone became the first person to appeal for woman suffrage before a body of lawmakers when she addressed the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in 1853. Agitation was suspended during the Civil War but resumed in 1865 when the National Woman's Rights Committee issued a petition asking Congress to amend the United States Constitution to prohibit states from disfranchising citizens "on the ground of sex." Disagreement among movement leaders over whether to support ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave the vote to black men but not to women, resulted in the formation of two rival organizations: the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), founded by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), founded by Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe. Both organizations initially campaigned for a Sixteenth Amendment to give women the vote, but the AWSA gradually turned to building support for the federal measure by winning the right of women to vote at the state and local levels. In 1889 the groups merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which, after 1900, argued for reforms of the Progressive Era. Women's contributions to American participation in the First World War (1917–18) gave the impetus for final victory.
New Jersey in 1776 placed only one restriction on the general suffrage, which was the possession of at least £50 in cash or property (about $8,000 adjusted for inflation), with the election laws referring to the voters as "he or she." In 1790, the law was revised to specifically include women, but in 1807 the law was again revised to exclude them, an unconstitutional act since the state constitution specifically made any such change dependent on the general suffrage.
Agitation for equal suffrage was carried on by only a few individuals. The first of these was Frances Wright, a Scottish woman who came to the country in 1826 and advocated women's suffrage in an extensive series of lectures. In 1836 Ernestine Rose, a Polish woman, came to the country and carried on a different campaign so effectively that she obtained a personal hearing before the New York Legislature, though her petition bore only five signatures. At about the same time, in 1840, Lucretia Mott and Margaret Fuller became active in Boston, the latter being the author of the book The Great Lawsuit; Man vs. Woman.
On June 29, 1848 in Rochester, New York, Gerrit Smith was nominated as the Liberty Party's presidential candidate. Smith was Elizabeth Cady Stanton's first cousin, and the two enjoyed debating and discussing political and social issues with each other whenever he came to visit. At the National Liberty Convention, held June 14–15 in Buffalo, New York, Smith gave a major address, including in his speech a demand: "Neither here, nor in any other part of the world, is the right of suffrage allowed to extend beyond one of the sexes. This universal exclusion of woman... argues, conclusively, that, not as yet, is there one nation so far emerged from barbarism, and so far practically Christian, as to permit woman to rise up to the one level of the human family." At this convention, five votes were placed calling for Lucretia Mott to be Smith's vice-president—the first time in the United States that a woman was nominated for federal executive office.
On July 19–20, 1848, in upstate New York, the Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights was hosted by Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann M'Clintock and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; some 300 attended including Frederick Douglass, who stood up to speak in favor of women's suffrage to settle an inconclusive debate on the subject. The convention also adopted a Declaration of Sentiments, demanding rights for their sex so that women could properly protect their homes and families.
Lucy Stone met with Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis, Abby Kelley Foster, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips,and six other women to organize the larger National Women's Rights Convention in 1850. This national convention brought together for the first time many of those who had been working individually for women's rights. While conventions provided places where women could support each other, they also highlighted some of the challenges of unifying strongly opinionated leaders into one movement. Women's rights activists faced difficult questions. Should the movement include or exclude men? Who was to blame for women's inequality? What remedies should they seek? How could women best convince others of their need for equality? One goal, however, was clear. Attendees resolved to "secure for [woman] political, legal and social equality with man," giving her the opportunity to freely choose her sphere. On the closing day, Stone gave a stirring speech to the thousand-strong audience, one which inspired Susan B. Anthony to join the cause.
Women's rights advocates held national conventions every year but one until the onset of the Civil War.
Some future leaders got their start at these meetings. Twenty-six-year-old Matilda Joslyn Gage, one of the eventual leaders of the movement, presented her first speech at the 1852 meeting. She spoke so timidly that few could hear. Others had been honing their skills in the temperance (anti-alcohol) and abolitionist movements for years. Abby Kelley Foster boldly stated, "For fourteen years I have advocated this cause in my daily life. Bloody feet, sisters, have worn smooth the path by which you have come hither." Abolitionist and ex-slave Sojourner Truth commanded attention at a regional meeting at Akron, Ohio, in 1851, challenging the notion that equality was only for white, educated men and women. When she rose to her nearly six-foot stature and gave an oration that became known as the "Ain't I a Woman?" speech, she left her audience with faces "beaming with joyous gladness".
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was conspicuously missing from most of these early conventions. Following an active fall of 1848, Stanton felt her family pulling her inward. Neither her father nor her husband supported her women's rights work, and her family continued to grow and demand her attention. While others, such as Lucy Stone, kept up a grueling pace lecturing and organizing conferences, Stanton was "surrounded" by her "children, washing dishes, baking, sewing, etc." On the side, she wrote letters to the editor and articles under the name of Sunflower.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton's strong opinions didn't always make her popular. One young woman from Seneca Falls refused to ride in the same carriage, saying, "I wouldn't have been seen with her for anything, with those ideas of hers." In 1851, she met 31-year-old Susan B. Anthony who, stung by discrimination against women in the temperance movement, gradually diverted her considerable energy to the cause of women's rights. Anthony emerged as a gifted organizer—Stanton, a sharp thinker. Together, they became a formidable partnership that would last until Stanton's writing of The Woman's Bible, a controversial work that alienated many suffrage activists in 1896.
By 1860, women's rights advocates had made some headway. In Indiana, divorces could be granted on the basis not only of adultery, but on desertion, drunkenness, and cruelty. In New York, Indiana, Maine, Missouri, and Ohio, women's property rights had expanded to allow married women to keep their own wages. Clearly there was still much to be done. However, reformers had given a name to women's oppression and had set into motion the movement that would continue to change American attitudes for years to come, as they pushed for reform in everything from education to bloomers.
Access to divorce depended upon in which American state a person lived, and upon the woman's legal resources. Some states opposed divorce on almost all grounds. After her husband horsewhipped and beat her, one woman took her plea for divorce to the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1862. The Chief Justice denied her, stating, "The law gives the husband power to use such a degree of force necessary to make the wife behave and know her place."
During the Civil War, and immediately thereafter, little was heard of the movement, but a strong drive for woman suffrage was mounted in Kansas in 1866–1867. After this effort failed, strategic differences among suffragists came to a head. Anthony and Stanton began publishing The Revolution in January 1868, writing harsh criticisms of the Republican party which was then pushing for African-American male suffrage. In November 1868, in Boston at the largest women's rights convention held to that date in the U.S., Stone, her husband Henry Browne Blackwell, Isabella Beecher Hooker, Julia Ward Howe and Thomas Wentworth Higginson formed a new organization, the New England Woman Suffrage Association (NEWSA); the first major political society established for the sole purpose of gaining suffrage for women. It was a pro-Republican group, with men in important leadership positions, designed to attract an alliance with that political party. However, the Republican connection pushed the group in the direction of advocating voting rights for the African-American male. At the first NEWSA convention, Douglass declared that "the cause of the negro was more pressing than that of woman's." In May 1869, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was formed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; an organization made up primarily of women. Their object was to secure an amendment to the Constitution in favor of women's suffrage, and they opposed passage of the Fifteenth Amendment ("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") unless it was changed to guarantee to women the right to vote. They continued work on The Revolution which included radical feminist challenges to traditional female roles.
Later the same year, Stone reorganized NEWSA into the much larger and more moderate American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) which also included both men and women in its membership. AWSA supported the proposed Fifteenth Amendment as written, and resolved to gain the incremental victory of black men's voting rights before moving forward to achieve women's voting rights. After the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, AWSA continued working at the state level to secure women's voting rights. NWSA proposed a Sixteenth Amendment, one which would give women the right to vote. Their efforts were unsuccessful; many could not forgive Anthony and Stanton for opposing the Fifteenth.
In 1887 after 20 years of working in parallel toward the same goals but with bitter resentment between the various leaders, Stone called for a merger of the splintered women's rights organizations, and plans were drawn up for approval. In 1890, the two groups united to form one national organization known as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
Drinking men typically opposed women's suffrage for fear that women would use their vote to enact prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Indeed the WCTU was a main force for suffrage as well as prohibition At the time, "temperance" was frequently seen as a women's issue, and the liquor-saloon financed the opposition.
The 1890 merger reinvigorated the movement, led until 1894 by Susan B. Anthony. The merger marginalized of radical voices, and ensured broad support for a national agenda to bring the 19th Amendment to a vote in Congress.
In 1900, regular national headquarters were established in New York City, under the direction of the new president, Carrie Chapman Catt, who was endorsed by Susan B. Anthony after her retirement as president. Three years later headquarters were moved to Warren, Ohio, but were then brought back to New York again shortly afterward, and re-opened there on a much larger scale. The organization obtained a hearing before every Congress from 1869 to 1919.
The suffragists were active in every state and territory, but were most successful in the West, where they achieved suffrage by 1914.
The woman suffrage movement was led by old stock women, especially Yankees and Quakers of English ancestry, whose families had been in America since the colonial era. There were important ethnic involvements as well by recent immigrants. Norwegian American women, based in the rural upper Midwest, built their claims to an American identity on their suffrage work. They felt that the progressive politics of Norway, which included women's rights, provided a strong foundation for their demands for political equality and inclusion in the U.S. They told their kinswomen they had a cultural duty to promote women's rights, especially through the Scandinavian Woman's Suffrage Association.
Schultz argues that suffragists promoted swimming competitions, scaled mountains, piloted aeroplanes and staged large-scale parades to gain publicity and emphasize their new physical activism. In a sense, they spectacularized suffrage by thrusting their bodies in the public sphere rather than remaining behind closed doors. In New York in 1912 they organized a 12-day, 170-mile "Hike to Albany'. In 1913 the suffragist "Army of the Hudson" marched the 225 miles from Newark to Washington in 16 days, with numerous photo opportunities and press availabilities along the way that gained a national audience. The Woman Voter magazine claimed the hikes generated $3 million worth of free publicity. The women, says Schultz, "staked a symbolic claim on the polity," as they contrasted their democratic rights to assemble and speak freely with the denial of full citizenship in terms of voting. Simultaneously they undermined the ideas of women's physical and political inferiority.
The monthly women's magazine The Delineator, in the 1890s to the 1920s was edited by Charles Dwyer, Theodore Dreiser and William Hard. They emphasized the "New Woman" who enjoyed sports such as golf, archery, and gymnastics, appreciated new technologies such as automobiles, and embraced social reform.
Suffrage activists, especially Harriet Burton Laidlaw and Rose Livingston, worked in the Chinatown section of New York and in other cities to rescue young white and Chinese girls from forced prostitution, and helped pass the Mann Act of 1910 that made interstate sex trafficking a federal crime.
The opposition to women's suffrage in the United States included organizations like the National Organization Against Women's Suffrage and women like Helen Kendrick Johnson. In New York, upper class women who thought they had a behind-the-scenes voice often opposed suffrage because it would dilute their influence. At first the antis let the men do the talking, but increasingly they adopted the mobilization techniques pioneered by the suffragists. The antis easily won the 1915 New York State referendum, using the argument that women voters would close the saloons. But the suffragists won the 1917 referendum, arguing that the saloons were Germanic (at a time when Germany was hated); the Tammany Hall machine in New York City deserted the antis as well. Nationwide, male voters made the decision and the opposition was led by Southern white men (afraid that black women would vote), ethnic politicians (especially Catholics whose women were not allowed a political voice) and the liquor forces (who realized correctly that most women would vote dry.)
The National Woman's Party (NWP), was a women's organization founded in 1917 that fought for women's rights during the early 20th century in the United States, particularly for the right to vote on the same terms as men. In contrast to other organizations, such as the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which focused on lobbying individual states and from which the NWP split, the NWP put its priority on the passage of a constitutional amendment ensuring women's suffrage. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns founded the organization originally under the name the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage in 1913; by 1917, the name had been changed to the National Women's Party, during which time Alva Belmont was appointed President. She held the oath until her death (1933).
World War I provided the final push for women's suffrage in America. After President Woodrow Wilson announced that World War I was a war for democracy, women were up in arms. The National Women's Party led by Alice Paul became the first "cause" to picket outside the White House. Paul and Lucy Burns led a series of protests against the Wilson Administration in Washington. Wilson ignored the protests for six months, but on June 20, 1917, as a Russian delegation drove up to the White House, suffragettes unfurled a banner which stated; "We women of America tell you that America is not a democracy, twenty million women are denied the right to vote. President Wilson is the chief opponent of their national enfranchisement". Another banner on August 14, 1917, referred to "Kaiser Wilson" and compared the plight of the German people with that of American women. With this manner of protest, the women were subject to arrests and many were jailed. On October 17, Alice Paul was sentenced to seven months and on October 30 began a hunger strike, but after a few days prison authorities began to force feed her. After years of opposition, Wilson changed his position in 1918 to advocate women's suffrage as a war measure. The next year Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote.
Another problem for the Equal Rights Association was funding. It took good deal of money to rent halls for speeches, print pamphlets, and pay suffrage workers. Most of the contributors, however, were female volunteers without incomes. The campaign of 1867 was the very first test of women's suffrage; and most activists were not experienced in raising money. Even more frustrating, as Susan B. Anthony expressed in a letter to Sam Wood, "neither the radical republicans or Old Abolitionists, nor yet the Democrats open their purses, pulpits or presses to our movement."
These conflicts eroded the loyalties between abolitionists and suffragists in the Equal Rights Association until its near-disintegration in the summer of 1867. The major eruption, however, stemmed from the schism created within the women's suffrage movement itself. Stone and Blackwell, who had worked closely with Stanton and Anthony throughout the campaign, were appalled by the decision to collaborate with the overtly racist George Francis Train. Stanton's and Anthony's steadfast commitment to Train left them vulnerable to the Republican accusation that the Democratic party was only using women's suffrage to defeat black suffrage, thus giving black equal rights supporters reason to feel animosity towards suffragists. In The Revolution, Anthony wrote that 2 million black men, among "the lowest orders of manhood", were inferior to 15 million white women, a racist position which shocked her former allies. The final blow to the Equal Rights Association came during the annual meeting in May 1869. Stanton and Anthony, in opposing the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, found themselves outnumbered by the majority of women suffrage activists, who did not support their overt racism. Realizing that they could not win, the two women withdrew from the Equal Rights Association. Two days later, they formed their own separate association.
In addition to the strategy to obtain full suffrage through a constitutional amendment, reformers pursued state-by-state campaigns to build support for, or to win, residence-based state suffrage. Towns, counties, states and territories granted suffrage, in full or in part, throughout the 19th and early 20th century. As women received the right to vote, they began running for, and being elected to, public office. They gained positions as school board members, county clerks, state legislators, judges, and eventually, shortly before ratification of the 19th Amendment, as Members of Congress. To make the point that women were interested in partisan politics and would be effective public officials, in the 19th century two women ran for the presidency: Victoria Woodhull in 1872, and Belva Lockwood in 1884 and 1888. Neither was permitted under the law to vote, but nothing in the law prevented them from running for office. Each woman pointed to this irony in her campaigning. Lockwood ran a fuller, more national campaign than Woodhull, giving speeches across the country and organizing several electoral tickets.
On the whole, western states and territories were more favorable to women's suffrage than eastern ones (see map). It has been suggested that western areas, faced with a shortage of women on the frontier, "sweetened the deal" in order to make themselves more attractive to women so as to encourage female immigration or that they gave the vote as a reward to those women already there. Susan Anthony said that western men were more chivalrous than their eastern brethren. In 1871 Anthony and Stanton toured several western states, with special attention to the territories of Wyoming and Utah where women already had equal suffrage. Their suffragist speeches were often ridiculed or denounced by the opinion makers - the politicians, ministers, and editors. Anthony returned to the West in 1877, 1895, and 1896. By the last trip, at age 76, Anthony's views had gained popularity and respect. Activists concentrated on the single issue of suffrage and went directly to the opinion makers to educate them and to persuade them to support the goal of suffrage.
By 1920 when women got the vote nationwide, Wyoming women had already been voting for half a century.
In the summer of 1865, Republicans proposed a Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution that would enfranchise the two million newly freed black men. This was the first time the word "male" would be introduced into the Constitution, and women were now explicitly not guaranteed the right to vote. Thus, suffragists, in an effort to secure their political rights alongside freedmen, resolved to combine the abolitionist and suffragist movements into one Equal Rights Association, an idea officially proposed by female suffrage activists Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony at an antislavery meeting in January, 1866. The suffragists believed they had support for the proposal from the abolitionists, who had previously supported their cause. However, when the Republican Party chose to make black suffrage part of their program during Reconstruction the Republicans began to collaborate more closely with the abolitionists, and by 1867, most were full supporters of the Republican Party. The Republican party believed that black suffrage, which was a party measure in national politics held far more prospects than women's suffrage, and the Republican cry was "this is the negro's hour."
After the defeat in New York in 1867, Sam Wood, leader of a rebel faction of the state Republican Party, arrived in Kansas by request of Stone, and invited the Equal Rights Association to help launch their women's suffrage campaign. Wood had emigrated to Kansas to prevent the extension of slavery, but was also lured by the prospect of land and fortune. A true abolitionist and successful politician, Wood won election to the Kansas senate in 1867. Though he genuinely cared about women's suffrage, Wood also hoped to make his campaign in Kansas a success so that he could get enough recognition to run for national office. He directed a strong rights campaign, forcing the Republican Kansas legislature to submit two separate bills for black and women's suffrage. The Equal Rights Association tried to sway the abolitionists to campaign alongside them, but received no response. Wood, though he claimed to support both women's and black suffrage, was only interested in women's suffrage. Many abolitionists, however, began to question Wood's motives when he openly opposed black suffrage as a member of the house in 1864. They began to heavily criticize his campaign, accusing him of promoting women's suffrage only to defeat black suffrage. Nonetheless, the equal rights campaign managed to stay afloat through the spring of 1867, due to a large female populace in Kansas that produced "the largest and most enthusiastic meetings and any one of our audiences would give a majority for women." The 1867 defeat of women's suffrage in New York strengthened the Republicans' position against women's suffrage, and on August 31, they opened their anti-female suffrage campaign in Kansas. By the time Stanton and Anthony arrived in September, Anthony wrote that "the mischief done was irreparable," and the universal equal rights campaign, faced with a fierce Republican anti-suffragist campaign and the refusal of support from ambivalent abolitionists, had fallen apart. Stanton and Anthony, desperate for support, looked towards the Democrats, who made up one-fourth of the Kansas legislature. They, however, expressed opposition to both women's and black suffrage and refused to lend aid. One wealthy Democrat, George Francis Train, a former Copperhead, was willing to help Anthony and Stanton. Train was blatantly racist, and he campaigned by attacking black suffrage. Though his racist standpoint conflicted with the policy set forth by the Equal Rights Association, Stanton and Anthony, with no other political allies to turn to, chose to work with Train to keep women's suffrage alive in Kansas, although they had long been abolitionists.
The results of the Kansas election saw both women's and black suffrage defeated, with black suffrage receiving 10,483 votes and women's receiving 9,070. With the defeat, equal rights activists were forced to realize that their campaign had failed.
The failure of the campaign stemmed from the tensions within the Equal Rights Association. The major problem arose from the fact that many members were "feminists" and abolitionists torn between supporting suffrage, or fighting for freedmen and women at the same time.
In 1887, suffrage for women was secured for municipal elections. A referendum for full suffrage was defeated in 1894, despite the rural syndication of the pro-suffragist The Farmer's Wife newspaper and a better-concerted, but fractured campaign. A third referendum campaign in 1911-1912 gained even greater support, with supporters delivering 100 petitions with 25,000 signatures to Topeka. The fact that Kansas had already banned saloons since 1880 had severely weakened the anti-suffrage opposition by eliminating their traditional voter base of saloon patrons. The 1911-1912 pro-suffrage proposers also conducted a less-perceivably-antagonistic campaign among male voters. The pro-suffrage side finally secured a women's suffrage amendment, and Kansas became the eighth state to allow for full suffrage for women.
The first territorial legislature of the Wyoming Territory granted women suffrage in 1869. On September 6, 1870, Louisa Ann Swain of Laramie, Wyoming became the first woman to cast a vote in a general election. In 1890, Wyoming under Republican control was admitted to the Union as the first state that allowed women to vote, and in fact insisted it would not accept statehood without keeping suffrage.
The Mormon issue made the fight for women's suffrage in Utah unique. In 1869 the Utah Territory, controlled by members of the Mormon church, gave women the right to vote. Sarah Young, the niece of Brigham Young, was the first woman to legally vote in the United States, due to a municipal election held on February 14, 1869 (Wyoming had recognized women's right to vote earlier that year, but had not yet held an election). However, in 1887, Congress disenfranchised Utah women with the Edmunds–Tucker Act, which was designed to weaken the Mormons politically and punish them for polygamy. At the same time, however, certain activists, particularly Presbyterians and other Protestants convinced that Mormonism was a non-Christian cult that grossly mistreated women, promoted women's suffrage in Utah as an experiment, and as a way to eliminate polygamy. The LDS Church officially ended its endorsement of polygamy in 1890 and in 1895 Utah adopted a constitution restoring the right of woman suffrage. Congress admitted Utah as a state with that constitution in 1896.
In 1854, Washington became one of the first territories to attempt granting voting rights to women; the legislative measure was defeated by only one vote. In 1871, the Washington Women's Suffrage Association was formed, largely attributable to a crusade through Washington and Oregon led by Susan B. Anthony and Abigail Scott Duniway. The late nineteenth century saw a seesaw of bills passed by the Territorial Legislature and subsequently overturned by the Territorial Supreme Court, as the competing interests of the suffrage movement and the liquor industry (which was being damaged by the women's vote) battled over the issue. The first successful bill passed in 1883 (overturned in 1887), the next in 1888 (overturned the same year). The women's suffrage movement next hoped to secure the right to vote via voter referendum, first in 1889 (the same year Washington achieved statehood), and again in 1898, but both referendum bids were unsuccessful. A constitutional amendment finally granted women the right to vote in 1910.
After Wyoming gained statehood, Colorado and Idaho were the next two states to give women the vote. In 1893, a referendum in Colorado made that state the second state to give women suffrage and the first state where the men voted to give women the right to vote. Later, Idaho approved a constitutional amendment in 1896 with a statewide vote giving women the right to vote.
California's voters granted women's suffrage in 1911, when they adopted Proposition 4. Clara Elizabeth Chan Lee (October 21, 1886 – October 5, 1993) was the first Chinese American woman voter in the United States. She registered to vote on November 8, 1911 in California.
One after another, western states granted the right of voting to their women citizens, the only opposition being presented by the liquor interests and the machine politicians. In Oregon, Abigail Scott Duniway (1834–1915) was the long-time leader, supporting the cause through speeches and her weekly newspaper The New Northwest, (1871–1887). Suffrage was won in 1912 by activists who used the new initiative processes. Montana's men voted to end the discrimination against women in 1914, and together they proceeded to elect the first woman to the United States Congress in 1916, Jeannette Rankin.
Arizona became a state in 1912, but it had many conservative Southerners and its new constitution did not include women's suffrage. Activists formed the Arizona Equal Suffrage Association (AESA) and launched a campaign to win the vote. Their tactics were to reach out to progressive organizations for endorsements, winning the support of influential political and civic leaders, and getting help from NAWSA for speakers and funds. AESA sent delegations to the Republican and Democratic state conventions to argue for their support. The tactics worked and the men voted for woman suffrage in the general election held on 5 November 1912.
Suffragists, knowing that women's suffrage could not succeed without support, put their hope in the Equal Rights Association and pushed for a campaign for universal suffrage. From April until November 1867, women furiously campaigned, distributing thousands of pamphlets and speaking in numerous locations for the cause. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton focused their attentions on New York, while Stone and Blackwell headed to Kansas, where the November election would be taking place.
During the New York Constitutional Convention, held on June 4, 1867, Horace Greeley, the chairman of the committee on Suffrage and an ardent supporter of women's suffrage over the previous 20 years, betrayed the women's movement and submitted a report in favor of removal of property qualification for free black men, but against women's suffrage. New York legislators supported the report by a vote of 125 to 19.
Harriot Stanton Blatch, the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, focused on New York where she succeeded in mobilizing many working-class women, even as she continued to collaborate with prominent society women. She could organize militant street protests while still working expertly in backroom politics to neutralize the opposition of Sharp Hall politicians who feared the women would vote for prohibition. New York finally joined the procession in 1917 after Tammany Hall ended its opposition.
New Jersey, on confederation of the United States following the Revolutionary War, placed only one restriction on the general suffrage—the possession of at least £50 (about $8,000 adjusted for inflation) in cash or property. In 1790, the law was revised to include women specifically, and in 1797 the election laws referred to a voter as "he or she". Female voters became so objectionable to professional politicians, that in 1807 the law was revised to exclude them. Later, when New Jersey rewrote its constitution, the 1844 constitution limited a guaranteed right to vote to men. By 1947, all state constitutional provisions that barred women from voting had been rendered ineffective by the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920. The updated constitution of 1947, reflecting this, once again included women as eligible voters—as they had been in New Jersey in 1776.
Etta Maddox graduated from Baltimore Law School in 1901 but was not allowed to take the bar examination in the state of Maryland. She and her attorney, Howard Bryant, filed a brief with the Court of Appeals of Maryland to determine if she has a right to take the bar examination. The Court of Appeals of Maryland said no, since they did not have the power to change a law as legislature intended it; only legislature has that power. Therefore, Maddox, along with other women attorneys from other states, went to Maryland's General Assembly. In 1902 Senator Jacob M. Moses introduced a bill intending to change the law to including women to be permitted to practice law in Maryland; which was passed. Maddox took the bar examination and was sworn in as a member of the bar in September 1902.
In 1912, Grace Wilbur Trout, then head of the Chicago Political Equality League, was elected president of the state organization. Changing her tactics from a confrontational style of lobbying the state legislature, she turned to building the organization internally. She made sure that a local organization was started in every Senate district. She sent four lobbyists to Springfield, the state capital, to persuade one legislator at a time to support suffrage for women.
After passing the State Senate, the bill was brought up for a vote in the House on June 11, 1913. Trout and her team counted heads and went as far as to fetch needed male voters from their homes. Watching the door to the House chambers, Trout urged members in favor not to leave before the vote, while also trying to prevent "anti" lobbyists from illegally being allowed onto the House floor. The bill passed with six votes to spare, 83 to 58. On June 26, 1913, Illinois Governor Edward F. Dunne signed the bill in the presence of Trout, Booth and union labor leader Margaret Healy.
Women in Illinois could now vote for presidential electors and for all local offices not specifically named in the Illinois Constitution. However, they still could not vote for state representative, congressman or governor; and they still had to use separate ballots and ballot boxes. But by virtue of this law, Illinois had become the first state east of the Mississippi River to grant women the right to vote for President. Carrie Chapman Catt wrote,
"The effect of this victory upon the nation was astounding. When the first Illinois election took place in April, (1914) the press carried the headlines that 250,000 women had voted in Chicago. Illinois, with its large electoral vote of 29, proved the turning point beyond which politicians at last got a clear view of the fact that women were gaining genuine political power."
Besides the passage of the Illinois Municipal Voting Act, 1913 was also a significant year in other facets of the women's suffrage movement. In Chicago, Ida B. Wells-Barnett founded the Alpha Suffrage Club, the first such organization for Negro women in Illinois. Although white women as a group were sometimes ambivalent about obtaining the franchise, African American women were almost universally in favor of gaining the vote to help end their sexual exploitation, promote their educational opportunities and protect those who were wage earners. African-American women often found themselves fighting both sexism and racism. As a result there was an African-American Woman Suffrage Movement.
On March 12, 1913, over 5,000 suffragists paraded in Washington, D.C. When Ida B. Wells Barnett tried to line up with her Illinois sisters, she was asked to go to the end of the line so as not to offend and alienate the southern women marchers. Wells feigned agreement, but much to the shock of Trout, she joined the Illinois delegation once the parade started.
As the suffragists started down Pennsylvania Avenue, the crowd became abusive and started to close in, knocking the marchers around with hostility. With local police doing little to keep control, the cavalry was called in as 100 women were hospitalized. Many suffragists concluded that public protests might be the quickest route to universal franchise.
The longest Women's Suffrage parade was held on October 23, 1915 in New York City, the total being about 30,000 women. It took about 4 hours and 20 minutes for the entire parade to pass one spot, and “it was said that no woman marcher who started left the parade before it finished.”
On January 12, 1915, a suffrage bill was brought before the House of Representatives but was defeated by a vote of 204 to 174, (Democrats 170-85 against, Republicans 81-34 for, Progressives 6-0 for). Another bill was brought before the House on January 10, 1918. On the evening before, President Wilson made a strong and widely published appeal to the House to pass the bill. It was passed by two-thirds of the House, with only one vote to spare. The vote was then carried into the Senate. Again President Wilson made an appeal, but on September 30, 1918, the amendment fell two votes short of the two-thirds necessary for passage, 53-31 (Republicans 27-10 for, Democrats 26-21 for). On February 10, 1919, it was again voted upon, and then it was lost by only one vote, 54-30 (Republicans 30-12 for, Democrats 24-18 for).
There was considerable anxiety among politicians of both parties to have the amendment passed and made effective before the general elections of 1920, so the President called a special session of Congress, and a bill, introducing the amendment, was brought before the House again. On May 21, 1919, it was passed, 304 to 89, (Republicans 200-19 for, Democrats 102-69 for, Union Labor 1-0 for, Prohibitionist 1-0 for), 42 votes more than necessary being obtained. On June 4, 1919, it was brought the Senate, and after a long discussion it was passed, with 56 ayes and 25 nays (Republicans 36-8 for, Democrats 20-17 for). Within a few days, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan ratified the amendment, their legislatures being then in session. Other states followed suit at a regular pace, until the amendment had been ratified by 35 of the necessary 36 state legislatures. After Washington on March 22, 1920, ratification languished for months. Finally, on August 18, 1920, Tennessee narrowly ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, making it the law throughout the United States. Thus the 1920 election was the first United States presidential election in which women were permitted to vote in every state.
Nearly twenty years later Maryland ratified the amendment in 1941. After another ten years, in 1952, Virginia ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, followed by Alabama in 1953. After another 16 years Florida and South Carolina passed the necessary votes to ratify in 1969, followed two years later by Georgia and Louisiana in 1971.
Mississippi did not ratify the Nineteenth Amendment until 1984, sixty four years after the law was enacted nationally.
Politicians responded to the newly enlarged electorate by emphasizing issues of special interest to women, especially prohibition, child health, public schools, and world peace. Women did respond to these issues, but in terms of general voting they shared the same outlook and the same voting behavior as men.
The suffrage organization NAWSA became the League of Women Voters and Alice Paul's National Woman's Party began lobbying for full equality and the Equal Rights Amendment which would pass Congress during the second wave of the women's movement in 1972 (but it was not ratified and never took effect). The main surge of women voting came in 1928, when the big-city machines realized they needed the support of women to elect Al Smith, while rural dries mobilized women to support Prohibition and vote for Republican Herbert Hoover. Catholic women were reluctant to vote in the early 1920s, but they registered in very large numbers for the 1928 election—the first in which Catholicism was a major issue. A few women were elected to office, but none became especially prominent during this time period. Overall, the women's rights movement was dormant in the 1920s as Susan B. Anthony and the other prominent activists were dead and apart from Alice Paul few younger women came along to replace them.
While the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment allowed women to vote, it also had a substantial impact on the gender composition of political office holders and the way both American citizens and Congress members as a whole tended to vote. Through time, these demographic changes in both voting blocs and elected office holders have impacted government spending, programs, and laws.
Although women were granted the right to vote in 1920, women did not turn out to the polls in the same numbers as men until 1980. From 1980 until the present, women have voted in elections in at least the same percentage as have men, and often more. This difference in voting turnout and preferences between men and women is known as the voting gender gap. The voting gender gap has impacted political elections and, consequently, the way candidates campaign for office.
The presence of women in Congress has gradually increased since 1920, with an especially steady increase from 1981 (23 female members) to the present (97 female members). The 113th Congress, serving from 2013-2015, includes a record 20 female senators and 77 female representatives.
Immediately following the ratification of the 19th Amendment, many legislators feared a powerful women’s bloc would emerge as a result of female enfranchisement. The Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921, which expanded maternity care during the 1920s, was one of the first laws passed appealing to the female vote.
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