Most democratic societies, ranging from ancient Greece and Rome to the emerging European democracies of the 18th century, had one thing in common – women were rarely, if ever, allowed to vote. Even when most democracies began to evolve and widen franchise, women were still denied voting rights. This lead to the 19th century movement which would come to be known as the Women’s Suffrage Movement. While the suffrage movement of the United States and the United Kingdom received worldwide attention, these nations were actually late to enfranchise women. By the time the 19th Amendment came to pass in the United States in 1920, many other countries – including New Zealand (1893), Australia (1902), Finland (1906) and Norway (1913) – had already allowed women to vote.
The suffrage movement in the United States lasted for nearly 100 years until the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution on August 18th, 1920. Most historians and experts agree that the origins of the movement can be traced to the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. However, some argue that the movement can be traced to the 1820s and 1830s, and there were many important milestones that were achieved before women were franchised. It is important to point out that it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the right to voted was extended to all US citizens regardless of race and gender.
Key Facts About The Women’s Suffrage Movement
- The women’s suffrage movement of the United States was closely linked to the abolition movement. Abolitionist groups such as the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) provided women with many opportunities to speak, write and organize for the abolition of slavery. In fact, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton hosted the Seneca Falls Convention as a response to the indignation they felt when they attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London.
- Many women actually voted (illegally) in the 1872 presidential election. Susan B Anthony led a group of 16 women to participate in the voting. All 16 women were arrested, however, only Anthony was charged under the violation of the 14th Amendment which allowed all male US citizens to vote.
- Victoria Woodhull, one of the most interesting figures of the suffrage movement, ran for political office in 1870 – 50 years before women were legally allowed to vote.
- While the suffrage movement in Britain was more militant and confrontational than the movement in the United States, some U.S suffragettes adopted militant tactics as well. American Quaker, Alice Paul was a part of the movement in Britain while doing graduate work in 1907. Upon returning home, she became part of the US suffrage movement while adopting militant and confrontational tactics inspired the British movement.
Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States – Timeline
- 1820s and 1830s – The struggle for women’s voting rights began many decades before the American Civil War. By the 1830s, the right to vote had been extended to all white men regardless of their socio-economic status. This era saw the rise of many reform groups, abolitionist movements, religious movements, and other movements where women played a prominent and, often, a leading role. All this contributed to a new way of thinking about what it meant to be a woman and a citizen of the United States of America.
- 1840 and 1848 – Prominent abolitionist leaders Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were barred from attending an anti-slavery convention in London, United Kingdom. Upon suffering this indignation, they decided to host a Women’s Rights Convention in the United States. This was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 and came to be known as the Seneca Falls Conventions. At this convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote and presented the ‘Declaration of Sentiments.’ It was signed by 69 women and 32 men, and addressed the various issues faced by the women of the time including, but not limited to, voting rights, citizenship rights and employment etc.
- 1849 – This is the year that the State of California recognized and extended property rights to women.
- 1850 and 1851 – The first National Women’s Rights Convention was held in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1850 and was attended by prominent activists and civil rights leaders including Frederick Douglass, Abby Kelley Foster and Sojourner Truth. The second convention was also held in Worcester in 1851 and was attended by prominent participants such as Horace Mann and Elizabeth Oaks Smith. It was at a convention in Akron, Ohio that Sojourner Truth delivered her famous speech “Ain’t I a woman?”
- 1861 to 1865 – The suffrage movement, essentially, came to a halt during the American Civil War. Activists and leaders put their efforts towards supporting the Union war effort.
- 1865, 1868 and 1870 – The Union victory resulted in the abolition of slavery and the 13th (1865), 14th (1868) and 15th (1870) Amendments which are, collectively, known as the Civil War Amendments. They addressed the abolition of slavery, citizenship rights, and the extension of voting rights to American males regardless of race, color or past servitude. However, women, black or white, were still denied the right to vote.
- 1866 – Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B Anthony founded the American Equal Rights Association to fight for civil rights regardless of race and gender.
- 1868 – Multiple Important Events:
- The New England Woman’s Club was founded by Caroline Seymour Severance.
- 172 women cast their ballots in a separate box in Vineland, New Jersey during the presidential election 0f 1968.
- Kansas Senator Pomeroy introduced the women’s suffrage amendment in Congress.
- The 14th Amendment (see above).
- 1869 – Multiple important events:
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony form the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) to take a more radical stance on suffrage and other women’s rights issues.
- Conservative activists such as Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe form the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) to attempt to bring change at state level throughout the United States.
- The territory of Wyoming passes a women’s suffrage provision.
- 1870 – 15th Amendment (See above).
- 1871 – The anti-suffrage party, supported by both men and women, was formed to oppose the women’s suffrage movement. This is also the year that Victoria Woodhull addressed the House Judiciary Committee to try and convince members to include women’s voting rights in the 14th Amendment.
- 1872 – Susan B Anthony cast a ballot (illegally) for Ulysses Grant in the presidential election and was arrested along with 15 other women. Sojourner Truth was turned away from a polling booth in Michigan. During the same year, Abigail Scott Duniway convinced Oregon legislators to pass laws allowing married women to avail economic opportunities such as owning and operating a business, managing her earnings and property.
- 1878 – An amendment addressing women’s suffrage was presented to the Congress in 1878. This would set the foundation for the 19th Amendment which was passed 41 years later. The 19th Amendment had the exact wording as this proposed amendment.
- 1887 – Voting takes place on the issue of women’s suffrage in the US Senate for the first time, but is unsuccessful.
- 1888 – The National Council of Women (NCW) in the US is formed to advocate for and achieve advances in women’s rights.
- 1890 –
- The NWSA and AWSA merge to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as the first president.
- Wyoming formally joins the Union as a state. It becomes the first state with a constitution granting suffrage to women.
- Women’s suffrage legislature is unsuccessful in South Dakota.
- 1890 (to 1925) – This was the beginning of what has come to be known as the Progressive Era and lasted until 1925. This era saw an exponential rise in activism that resulted in many changes and reforms.
- 1893 – The State of Colorado adopted women’s suffrage in 1893 through a statewide referendum.
- 1894 – There was a failed attempt to bring an amendment addressing women’s suffrage to the New York state constitution despite gathering more than 600,000 signatures.
- 1895 – The Woman’s Bible was published by Stanton, resulting in the NAWSA distancing themselves from her radical ideas.
- 1896 – Multiple important events:
- Prominent activists such as Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells and Frances E.W. Harper lay the foundation for the National Association of Colored Women (NACW).
- Utah joined the Union with full suffrage for women.
- The State of Idaho adopted women’s suffrage.
- 1903 – The Women’s Trade Union was formed to fight for the rights of middle-class working women and their suffrage rights.
- 1910 – Statewide women’s suffrage was adopted in Washington.
- 1911 – The suffrage movement succeeded in the state of California despite fierce opposition.
- 1912 – The suffrage movement is successful in garnering support from Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party. During this year, 3 states – Oregon, Kansas and Arizona – adopted women’s suffrage.
- 1913 – NAWSA organized the first major suffrage parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
- 1914 – Three important events:
- Two more states – Nevada and Montana – adopt women’s suffrage.
- The National Federation of Women’s Clubs – an entity with over 2 million members nationwide – formally endorsed the women’s suffrage movement.
- The First World War begins. More women got involved in the workforce, while the men were away fighting the war.
- 1915 – More than 40000 suffragists took part in a march in New York City.
- 1916 – Jeanette Rankin became the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican from Montana. She was elected again in 1940. During the same year, Woodrow Wilson announced that the Democratic Party will also support the suffrage movement.
- 1917 – Women achieved suffrage in New York and Arkansas.
- 1918 – Some important milestones:
- The World War ended in a victory for the allies.
- Michigan, South Dakota and Oklahoma adopted suffrage.
- President Woodrow Wilson announced his support for a federal suffrage amendment and addressed the Senate about suffrage at the end of the war.
- 1919 – The 19th Amendment was brought to the Senate and was successful.
- 1920 – The ratification process achieved overwhelming support and success. American women were finally able to vote.
- 1920 to The Years Following The 19th Amendment – While the 19th Amendment is hailed for bringing about an end to women’s suffrage, the struggle for African American women’s suffrage did not end for another (nearly) 50 years. It did not, initially, extend voting rights to African American, Asian American, Hispanic and American Indian women. While, theoretically, some non-white women could vote, states were still able to enact laws such as poll taxes and literacy to suppress voting at state level.
- 1965 – The Voting Rights Act of 1965 brought about an end to voter suppression and offered protections to the voting rights of non-white Americans. It made it unconstitutional to prevent voting on the basis of race or gender.
Prominent Leaders Of The Women’s Suffrage Movement
The women’s suffrage movement has a long and complicated history. Be it taking part in a march or a parade, or leading demonstrations and protests – thousands, if not millions, of women played a part in the suffrage movement in the United States. In fact, countless men supported the movement as well. Therefore, it would be close to impossible to list them all. Therefore, the list below only has some of the most famous and influential women that participated in the led the movement:
1) Lucretia Mott (1793-1883)
She was an American Quaker abolitionist and a women’s rights activist. She, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were refused to participate in the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840. Together they would go on to plan and host the first major women’s rights convention on US soil in 1848 – the Seneca Falls Convention. She is considered by many to be one of the earliest and most influential suffragettes.
2) Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Truth was a former slave and religious preacher before becoming a part of the abolitionist movement. She was an eloquent orator and prominent leader of women’s rights movements. She supported the Union during the Civil War, and fought for women’s suffrage until her death in 1883.
3) Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)
She was one of the founders and most prominent leaders of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. She held the Seneca Falls Convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 where she presented the ‘Declaration of Sentiments.’ She was the founder and president of various women’s clubs and women’s rights organizations and worked closely with other prominent activists such as Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony.
4) Lucy Stone (1818-1893)
She was an educator and an eloquent speaker who worked tirelessly for women’s rights. She was also an abolitionist and was married to fellow abolitionist and activist Henry Browne Blackwell. She, along with her husband and daughter, published The Woman’s Journal, an influential women’s rights newspaper, for 47 years. She was the founder of AWSA and was, later, the chairman of the executive committee of NAWSA.
5) Susan B Anthony (1820-1906)
She was one of the most prominent leaders of the African American women’s suffrage movement, women’s rights movements, and African American civil rights. She was arrested in 1872, for voting in the presidential election in 1872. As a result of her 5 decade long struggle for women’s rights and suffrage, she was one of the driving forces behind the eventual passing of the 19th Amendment – 14 years after her death. The 19th Amendment is informally known as the Susan B Anthony Amendment.
6) Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927)
Woodhull was one of the leaders of the American women’s suffrage movement and the first known woman to run for public office in the 1872 presidential election. There is debate on whether her attempt can be considered a run for the presidency as she did not meet the mandatory minimum age of 35 years. She was also an advocate for women’s rights, labor reforms and free love – the freedom to marry, divorce and bear children without social and government interference and restrictions.
7) Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)
Wells was one of the most prominent activists and known for her anti-lynching activism, journalism, lectures and speeches, a leader of the racial justice and civil rights movement and an influential suffragette. She was a former slave, freed as a result of President Lincolns Emancipation proclamation during the Civil War. She was one of the founding members of the powerful National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
8) Mary Church Terrell (1863-1964)
Terrell was a graduate of Oberlin College and was one of the first African American woman to attain a college degree. We was an educator, activist and suffragette and went on to become the first African American to become a member of the school board of a major American city. Like Wells, she was also one of the most prominent members of the NAACP and a founder and the first president of the National Association of College Women (NACW) in 1910. Writing for newspapers under a pseudonym, she worked to create awareness about issues faced by African American women as well as women in general.
Impact Of The Suffrage Movement
While the most obvious consequence of the women’s suffrage movement was the ability to vote, the success of the movement had benefits that went beyond the intended consequences. With the ability to choose who represented them and a greater say in legislature, the suffrage movement opened many doors. These new opportunities and liberties can be put into three main categories – Social, Economic and Political.
1) Social Impact
It helped change social perceptions. Women were no longer seen as second class citizens in their own country. They were no longer seen as the weaker or submissive gender. It helped create the perception that women could contribute more to society beyond their traditional roles as wives and mothers. They broke social norms and achieved degrees and jobs in fields and professions that were previously thought of as the exclusive domain of men. The suffrage movement helped women get one step closer to gender equality. In fact, the suffrage movement, in many cases, went hand in hand with many other movements – it was closely related to the abolitionist movement, women’s rights, civil rights and racial equality movements and others that swept across the United States during and after the Progressive Era.
2) Economic Impact
The First World War created many new business and employment opportunities for men and women alike. With a high number of vacancies created by the men of fighting age heading off to war, it created unprecedentedly favorable conditions that contributed to an increase in the female employment in the workforce. This also coincided with the women’s suffrage movement and even contributed to the success of the movement by allowing women to show their skills and capabilities. In turn, the suffrage movement meant that women had a greater say in their political representation – resulting in the creation of more economic and employment opportunities for women. This also resulted in an increase in women’s wages. While wage parity has still not been achieved today, the 19th Amendment ensured that women’s wants and needs were heard. This not only resulted in an increase in household incomes, it also led to the creation of new jobs and businesses that aimed to cater specifically to the needs of women.
3) Political Impact
The suffrage movement ended in the adoption of the 19th Amendment which made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender. With women having the right to vote, leaders and politicians were forced to include women’s rights and other related issues in order to win elections. Not only did this allow women to have a greater say in legislature, it also helped in the fight for gender equality. Women, over the years, have also taken leader ship roles and have been able to run for office. Prominent examples include Hillary Clinton’s (unsuccessful) run for the US Presidency in 2016 and Kamala Harris’ successful run for Vice President (2020) – and it all started with the success of the women’s suffrage movement.
1 – www.britannica.com/topic/woman-suffrage
2 – www.history.com/news/7-things-you-might-not-know-about-the-womens-suffrage-movement
3 – www.womenshistory.org/resources/timeline/womans-suffrage-timeline
4 – www.history.com/topics/womens-history/the-fight-for-womens-suffrage
5 – www.time.com/5876456/black-women-right-to-vote/
6 – www.history.com/topics/womens-history/women-who-fought-for-the-vote-1