Women's suffrage in the United States of America, the legal right of women to vote, was established over the course of several decades, first in various states and localities, sometimes on a limited basis, and then nationally in 1920.
The demand for women's suffrage began to gather strength in the 1840s, emerging from the broader movement for women's rights. In 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women's rights convention, passed a resolution in favor of women's suffrage despite opposition from some of its organizers, who believed the idea was too extreme. By the time of the first National Women's Rights Convention in 1850, however, suffrage was becoming an increasingly important aspect of the movement's activities.
The first national suffrage organizations were established in 1869 when two competing organizations were formed, one led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the other by Lucy Stone. After years of rivalry, they merged in 1890 as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) with Anthony as its leading force.
Hoping that the U.S. Supreme Court would rule that women had a constitutional right to vote, suffragists made several attempts to vote in the early 1870s and then filed lawsuits when they were turned away. Anthony actually succeeded in voting in 1872 but was arrested for that act and found guilty in a widely publicized trial that gave the movement fresh momentum. After the Supreme Court ruled against them in 1875, suffragists began the decades-long campaign for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would enfranchise women. Much of the movement's energy, however, went toward working for suffrage on a state-by-state basis.
In 1916 Alice Paul formed the National Woman's Party (NWP), a militant group focused on the passage of a national suffrage amendment. Over 200 NWP supporters, the Silent Sentinels, were arrested in 1917 while picketing the White House, some of whom went on hunger strike and endured forced feeding after being sent to prison. Under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, the two-million-member NAWSA also made a national suffrage amendment its top priority. After a hard-fought series of votes in the U.S. Congress and in state legislatures, the Nineteenth Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution on August 26, 1920. It states, "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."
See also: Women's suffrage in states of the United States
Early voting activity
Lydia Taft (1712–1778), a wealthy widow, was allowed to vote in town meetings in Uxbridge, Massachusetts in 1756. No other women in the colonial era are known to have voted.
The New Jersey constitution of 1776 enfranchised all adult inhabitants who owned a specified amount of property. Laws enacted in 1790 and 1797 referred to voters as "he or she", and women regularly voted. A law passed in 1807, however, excluded women from voting in that state.
Kentucky passed the first statewide woman suffrage law in the New Republic Era (since New Jersey revoked their woman suffrage rights in 1807) – allowing any widow or feme sole (legally, the head of household) over 21 who paid property taxes for the new county "common school" system. This partial suffrage right for women was not expressed as for whites only.
Emergence of the women's rights movement
The demand for women's suffrage emerged as part of the broader movement for women's rights. In England in 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft wrote a pioneering book called A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In Boston in 1838 Sarah Grimké published The Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women, which was widely circulated. In 1845 Margaret Fuller published Woman in the Nineteenth Century, a key document in American feminism that first appeared in serial form in 1839 in The Dial, a transcendentalist journal that Fuller edited.
"The very truths you are now contending for, will, in fifty years, be so completely imbedded in public opinion that no one need say one word in their defense; whilst at the same time new forms of truth will arise to test the faithfulness of the pioneer minds of that age, and so on eternally."
Significant barriers had to be overcome, however, before a campaign for women's suffrage could develop significant strength. One barrier was strong opposition to women's involvement in public affairs, a practice that was not fully accepted even among reform activists. Only after fierce debate were women accepted as members of the American Anti-Slavery Society at its convention of 1839, and the organization split at its next convention when women were appointed to committees.
Opposition was especially strong against the idea of women speaking to audiences of both men and women. Frances Wright, a Scottish woman, was subjected to sharp criticism for delivering public lectures in the U.S. in 1826 and 1827. When the Grimké sisters, who had been born into a slave-holding family in South Carolina, spoke against slavery throughout the northeast in the mid-1830s, the ministers of the Congregational Church, a major force in that region, published a statement condemning their actions. Despite the disapproval, in 1838 Angelina Grimké spoke against slavery before the Massachusetts legislature, the first woman in the U.S. to speak before a legislative body.
Other women began to give public speeches, especially in opposition to slavery and in support of women's rights. Early female speakers included Ernestine Rose, a Jewish immigrant from Poland; Lucretia Mott, a Quaker minister and abolitionist; and Abby Kelley Foster, a Quaker abolitionist. Toward the end of the 1840s Lucy Stone launched her career as a public speaker, soon becoming the most famous female lecturer. Supporting both the abolitionist and women's rights movements, Stone played a major role in reducing the prejudice against women speaking in public.
Opposition remained strong, however. A regional women's rights convention in Ohio in 1851 was disrupted by male opponents. The National Women's Rights Convention in 1852 was similarly disrupted, and mob action at the 1853 convention came close to violence. The World's Temperance Convention in New York City in 1853 bogged down for three days in a dispute about whether women would be allowed to speak there.Susan B. Anthony, a leader of the suffrage movement, later said, "No advanced step taken by women has been so bitterly contested as that of speaking in public. For nothing which they have attempted, not even to secure the suffrage, have they been so abused, condemned and antagonized."
Laws that sharply restricted the independent activity of married women also created barriers to the campaign for women's suffrage. According to William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, an authoritative commentary on the English common law on which the American legal system is modeled, "by marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage", referring to the legal doctrine of coverture that was introduced to England by the Normans in the Middle Ages. In 1862 the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court denied a divorce to a woman whose husband had horsewhipped her, saying, "The law gives the husband power to use such a degree of force necessary to make the wife behave and know her place." Married women in many states could not legally sign contracts, which made it difficult for them to arrange for convention halls, printed materials and other things needed by the suffrage movement. Restrictions like these were overcome in part by the passage of married women's property laws in several states, supported in some cases by wealthy fathers who didn't want their daughters' inheritance to fall under the complete control of their husbands.
Sentiment in favor of women's rights was strong within the radical wing of the abolitionist movement. William Lloyd Garrison, the leader of the American Anti-Slavery Society, said "I doubt whether a more important movement has been launched touching the destiny of the race, than this in regard to the equality of the sexes". The abolitionist movement, however, attracted only about one per cent of the population at that time, and radical abolitionists were only one part of that movement.
Early backing for women's suffrage
The New York State Constitutional Convention of 1846 received petitions in support of women's suffrage from residents of at least three counties.
Several members of the radical wing of the abolitionist movement supported suffrage. In 1846, Samuel J. May, a Unitarian minister and radical abolitionist, vigorously supported women's suffrage in a sermon that was later circulated as the first in a series of women's rights tracts. In 1846, the Liberty League, an offshoot of the abolitionist Liberty Party, petitioned Congress to enfranchise women. A convention of the Liberty Party in Rochester, New York in May 1848 approved a resolution calling for "universal suffrage in its broadest sense, including women as well as men."Gerrit Smith, its candidate for president, delivered a speech shortly afterwards at the National Liberty Convention in Buffalo, New York that elaborated on his party's call for women's suffrage. Lucretia Mott was suggested as the party's vice-presidential candidate—the first time that a woman had been proposed for federal executive office in the U.S.—and she received five votes from delegates at that convention.
Early women's rights conventions
Women's suffrage was not a major topic within the women's rights movement at that point. Many of its activists were aligned with the Garrisonian wing of the abolitionist movement, which believed that activists should avoid political activity and focus instead on convincing others of their views with "moral suasion". Many were Quakers whose traditions barred both men and women from participation in secular political activity. A series of women's rights conventions did much to alter these attitudes.
Seneca Falls convention
The first women's rights convention was the Seneca Falls Convention, a regional event held on July 19 and 20, 1848, in Seneca Falls in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Five women called the convention, four of whom were Quaker social activists, including the well-known Lucretia Mott. The fifth was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who had discussed the need to organize for women's rights with Mott several years earlier. Stanton, who came from a family that was deeply involved in politics, became a major force in convincing the women's movement that political pressure was crucial to its goals, and that the right to vote was a key weapon. An estimated 300 women and men attended this two-day event, which was widely noted in the press. The only resolution that was not adopted unanimously by the convention was the one demanding women's right to vote, which was introduced by Stanton. When her husband, a well-known social reformer, learned that she intended to introduce this resolution, he refused to attend the convention and accused her of acting in a way that would turn the proceedings into a farce. Lucretia Mott, the main speaker, was also disturbed by the proposal. The resolution was adopted only after Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist leader and a former slave, gave it his strong support. The convention's Declaration of Sentiments, which was written primarily by Stanton, expressed an intent to build a women's rights movement, and it included a list of grievances, the first two of which protested the lack of women's suffrage. The grievances were aimed at the United States government "demanded government reform and changes in male roles and behaviors that promoted inequality for women."
This convention was followed two weeks later by the Rochester Women's Rights Convention of 1848, which featured many of the same speakers and likewise voted to support women's suffrage. It was the first women's rights convention to be chaired by a woman, a step that was considered to be radical at the time. That meeting was followed by the Ohio Women's Convention at Salem in 1850, the first women's rights convention to be organized on a statewide basis, which also endorsed women's suffrage.
The first in a series of National Women's Rights Conventions was held in Worcester, Massachusetts on October 23–24, 1850, at the initiative of Lucy Stone and Paulina Wright Davis. National conventions were held afterwards almost every year through 1860, when the Civil War (1861–1865) interrupted the practice. Suffrage was a preeminent goal of these conventions, no longer the controversial issue it had been at Seneca Falls only two years earlier. At the first national convention Stone gave a speech that included a call to petition state legislatures for the right of suffrage.
Reports of this convention reached Britain, prompting Harriet Taylor, soon to be married to philosopher John Stuart Mill, to write an essay called "The Enfranchisement of Women," which was published in the Westminster Review. Heralding the women's movement in the U.S., Taylor's essay helped to initiate a similar movement in Britain. Her essay was reprinted as a women's rights tract in the U.S. and was sold for decades.
Wendell Phillips, a prominent abolitionist and women's rights advocate, delivered a speech at the second national convention in 1851 called "Shall Women Have the Right to Vote?" Describing women's suffrage as the cornerstone of the women's movement, it was later circulated as a women's rights tract.
Several of the women who played leading roles in the national conventions, especially Stone, Anthony and Stanton, were also leaders in establishing women's suffrage organizations after the Civil War. They also included the demand for suffrage as part of their activities during the 1850s. In 1852 Stanton advocated women's suffrage in a speech at the New York State Temperance Convention. In 1853 Stone became the first woman to appeal for women's suffrage before a body of lawmakers when she addressed the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention. In 1854 Anthony organized a petition campaign in New York State that included the demand for suffrage. It culminated in a women's rights convention in the state capitol and a speech by Stanton before the state legislature. In 1857 Stone refused to pay taxes on the grounds that women were taxed without being able to vote on tax laws. The constable sold her household goods at auction until enough money had been raised to pay her tax bill.
The women's rights movement was loosely structured during this period, with few state organizations and no national organization other than a coordinating committee that arranged the annual national conventions. Much of the organizational work for these conventions was performed by Stone, the most visible leader of the movement during this period. At the national convention in 1852, a proposal was made to form a national women's rights organization, but the idea was dropped after fears were voiced that such a move would create cumbersome machinery and lead to internal divisions.
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton met in 1851 and soon became close friends and co-workers. Their decades-long collaboration was pivotal for the suffrage movement and contributed significantly to the broader struggle for women's rights, which Stanton called "the greatest revolution the world has ever known or ever will know." They had complementary skills: Anthony excelled at organizing while Stanton had an aptitude for intellectual matters and writing. Stanton, who was homebound with several children during this period, wrote speeches that Anthony delivered to meetings that she herself organized. Together they developed a sophisticated movement in New York State, but their work at this time dealt with women's issues in general, not specifically suffrage. Anthony, who eventually became the person most closely associated in the public mind with women's suffrage, later said "I wasn't ready to vote, didn't want to vote, but I did want equal pay for equal work." In the period just before the Civil War, Anthony gave priority to anti-slavery work over her work for the women's movement.
Women's Loyal National League
Over Anthony's objections, leaders of the movement agreed to suspend women's rights activities during the Civil War in order to focus on the abolition of slavery. In 1863 Anthony and Stanton organized the Women's Loyal National League, the first national women's political organization in the U.S. It collected nearly 400,000 signatures on petitions to abolish slavery in the largest petition drive in the nation's history up to that time.
Although it was not a suffrage organization, the League made it clear that it stood for political equality for women, and it indirectly advanced that cause in several ways. Stanton reminded the public that petitioning was the only political tool available to women at a time when only men were allowed to vote. The League's impressive petition drive demonstrated the value of formal organization to the women's movement, which had traditionally resisted organizational structures, and it marked a continuation of the shift of women's activism from moral suasion to political action. Its 5000 members constituted a widespread network of women activists who gained experience that helped create a pool of talent for future forms of social activism, including suffrage.
American Equal Rights Association
The Eleventh National Women's Rights Convention, the first since the Civil War, was held in 1866, helping the women's rights movement regain the momentum it had lost during the war. The convention voted to transform itself into the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), whose purpose was to campaign for the equal rights of all citizens, especially the right of suffrage.
In addition to Anthony and Stanton, who organized the convention, the leadership of the new organization included such prominent abolitionist and women's rights activists as Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone and Frederick Douglass. Its drive for universal suffrage, however, was resisted by some abolitionist leaders and their allies in the Republican Party, who wanted women to postpone their campaign for suffrage until it had first been achieved for male African Americans. Horace Greeley, a prominent newspaper editor, told Anthony and Stanton, "This is a critical period for the Republican Party and the life of our Nation... I conjure you to remember that this is 'the negro's hour,' and your first duty now is to go through the State and plead his claims." They and others, including Lucy Stone, refused to postpone their demands, however, and continued to push for universal suffrage.
In April 1867 Stone and her husband Henry Blackwell opened the AERA campaign in Kansas in support of referenda in that state that would enfranchise both African Americans and women.Wendell Phillips, an abolitionist leader who opposed mixing those two causes, surprised and angered AERA workers by blocking the funding that the AERA had expected for their campaign. After an internal struggle, Kansas Republicans decided to support suffrage for black men only and formed an "Anti-Female Suffrage Committee" to oppose the AERA's efforts. By the end of summer the AERA campaign had almost collapsed, and its finances were exhausted. Anthony and Stanton were harshly criticized by Stone and other AERA members for accepting help during the last days of the campaign from George Francis Train, a wealthy businessman who supported women's rights. Train antagonized many activists by attacking the Republican Party, which had won the loyalty of many reform activists, and openly disparaging the integrity and intelligence of African Americans.
After the Kansas campaign, the AERA increasingly divided into two wings, both advocating universal suffrage but with different approaches. One wing, whose leading figure was Lucy Stone, was willing for black men to achieve suffrage first, if necessary, and wanted to maintain close ties with the Republican Party and the abolitionist movement. The other, whose leading figures were Anthony and Stanton, insisted that women and black men be enfranchised at the same time and worked toward a politically independent women's movement that would no longer be dependent on abolitionists for financial and other resources. The acrimonious annual meeting of the AERA in May 1869 signaled the effective demise of the organization, in the aftermath of which two competing woman suffrage organizations were created.
New England Woman Suffrage Association
Partly as a result of the developing split in the women's movement, in 1868 the New England Woman Suffrage Association (NEWSA), the first major political organization in the U.S. with women's suffrage as its goal, was formed. The planners for the NEWSA's founding convention worked to attract Republican support and seated leading Republican politicians, including a U.S. senator, on the speaker's platform. Amid increasing confidence that the Fifteenth Amendment, which would in effect enfranchise black men, was assured of passage, Lucy Stone, a future president of the NEWSA, showed her preference for enfranchising both women and African Americans by unexpectedly introducing a resolution calling for the Republican Party to "drop its watchword of 'Manhood Suffrage'" and to support universal suffrage instead. Despite opposition by Frederick Douglass and others, Stone convinced the meeting to approve the resolution. Two months later, however, when the Fifteenth Amendment was in danger of becoming stalled in Congress, Stone backed away from that position and declared that "Woman must wait for the Negro."
The Fifteenth Amendment
In May 1869, two days after the final AERA annual meeting, Anthony, Stanton and others formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). In November 1869, Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, Henry Blackwell and others, many of whom had helped to create the New England Woman Suffrage Association a year earlier, formed the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). The hostile rivalry between these two organizations created a partisan atmosphere that endured for decades, affecting even professional historians of the women's movement.
The immediate cause for the split was the proposed Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a reconstruction amendment that would prohibit the denial of suffrage because of race. Stanton and Anthony opposed its passage unless it was accompanied by another amendment that would prohibit the denial of suffrage because of sex. They said that by effectively enfranchising all men while excluding all women, the amendment would create an "aristocracy of sex" by giving constitutional authority to the idea that men were superior to women. Male power and privilege was at the root of society's ills, Stanton argued, and nothing should be done to strengthen it. Anthony and Stanton also warned that black men, who would gain voting power under the amendment, were overwhelmingly opposed to women's suffrage. They were not alone in being unsure of black male support for women's suffrage. Frederick Douglass, a strong supporter of women's suffrage, said, "The race to which I belong have not generally taken the right ground on this question." Douglass, however, strongly supported the amendment, saying it was a matter of life and death for former slaves. Lucy Stone, who became the AWSA's most prominent leader, supported the amendment but said she believed that suffrage for women would be more beneficial to the country than suffrage for black men. The AWSA and most AERA members also supported the amendment.
Both wings of the movement were strongly associated with opposition to slavery, but their leaders sometimes expressed views that reflected the racial attitudes of that era. Stanton, for example, believed that a long process of education would be needed before what she called the "lower orders" of former slaves and immigrant workers would be able to participate meaningfully as voters. In an article in The Revolution, Stanton wrote, "American women of wealth, education, virtue and refinement, if you do not wish the lower orders of Chinese, Africans, Germans and Irish, with their low ideas of womanhood to make laws for you and your daughters ... demand that women too shall be represented in government." In another article she made a similar statement while personifying those four ethnic groups as "Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung". Lucy Stone called a suffrage meeting in New Jersey to consider the question, "Shall women alone be omitted in the reconstruction? Shall [they] ... be ranked politically below the most ignorant and degraded men?"Henry Blackwell, Stone's husband and an AWSA officer, published an open letter to Southern legislatures assuring them that if they allowed both blacks and women to vote, "the political supremacy of your white race will remain unchanged" and "the black race would gravitate by the law of nature toward the tropics."
The AWSA aimed for close ties with the Republican Party, hoping that the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment would lead to a Republican push for women's suffrage. The NWSA, while determined to be politically independent, was critical of the Republicans. Anthony and Stanton wrote a letter to the 1868 Democratic National Convention that criticized Republican sponsorship of the Fourteenth Amendment (which granted citizenship to black men but for the first time introduced the word "male" into the Constitution), saying, "While the dominant party has with one hand lifted up two million black men and crowned them with the honor and dignity of citizenship, with the other it has dethroned fifteen million white women—their own mothers and sisters, their own wives and daughters—and cast them under the heel of the lowest orders of manhood." They urged liberal Democrats to convince their party, which did not have a clear direction at that point, to embrace universal suffrage.
The two organizations had other differences as well. Although each campaigned for suffrage at both the state and national levels, the NWSA tended to work more at the national level and the AWSA more at the state level. The NWSA initially worked on a wider range of issues than the AWSA, including divorce reform and equal pay for women. The NWSA was led by women only while the AWSA included both men and women among its leadership.
Events soon removed much of the basis for the split in the movement. In 1870 debate about the Fifteenth Amendment was made irrelevant when that amendment was officially ratified. In 1872 disgust with corruption in government led to a mass defection of abolitionists and other social reformers from the Republicans to the short-lived Liberal Republican Party. The rivalry between the two women's groups was so bitter, however, that a merger proved to be impossible until 1890.
In 1869 Francis and Virginia Minor, husband and wife suffragists from Missouri, outlined a strategy that came to be known as the New Departure, which engaged the suffrage movement for several years. Arguing that the U.S. Constitution implicitly enfranchised women, this strategy relied heavily on Section 1 of the recently adopted Fourteenth Amendment, which reads, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
Compare and Contrast Women’s Suffrage Movements Essay
1312 Words6 Pages
“Compare and contrast women’s suffrage movements of the late nineteenth and early centuries with the European feminist movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s.” Whereas the women’s suffrage movements focused mainly on overturning legal obstacles to equality, the feminist movements successfully addressed a broad range of other feminist issues. The first dealt primarily with voting rights and the latter dealt with inequalities such as equal pay and reproductive rights. Both movements made vast gains to the social and legal status of women. One reached its goals while the other continues to fight for women’s rights.
I. Women’s suffrage movements A. Main focus was in achieving the right of vote to women. 1. The suffragists…show more content…
c. Representation of the People Act 1918 gave women the right to vote if they were property holders and older than 29. d. The Sex Disqualification Act 1919 opened professions and the Civil Service to women. e. Matrimonial Causes Act in 1923 gave women the right to the same grounds for divorce as men. D. The Mud March on February 7, 1907 consisted of over 3,000 women who trudged through the cold and muddy streets of London to advocate for women’s suffrage. 1. It was organized by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and led by
Phillipa Strachey, Millicent Fawcett, Lady Strachey, Lady Frances Balfour, and Keir Hardie.
2. A wide variety of women participated in the event. “… titled women, university women, artists, members of women’s clubs, temperance advocates, and women textile workers gathered from all parts of the country."
3. This spectacle proved the dedication of the women for the cause to the many spectators lining the route of the procession.
4. The public display also gained immense press coverage and brought to attention the seriousness of the women’s suffrage movement.
5. This event paved the way for many more suffrage processions with 40,000 women participating in the last suffrage procession in 1913. E. The suffragist movement in America. 1. Famous leaders