Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The Nineteenth Amendment granted women the right to vote. Although a major victory for suffragists (supporters of a woman’s right to vote), the amendment did not grant women all the rights they desired. Women continued to struggle for the right to participate more fully in the public realm long after the amendment was finally ratified on August 26, 1920, pushing for equal access to jobs and political power throughout the twentieth century.
Submitted by Congress to the states on June 4, 1919.
Ratified by the required three-fourths of states (36 of 48) on August 18, 1920, and by twelve more states on March 22, 1984. Declared to be part of the Constitution on August 26, 1920.
Illinois, June 10, 1919 (and that State readopted its resolution of ratification June 17, 1919); Michigan, June 10, 1919; Wisconsin, June 10, 1919; Kansas, June 16, 1919; New York, June 16, 1919; Ohio, June 16, 1919; Pennsylvania, June 24, 1919; Massachusetts, June 25, 1919; Texas, June 28, 1919; Iowa, July 2, 1919; Missouri, July 3, 1919; Arkansas, July 28, 1919; Montana, August 2, 1919; Nebraska, August 2, 1919; Minnesota, September 8, 1919; New Hampshire, September 10, 1919; Utah, October 2, 1919; California, November 1, 1919; Maine, November 5, 1919; North Dakota, December 1, 1919; South Dakota, December 4, 1919; Colorado, December 15, 1919; Kentucky, January 6, 1920; Rhode Island, January 6, 1920; Oregon, January 13, 1920; Indiana, January 16, 1920; Wyoming, January 27, 1920; Nevada, February 7, 1920; New Jersey, February 9, 1920; Idaho, February 11, 1920; Arizona, February 12, 1920; New Mexico, February 21, 1920; Oklahoma, February 28, 1920; West Virginia, March 10, 1920; Washington, March 22, 1920; Tennessee, August 18, 1920.
The Nineteenth Amendment addressed one part of a larger issue: the battle for women’s rights. Throughout most of history, women experienced oppression and discrimination, giving them fewer opportunities than men to direct their own lives. Historically, custom and law kept women from owning property, holding some jobs, and speaking in public, bearing witness in a court of law, among other social activities. Men traditionally dominated positions of political, economic, and religious power. Not only were women denied those positions, but they were also denied equal access to education. In the first half of the nineteenth century, “married women had no legal existence apart from their husbands; generally, women were uneducated and considered intellectually deficient,” according to Judith Papachristou in Women Together. Women were to be seen and not heard. As women rebelled against this oppression, the women’s rights movement was born.
Supporters of women’s rights began to organize in the mid-1800s, at about the same time that the anti-slavery movement was gaining momentum in the North. At that time, only white men over twenty–one-years old were considered citizens of the United States. Women believed that they would have a better chance of gaining rights for women if they pushed for rights for all people, including black slaves. In short, they hoped there would be strength in numbers.
Disagreement among Abolitionists and Suffragists
There were tensions, however, between abolitionists (people who supported the end of slavery) and women’s rights advocates. Although the founders of the women’s rights movement were all abolitionists, not all of them believed in complete equality between men and women. Some feared that the push for equality at the ballot box might be too radical. They feared that the campaign for women’s suffrage might jeopardize the push for rights in other areas, such as economic equality. Some abolitionists also feared that the fight to end slavery would be endangered by allowing women to speak from the abolitionist platform at a time when a woman’s appearance in such a public forum was considered indecent. Both abolitionists and women’s rights advocates worried that they were pushing too hard against social conventions.
The tension between both sides of the movement for civil rights reached a high point when women delegates to the World’s Anti-slavery Convention in 1840—held in London—were not allowed to participate. Such divisiveness grew between the women and the abolitionists that the two groups failed to form a united front against discrimination.
After their exclusion from participating in the World’s Anti-slavery Convention, women’s rights advocates realized they needed to rethink their approach. In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and several others called a meeting in Seneca Falls, New York. Most historians trace the early formation of the suffragist movement to this date, when three hundred women and men congregated in Seneca Falls to protest the inferior status of women. Believing that the time was right to advocate their cause separately from the abolitionists, Stanton, Mott, and the others drafted the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments, which outlined how women were oppressed. Stanton also wrote resolutions to implement the Declaration. The resolutions addressed issues associated with gaining personal freedom, having the legal right to own property, being able to testify in court, and having equal access to education and employment, rights already enjoyed by white men. The only resolution that was not unanimously adopted was one that promoted women’s suffrage.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) was the driving force behind the first women’s rights convention in 1848. Born into a wealthy family in Johnstown, New York, Stanton had resolved early in life to become an advocate for women’s rights. After receiving an education at the Troy Female Seminary in New York, one of the first women’s academies to offer an advanced education similar to male academies, Stanton began to observe her father’s work as a judge and lawyer. During this time she witnessed firsthand the legal discrimination that women suffered—learning, for example, that wives had no legal protection from being beaten by their husbands and had no legal claim to their own children. She experienced discrimination herself when, during her honeymoon, she attempted to participate in the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 but learned women were not allowed to participate. In addition, she experienced hardship in her struggle to raise her five children with little help from her husband, Henry B. Stanton, whose work took him away from home for long periods of time.
Stanton had met Lucretia Mott at the World Anti-Slavery Convention. Over the years, the two kept in touch and fostered the idea of a women’s convention. By 1848, Stanton was ready. Stanton and Mott, with three other women, crafted the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments, which detailed what they called the “absolute tyranny” men had over women. Though the Declaration of Sentiments met with public ridicule, it helped convince more and more women to join the ranks of the women’s rights movement.
In 1851, Stanton met another figure who significantly influenced her views: Susan B. Anthony. Stanton and Anthony started the Revolution newspaper and worked together as women’s rights advocates for the next fifty years. They organized the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869, and Stanton served as president for nearly twenty years. When the NWSA merged with a more conservative women’s group in 1890 to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Stanton was elected president. But her public criticism of organized religion and of the Bible eventually cost her the leadership role in the organization. Stanton’s publication of The Women’s Bible (1895 and another edition in 1898), often described as “a study of sexism in the Old Testament,” made her an outcast in the movement she had started. In The Women’s Bible Stanton argued against the subordination of women in society. The protest surrounding this work was too much for many of her colleagues to tolerate and they condemned her. Although Elizabeth Cady Stanton died in 1902 before she could see the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, her earlier work was instrumental to the amendment’s ultimate victory.
Civil War Troubles
Though the Civil War (1861–65) brought sweeping social and political changes to the United States, it proved disappointing in terms of the progress of the women’s rights movement. After the Seneca Falls convention, no additional women’s rights conventions were held until the end of the war. Women who had worked to support the war effort hoped that they could use this fact to their advantage in peacetime. In 1866, suffragists rejoined with abolitionists to propose a constitutional amendment that prohibited voter discrimination based on gender. But the Republican Party declared that “this is the Negro’s hour” and promptly shut the door on their trying to build momentum for federal female suffrage.
Mixed opinions about the amendments
The adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 did little to strengthen the movement for women’s rights. Although the amendment expanded the definition of the word “citizen” to include blacks, it also introduced the word “male” into the Constitution for the first time. Some women argued that the amendment should be defeated; others argued that even if women had not yet gained equal rights, it was no reason to deny blacks theirs. The passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave blacks the right to vote, also angered some women’s rights advocates.
Divisiveness over the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments grew among suffragists until they split to form two separate organizations in 1869: the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association (led by Stanton and Susan B. Anthony). The American Woman Suffrage Association pursued state suffrage amendments and smaller-scale changes to effect women’s right to vote. The National Woman Suffrage Association rallied behind the idea of a constitutional amendment and promoted more confrontational methods of campaigning. The division between the two groups lasted until 1890, when the two organizations merged—largely due to the efforts of Stanton and Anthony—into the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). The consolidated NAWSA pursued suffrage at the state level and made federal suffrage a secondary goal.
Post–Civil War Progress
The years between the end of the Civil War and 1890, when the NWSA and the AWSA worked for women’s suffrage in different ways, saw significant progress. Stanton and Anthony and the NWSA continued to push for a federal amendment for women’s suffrage. During these years, they also tried to win women’s suffrage through the courts—with little success. But the NWSA attracted the most attention when it organized women to register to vote and made special ballot boxes to hold women’s votes in the 1872 presidential election. Anthony was arrested for casting a vote in this election and was fined $100, which she refused to pay. In 1878, Congress finally entertained the first woman suffrage proposal; a similar version of the proposal (sometimes called the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment“) was passed nearly forty years later.
During the same period, the AWSA gained considerable ground. Women in New York State were given the right to sole possession of what they owned before they married—even though they still could not give it away as inheritance. Kansas was the first in a string of states to allow women to vote in school elections in the 1860s (though Kentucky had become the first state to allow school suffrage in 1831). By 1890, fifteen other states followed suit.
Wider forms of suffrage continued to be introduced, and by 1887 women had been granted municipal suffrage (the right to vote in city elections) in Kansas. Even more progressive, though, was Wyoming’s declaration of full political equality for women and others in 1869. In fact, Wyoming was the first state to enter the Union, in 1890, with full suffrage for women. Colorado followed in 1893 and Utah in 1896, but there would be a long wait before other states extended suffrage to women.
In addition, despite considerable resistance, more and more women were making their way into the public realm. The number of women in U.S. colleges rose significantly, as did the number of women employed in factories. These gains provided momentum to suffragists. By 1890 the NWSA and the AWSA reunited as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). The newly formed group focused primarily on gaining suffrage at the state level, but it did not abandon the secondary goal of federal suffrage.
Slow Progress from 1896 to 1910
Although the NAWSA campaigned vigorously, it did not win victories in any new states from 1896 to 1910. These years would later be called the “doldrums.” Even though women failed to make progress toward suffrage for nearly fourteen years, they did not quit. Instead, they continued to plan for the future and lobbied for women’s suffrage throughout the country. By 1908, the NAWSA began collecting signatures to persuade President Theodore Roosevelt (served 1901–1909) to support women’s suffrage. The NAWSA had more than 400,000 signatures within two years, and, in 1912, Roosevelt made women’s suffrage a part of his unsuccessful campaign to regain the White House.
In 1919, the Equality League held the first suffrage parade in New York City. The event was quite a shock for many New Yorkers, but it quickly proved effective for the suffragists and became an annual event in many other cities; the parades were a perfect way to publicize their cause. By 1910 and 1911, significant victories occurred in the states of Washington and California. Other close losses left hope that more victories were close at hand. Also encouraging were the number of new suffragists from the South, a region that had been slow to mobilize around the issue during the nineteenth century.
By 1910, the suffrage movement had momentum again. In the years after 1910, many new suffrage groups sprang up, and organizations such as churches and labor unions began to back the cause. The suffrage movement also benefited from the expertise of college-educated women. By “1916 there were 41 state amendment campaigns, with 9 victories and 32 defeats,” according to Aileen S. Kraditor, as quoted in The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement: 1890–1920.
Progress with or without Unity
Although significant progress was being made towards the enfranchisement of women, the NAWSA continued to be plagued by factionalism (disagreement among different groups within the movement). In 1913, members of NAWSA formed a Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU) to pursue a federal amendment for women’s voting rights. Although a women’s voting rights amendment had been proposed at each session of Congress since the later part of the nineteenth century, it had not been debated in either House since 1887. That all changed with the determination of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who headed NAWSA’s Congressional Committee (which became the CU).
Marching for change
Paul and Burns chose one of the most public forums to publicize their message: a women’s march held on the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration as president in 1913. Many who had gathered for the presidential celebration were not amused, and a riot soon broke out requiring the use of troops to restore the peace. On the positive side, the women had gained the attention they desired.
The women continued their political campaign with a march on Capitol Hill on the first day of a special session of Congress, which was followed with demonstrations in various states and then with a petition to the Senate. The tactics proved successful and, in 1913, the amendment was debated in Congress for the first time in twenty-six years. Though passage of the amendment was still some years away, new life had been breathed into the suffrage movement.
Paul and Burns decided that they were too close to victory to risk having the suffrage issue intentionally delayed. To ensure that this momentum would not be lost, they formed the Congressional Union in 1913, an organization with the sole aim of passing the federal amendment. But more trouble lay ahead. Factionalism once again threatened any unity the movement had found in its recent success. Divisions grew between women who supported the aggressive tactics of the CU and those who liked the gentler and more conservative tactics of the NAWSA. The two groups split in 1914.
Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) was as ardent in the fight for women’s suffrage as her longtime friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Anthony worked much of her adult life for women’s rights.
Born in Massachusetts to a father who was a Quaker abolitionist, Anthony had moral zeal in her blood. Early in life, she directed this reformist energy toward the abolition of slavery and liquor; eventually applying it to the fight for women’s rights with equal fervor. In 1872, calling for the same civil rights afforded blacks under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, Anthony led a group of women to the ballot box in Rochester, New York, to test the right to vote. Her arrest two weeks later did nothing to slow her down, and she continued to lecture for women’s rights. In 1873 she once again tried to vote in city elections. Charged with and convicted of breaking the voting laws, Anthony refused to pay her fine. Indeed, she said she would stop at nothing short of a federal amendment.
Anthony’s devotion to the cause of gaining a federal suffrage amendment, a cause she saw as key to the emancipation of women, marks her as perhaps the greatest member of the suffrage movement. She lectured throughout the country on women’s rights, and her organizational skills were unparalleled in the women’s movement. By 1888, she had organized the International Council of Women, and when, in 1904, she had organized the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, Anthony was already revered worldwide for her contributions to the cause of women’s rights. Anthony devoted her life to her advocacy. When Stanton resigned, in 1892, as president of the NAWSA amidst the controversy of her radical views, the 72-year-old Anthony took over. Unfortunately, Susan B. Anthony did not live to see the fruits of her work realized with passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. She died in her Rochester home in 1906.
The Progressive Era
Women certainly benefited from the politics of the Progressive Era (roughly 1900 to 1920), a time in American political history when many people united to give citizens more control over their public and private lives. The Sixteenth Amendment, which established a federal income tax; the Seventeenth Amendment, which established the direct election of senators; and the Nineteenth Amendment are called “Progressive” amendments because they were passed during this era when reformers rallied the public to make radical changes in the government.
New ways to use amendments
The passage of the Sixteenth and the Seventeenth Amendments in 1913 ushered in a wave of new thinking about the purpose of constitutional amendments. During the forty years following the Civil War when no constitutional amendments were ratified, many politicians and social advocates had begun to question the usefulness of the Constitution, thinking it seemed too inflexible to address changing social realities. Though hundreds of amendments had been proposed during those forty years, none could gain the two-thirds majority in the congressional houses needed to send them to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. But when, in 1913, enough consensus was developed to ratify two constitutional amendments in the same year, the process of amending the Constitution began to seem like a more realistic solution to a variety of current social and political problems. The American public recognized the power of constitutional amendments to redirect the activities of government. Perhaps more importantly, people also realized their own power, through the amendment process, to change the Constitution to create a government that was responsive to their present needs and values.
Progressive advocates succeeded in passing amendments designed to wrest the control of government from large corporations and to grant that control to the people. Constitutional amendments seemed like good ways to restrict alcohol use, regulate child labor, and finally to grant voting rights for women. The Progressive Era’s attention to the family (alcohol abuse was seen as a blight on the family) and children gave women more political significance than ever before. Many Americans believed that women were the carriers of virtue, so it only made sense that they be allowed further access to the public community in order to change it for the better. Women used these changing views about their public role to their advantage, and began to make real gains in their push for suffrage. In addition, Progressive Party members, male and female, rallied around the idea of a more inclusive democracy that incorporated women into the voting public.
Women Protest in the Streets
So determined were advocates for women’s suffrage that even World War I would not stop them. For years, suffragists had attempted to win an audience with the president to discuss the voting issue, but without any success. Unwilling to put aside their suffrage goals during World War I (1914–17), the CU continued plans to get the president’s attention. When the CU merged with the Woman’s Party (WP) in 1917, members of the WP began picketing the White House.
People were not used to seeing picketers outside the chief executive’s mansion. Two teams of “silent sentinels” stood at the White House gates every day for a year and a half, holding banners that demanded the vote. As World War I raged on and the picketers continued to stand on the sidewalks outside the White House demanding women’s suffrage, onlookers and police who at first had been curious and bemused became insulting and vicious. As the WP picketers silently held their banners and signs, they were assaulted and harassed. Although those who hit them and tore their banners were not arrested, the picketers were. In prison, the women went on hunger strikes and were brutally force-fed by the prison employees.
All in all, 218 women were arrested and 97 were sent to jail. Although the courts invalidated all of the sentences, the episodes painted an ugly picture of what could happen to democracy at home if it were not guarded vigilantly.
Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947) devised the strategy that eventually won women the right to vote. Catt had served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) from 1900 to 1904 and resumed her leadership in 1915. She was also one of the first female school superintendents in the country.
When Catt resumed presidency of the NAWSA she refocused the organization’s efforts on obtaining a federal amendment. Catt also believed strongly in the notion that women’s participation in the public sphere could help solve U.S. problems. She argued that women were a big part of the solution since they cared most about the good of society. Catt predicted that her “Winning Plan,” which detailed a strategy for gaining state and presidential support for women’s suffrage, would take several years to complete.
Catt mobilized women around the notion of taking household issues into the public sphere. Because of their experience in the home, she argued, women were in a good position to push for legislation about such necessary action as protecting children in the workplace and ensuring safety standards for food and drugs. Women could also deal with housing issues because they brought with them some basic knowledge that men lacked.
Catt thought women could only effect real change in their lives and in the country with political power: the power to vote. While Catt crusaded for women to gain a political voice, however, she was opposed to equal rights for women. An Equal Rights Amendment, she argued, would expose women to danger rather than protecting them from it. Because women were different from men, said Catt, they needed safeguards in the public realm; after all, women get pregnant and cannot work fourteen-hour days. Gender distinctions, in her opinion, needed to be respected. Although she recognized differences between men and women, Catt was equally ardent about the fact that differences should not be translated as weaknesses.
After helping to secure women’s suffrage, Catt turned in the 1920s to the peace movement. In 1925, she brought together eleven national women’s organizations to form the Committee on the Cause and Cure of War, the largest women’s peace group of that decade. Following World War II, Catt turned her interest to the United Nations and used her influence to place women on various commissions. She continued to work for peace and social justice until her death in 1947.
The Final Working toward Passage of the Amendment
While the WP brought public attention to the efforts of women suffragists, the NAWSA brought the women’s rights movement respectability. The NAWSA had quietly supported the war effort while the WP picketed, trying to keep its efforts dignified and distancing itself from the radical WP. Many of its members went to work in jobs once held by men and spent many hours in public service. Although the WP never had as many members as the NAWSA, the two groups were both effective in blazing the trail toward the federal amendment.
Carrie Chapman Catt was instrumental in orchestrating the strategy that would finally result in a federal amendment. In 1915, Catt, past president of the NAWSA, once again assumed the leadership and pushed the NAWSA to turn its attention from state to federal suffrage. By 1917, Catt had reorganized the NAWSA into an effective political machine, ready to join other organizations in the fight for a federal amendment.
The first step was to use the lessons of Paul and Burns by holding rallies and parades in order to gain publicity. Unlike the WP, however, the NAWSA decided against a combative strategy and instead concentrated on persuasion and public education. Indeed, Catt was a master politician who knew how to work for gradual, but lasting, change.
Convincing a president
NAWSA members remained nonpartisan in an attempt to gain support from a wider base and to distance themselves from the bad taste associated with the protest confrontations in front of the White House. The strategy was effective, and the NAWSA eventually convinced President Wilson that it was politically beneficial to support a federal amendment.
In 1918, Wilson asked Congress to consider a suffrage amendment. On January 10, 1918, the House passed the amendment. The next step was to bring it before the Senate, and Wilson himself decided to appear in support of it. Despite Wilson’s support, the amendment failed by two votes. It was clear, however, that it was only a matter of time before it passed. The momentum was too great to prevent it. Finally, on June 4, 1919, Congress approved the Nineteenth Amendment. It was ratified by the states and officially became a part of the Constitution on August 26, 1920.
Treatment of Women after the Nineteenth Amendment: Slow Progress for Gender Equality
Even after passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, women struggled to obtain equality in social and political life in the United States. For many years in certain states, women were not allowed to serve on juries. In Hoyt v. Florida (1961), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Florida law that led to many all-male juries. The law allowed females to serve but placed the onus on women to serve by providing that “the name of no female person shall be taken for jury service unless said person has registered with the clerk of the circuit court her desire to be placed on the jury list.” The case arose in the context of a woman convicted by an all-male jury of second-degree murder in the death of her husband. The Court determined that the statute was reasonable even in this day of “enlightened emancipation of women.” The Court wrote: “We cannot say that it is constitutionally impermissible for a State, acting in pursuit of the general welfare, to conclude that a woman should be relieved from the civic duty of jury service unless she herself determines that such service is consistent with her own special responsibilities.”
The U.S. Supreme Court finally invalidated such state laws that discouraged the use of women on juries in Taylor v. Louisiana (1975). Writing for the Court, Justice Byron White invalidated a Louisiana law that prevented women from serving on juries unless they had written a letter indicating their desire to do so. White explained: “It is untenable to suggest these days that it would be a special hardship for each and every woman to perform jury service or that society cannot spare any women from their present duties.”
The slow progress of female citizenship has caused some scholars to conclude, as Gretchen Ritter does, that “the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution had surprisingly little impact on women’s citizenship or the American constitutional order.” While it directly affected female suffrage, the amendment did not contribute to women’s progress in other areas of political citizenship, such as jury service.
After more than seventy years of relentless work, women finally won the vote. What began as a small meeting of a handful of women ended in a massive political movement supported by millions of people. Although the movement was fraught with factionalism, in the end it was the work of all sides that resulted in the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment into the U.S. Constitution.
From the beginning, however, the struggle was about much more than the right to vote. It was also about an expansion in public roles for women. No longer did men control this domain exclusively. In the early 2000s, one might say that all is not yet finished in the struggle for gender equality; parity in political activism and in wage equality remains unfulfilled. This chapter in the battle, however, proved that women have played, and continue to play, a significant role in shaping federal law.
Unlike the aftermath for other amendments, few challenges were made to the Nineteenth Amendment. The single greatest challenge to the amendment—posed by states which had not ratified the amendment and wished to continue to deprive women of the right to vote—was resolved by the Supreme Court in the 1922 case of Leser v. Garnett, which declared that the amendment was binding to every state.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
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Lumsden, Linda J. Rampant Women: Suffragists and the Right of Assembly. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1997.
Monroe, Judy. The Nineteenth Amendment: Women’s Right to Vote. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow, 1998.
Somervill, Barbara A. Votes for Women!: The Story of Carrie Chapman Catt. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds, 2003.
Stalcup, Brenda. Women’s Suffrage. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2000.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, et al. The Woman’s Bible. 2 vols. New York: European Publishing Company, 1895 and 1898.
Ward, Geoffrey, and Ken Burns. Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. New York: Knopf, 2001.
Weatherford, Doris. A History of the American Suffragist Movement. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2007.
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Proposed in Congress on June 4, 1919, and ratified by the states August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives women the right to vote. After four decades of struggle, the women's movement in the United States had finally secured the vote.
The woman's suffrage movement had its roots in the 1840s, when women who sought social reforms, including abolition of slavery, instituting a national policy of temperance (abstinence from alcoholic beverages), and securing better work opportunities and better pay, organized. These reformers soon realized that in order to effect change, they needed the power of the vote. An early leader of the suffragist movement was feminist and reformer Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902). She joined anti-slavery activist Lucretia Mott (1793–1880) to establish the first women's-rights convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. In 1869 Stanton teamed with Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) to organize the National Woman Suffrage Association. That same year, another group was formed—the American Woman Suffrage Association, led by women's rights and anti-slavery activist Lucy Stone (1818–1893) and her husband Henry Brown Blackwell (1825–1909). In 1870 the common cause of the two groups was strengthened by the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave all men—regardless of race—the right to vote. When the two organizations joined forces in 1890, they formed the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). The suffragists appealed to middle class and working class women alike, as well as to students and radicals. They waged campaigns at the state level, distributed literature, organized meetings, made speeches, marched in parades, picketed, lobbied in Washington, DC, and even chained themselves to the White House fence. If jailed, many resorted to hunger strikes.
From 1878 to 1917, woman suffrage amendments were introduced during every session of Congress; all failed. In 1918, the required support for the amendment was finally mustered in the House of Representatives—the result of years of activism and of the role women played during World War I (1914–1918). Having demonstrated their position as involved and intelligent citizens, members of the House passed the proposal in 1918. It then went to the Senate where it was defeated. Voting again the next year, the amendment passed in the Senate and was duly sent to the states, which ratified it in 1920. The amendment states that the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
See also: Henry Brown Blackwell, Women's Movement
Ratification of the women's suffrage amendment in 1920 marked the culmination of a struggle spanning three quarters of a century. Under the leadership of organizations including the National Woman's Suffrage Association and the National Women's Party, over 2 million women participated in some 900 campaigns before state and federal legislators, party officials, and referendum voters. By the time the amendment was adopted, a majority of the states had already given some recognition to women's voting rights.
Political agitation for enfranchisement began in 1848, at the first women's rights convention in seneca falls, New York. In its Declaration of Sentiments, the convention included suffrage as one of the "inalienable rights" to which women were entitled. As the century progressed, the vote assumed increasing importance, both as a symbolic affirmation of women's equality and as a means to address a vast array of sex-based discrimination in employment, education, domestic law, and related areas. Once the Supreme Court ruled in minor v. happersett (1875) that suffrage was not one of the privileges and immunities guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment to women as citizens, the necessity for a state or federal constitutional amendment became apparent.
The struggle for women's rights was a response to various forces. Urbanization, industrialization, declining birth rates, and expanding educational and employment opportunities tended to diminish women's role in the private domestic sphere while encouraging their participation in the public sphere. So too, women's involvement, first with abolitionism and later with other progressive causes, generated political commitments and experiences that fueled demands for equal rights.
Those demands provoked opposition from various quarters. The liquor industry feared that enfranchisement would pave the way for prohibition, while conservative political and religious leaders, as well as women homemakers, painted suffrage as an invitation to socialism, anarchism, free love, and domestic discord. Partly in response to those claims, many leading suffragists became increasingly conservative in their arguments and increasingly unwilling to address other causes and consequences of women's inequality. That strategy met with partial success. As they narrowed their social agenda, women's rights organizations expanded their political appeal. The growing strength of the suffrage movement, together with women's efforts in world war i, finally helped prompt the United States to join the slowly increasing number of Western nations that had granted enfranchisement.
Yet to many leading women's rights activists, the American victory proved scarcely less demoralizing than defeat. The focus on enfranchisement had to some extent deflected attention from other issues of critical importance for women, such as poverty, working conditions, birth control, health care, and domestic relations. Without a unifying social agenda beyond the ballot, the postsuffrage feminist movement foundered, splintered, and for the next half century, largely dissolved. During that period, women did not vote as a block on women's issues, support women candidates, or, with few exceptions, agitate for women's rights. Despite their numerical strength and access to the ballot, women remained subject to a vast range of discrimination in employment, education, welfare benefits, credit standards, family law, and related areas. Although the Nineteenth Amendment itself was urged as a ground for qualifying women to serve on juries, most courts rejected this argument except where jury service was tied to voter status.
Yet however limited its immediate affects, the Nineteenth Amendment marked a significant advance toward equal rights. Enfranchisement was a necessary if not sufficient condition for women to exercise significant political leverage. Moreover, the skills, experience, and self-esteem that women gained during the suffrage campaign helped lay the foundation for a more egalitarian social order.
Deborah L. Rhode
Catt, Carrie Chapman and Shuler, Nettie Rogers 1970 Woman Suffrage and Politics. New York: Americana Library Edition.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady et al., eds. 1881–1922 History of Woman Suffrage. New York: Fowler Wells.
The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:
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. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The Nineteenth Amendment was enacted in 1920, after a 70-year struggle led by the women's suffrage movement.
The groundwork for the suffrage movement was laid in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, now considered the birthplace of the women's movement. Here elizabeth cady stanton drafted the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, which demanded voting rights, property rights, educational opportunities, and economic equity for women.
Rather than face the difficult task of obtaining approval of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution from an all-male Congress preoccupied with the question of slavery, the suffragists decided to focus their attention on the separate states and seek state constitutional amendments. The state-by-state effort began in 1867 in Kansas with a referendum to enfranchise women. The referendum was defeated, but that same year the western territories of Wyoming and Utah provided the first victories for the suffragists.
The movement then suffered a series of setbacks beginning in January 1878 when the voting rights amendment was first introduced in Congress. The full Senate did not consider the amendment until 1887 and voted to defeat the bill. The suffragists continued their state-by-state strategy and won a referendum ballot in Colorado in 1893 and Idaho in 1896.
The suffragists mounted a final and decisive drive in the second decade of the 1900s with victories in Washington in 1910 and California in 1911. The following year Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon gave women the right to vote, and in 1913 Illinois also passed measures supporting suffrage as did Montana and Nevada in 1914. Women in eleven states voted in the 1916 presidential election. By this time the United States was also involved in world war i, which brought national attention to the suffrage movement as well as to the important role women played in the war effort. During the war,
an unprecedented number of women joined the depleted industrial and public service workforce. Women became an active and visible population of the labor sector that benefited the national economy. By the end of 1918 four more states—Michigan, Oklahoma, New York, and South Dakota—had approved women's suffrage.
With the requisite two-thirds majority, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the amendment in January 1918. The vote was initially postponed, and the amendment was later defeated in October 1918 and again in February 1919. On June 4, 1919, almost 17 months after its introduction by the House of Representatives, the amendment was finally passed by the Senate. Having already considered and debated the voting rights issue for several years, the states ratified the amendment quickly. In August 1920 Tennessee became the thirty-sixth and last state necessary to ratify the enactment. With ratification complete, the Nineteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution on August 18, 1920.
Brown, Jennifer K. 1993. "The Nineteenth Amendment and Women's Equality." Yale Law Journal 102 (June).
Clift, Eleanor. 2003. Founding Sisters and the Nineteenth Amendment. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons.
Hillyard, Carrie. 1996. "The History of Suffrage and Equal Rights Provisions in State Constitutions." BYU Journal of Public Law 10 (winter).
Lind, Joellen. 1994. "Dominance and Democracy: The Legacy of Woman Suffrage for the Voting Right." UCLA Women's Law Journal 5 (fall).
On August 18, 1920, American women were given suffrage (the right to vote) with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution . Women's suffrage rights had not come quickly or easily. Women had fought for suffrage for seventy-two years, beginning with the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention in New York in 1848. That conference marked the beginning of what would be a national revolution.
As America grew to be dependent upon industry in the mid- to late nineteenth century, middle and upper classes formed. This prosperity created a never-before-seen class of women who had time on their hands. Able to focus on social and cultural issues that mattered to them, many of the most dedicated women supported suffrage.
Among the more famous suffragists were Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) and Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906), considered the mothers of the suffrage movement. Lucy Stone (1818–1893) and Lucretia Mott (1793–1880) were among the earliest women's rights activists, and Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947) and Alice Paul (1885–1977) led the movement after Stanton and Anthony died.
America was slow to accept the idea that women should be recognized as first-class citizens. It was an era when men ran business and politics while women raised children and busied themselves within the home. Women were considered too fragile to understand and deal with anything political. Men could think of no reason to allow women to cast a vote.
Two organizations—the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association—joined forces in 1890 to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association. America's entry into World War I (1914–18) helped forward the women's movement as Alice Paul asked President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924; served 1913–21) how he could fight for democracy overseas while denying women in his own country the right to vote.