United States Suffrage Movement in the 19th Century: The Civil War and its Effect on Suffrage
UNITED STATES SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT IN THE 19TH CENTURY: THE CIVIL WAR AND ITS EFFECT ON SUFFRAGE
ELLEN CAROL DUBOIS (ESSAY DATE 1995)
SOURCE: DuBois, Ellen Carol. "Taking the Law Into Our Own Hands: Bradwell, Minor and Suffrage Militance in the 1870s." In One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement, edited by Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, pp. 81-98. Troutdale, Oreg.: NewSage Press, 1995.
In the following excerpt, DuBois describes the increasingly militant strategies pursued by women in courts of law during the 1870s in reaction to their exclusion from enfranchisement in both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
Introduction to the New Departure
… Most histories of women's rights—my own included—have emphasized the initial rage of women's rights leaders at the Radical Republican authors of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. In 1865 Elizabeth Cady Stanton was horrified to discover what she called "the word male" in proposals for a Fourteenth Amendment. The second section of the amendment defines the basis of congressional representation as "male persons over the age of twenty-one" and in doing so makes the first reference to sex anywhere in the Constitution. The passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1869, a much more powerful constitutional defense of political equality, only deepened the anger of women's rights advocates because it did not include sex among its prohibited disfranchisements.1
In 1869 the crisis split suffragists into two camps—the National Woman Suffrage Association, which protested the omission of women from the Reconstruction amendments, and the American Woman Suffrage Association, which accepted the deferral of their claims. This part of the story is well known to students of woman suffrage, as is the National Association's concentration, through most of its twenty-one-year life (in 1890 it amalgamated with the American Association), on securing a separate amendment enfranchising women. Inasmuch as the form that federal woman suffrage ultimately took was precisely a separate constitutional amendment—the Nineteenth, ratified in 1920—this strategy is taken as the entirety of woman suffragists' constitutional claims. Yet, in the first few years after the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, suffragists in the National Association camp energetically pursued another constitutional approach. They proposed a broad and inclusive construction of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, under which, they claimed, women were already enfranchised. This constitutional strategy, known at the time as the New Departure, laid the basis for the subsequent focus on a separate woman suffrage amendment, even as it embodied a radical democratic vision that the latter approach did not have.
The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments
While the Fourteenth Amendment was in the process of being ratified, woman suffragists concentrated on its second clause, because of the offensive reference to "male persons." This phrase was included by the amendment's framers because in 1867 there was an active movement demanding the franchise for women, and it would no longer do to use such gender neutral terms as "person" to mean only men.2 Yet such explicit exclusions of particular groups from the universal blessings of American democracy were not at all in the egalitarian spirit of the age. Perhaps it was for this reason that in writing the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment, which defines federal citizenship, the framers could not bring themselves to speak of races or sexes but instead relied on the abstractions of "persons" and "citizens." In other words, the universalities of the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment, where federal citizenship is established, run headlong into the sex-based restrictions of the second section, where voting rights are limited. Those Reconstruction Era feminists angered at the restrictive clause quickly recognized these contradictions and became determined to get women's rights demands included in the broadest possible construction of the terms "persons" and "citizens" in the first section, to use, in other words, the first section to defeat the second.
After the Fifteenth Amendment was finally ratified, the suffragists of the National Association therefore shifted from the claim that the Reconstruction amendments excluded women and began to argue instead that they were broad enough to include women's rights along with those of the freedmen. This strategic turn, the New Departure,3 was first outlined in October 1869 by a husband and wife team of Missouri suffragists, Francis and Virginia Minor. They offered an elaborate and elegant interpretation of the Constitution to demonstrate that women already had the right to vote. Their construction rested on a consistent perspective on the whole Constitution, but especially on a broad interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.4
The Minors' first premise was that popular sovereignty preceded and underlay constitutional authority. In exchange for creating government, the people expected protection of their preeminent and natural rights. This is a familiar element of revolutionary ideology. Their second premise was to equate the power of the federal government with the defense of individual rights, to regard federal power as positive.5 Historically, the federal government had been regarded as the enemy of rights; the Bill of Rights protects individual rights by enjoining the federal government from infringing on them. In the wake of the devastating experience of secession, the Fourteenth Amendment reversed the order, relying on federal power to protect its citizens against the tyrannical action of the states. The Minors thus argued in good Radical Reconstruction fashion that national citizenship had finally been established as supreme by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment: "the immunities and privileges of American citizenship, however defined, are national in character and paramount to all state authority."
A third element in the Minors' case was that the benefits of national citizenship were equally the rights of all. This too bore the mark of the Reconstruction Era. In the words of the amendment, "all persons born or naturalized in the United States" were equally entitled to the privileges and protections of national citizenship; there were no additional qualifications. In the battle for the rights of the black man, the rights of all had been secured. The war had expanded the rights of "proud white man" to all those who had historically been deprived of them, or so these radical reconstructionists believed.6 In other words, the historic claim of asserting individual rights was becoming the modern one of realizing equal rights, especially for the lowly.
Finally, the Minors argued that the right to vote was one of the basic privileges and immunities of national citizenship. This was both the most controversial and the most important part of the New Departure constitutional construction. Popular sovereignty had always included an implicit theory of political power. The Minors' New Departure argument took this article of popular faith, reinterpreted it in light of Reconstruction Era egalitarianism, and gave it constitutional expression to produce a theory of universal rights to the suffrage. The New Departure case for universal suffrage brought together the Fourteenth Amendment, which nationalized citizenship and linked it to federal power, and the Fifteenth Amendment, which shifted the responsibility for the suffrage from the state to the national government.7 This theory of the suffrage underlay much of the case for black suffrage as well, but because the drive for black suffrage was so intertwined with Republican partisan interest, it was woman suffrage, which had no such political thrust behind it, that generated the most formal constitutional expression of this Reconstruction Era faith in political equality.
Women Take the Vote
The New Departure was not simply a lawyer's exercise in constitutional exegesis. Reconstruction was an age of popular constitutionalism. Although presented in formal, constitutional terms, what the Minors had to say had much support among the rank and file of the women's rights movement. The underlying spirit of the Minors' constitutional arguments was militant and activist. The basic message was that the vote was already women's right; they merely had to take it. The New Departure took on meaning precisely because of this direct action element. Many women took the argument to heart and went to the polls, determined to vote. By 1871 hundreds of women were trying to register and vote in dozens of towns all over the country.8 In 1871 in Philadelphia, to take one of many examples, Carrie Burnham, an unmarried tax-paying woman, got as far as having her name registered on the voting rolls. When her vote was refused, she formed the Citizens Suffrage Association of Philadelphia, dedicated not only to the defense of women's political rights but also to the greater truth that the right to vote was inherent, not bestowed. If the contrary were true, if the right to vote were a gift, this "implied a right lodged somewhere in society, which society had never acquired by any direct concession from the people." Such a theory of political power was patently tyrannical.9
That the first examples of women's direct action voting occurred in 1868 and 1869, before the Minors made their formal constitutional argument, suggests that the New Departure grew out of a genuinely popular political faith. In 1868 in the radical, spiritualist town of Vineland, New Jersey, almost two hundred women cast their votes into a separate ballot box and then tried to get them counted along with the men's. "The platform was crowded with earnest refined intellectual women, who feel it was good for them to be there," The Revolution reported. "One beautiful girl said 'I feel so much stronger for having voted.'"10 The Vineland women repeated the effort for several years, and the ballot box eventually became an icon, which the local historical society still owns. From Vineland, the idea of women's voting spread to nearby towns, including Roseville, where, despite the American Association's official disinterest in the New Departure, Lucy Stone and her mother tried—but failed—to register their votes.
On the other side of the continent, Mary Olney Brown also decided she had the right to vote because the legislature of Washington Territory had passed an act giving "all white American citizens above the age of twenty-one years the right to vote." She wrote to other "prominent women urging them to go out and vote at the coming election … [but] I was looked upon as a fanatic and the idea of woman voting was regarded as an absurdity." "Many [women] wished to vote …," she decided, "[but] had not the courage to go to the polls in defiance of custom." Finally, in 1869, she went to the polls with her husband, daughter, and son-in-law. Election officials threatened that she would not be "treated as a lady."
Summoning all my strength, I walked up to the desk behind which sat the august officers of election, and presented my vote.… I was pompously met with the assertion, "You are not an American citizen; hence not entitled to vote." … I said … "I claim to be an American citizen, and a native-born citizen at that; and I wish to show you from the fourteenth amendment to the constitution of the United States, that women are not only citizens having the constitutional right to vote, but also that our territorial election law gives women the privilege of exercising that right." … I went on to show them that the … emancipation of the Southern slaves threw upon the country a class of people, who, like the women of the nation, owed allegiance to the government, but whose citizenship was not recognized. To settle this question, the fourteenth amendment was adopted.
Whereupon, the local election official, "with great dignity of manner and an immense display of ignorance," insisted "that the laws of congress don't extend over Washington territory" and refused her vote. When Brown was refused again, two years later, she concluded, "It amounts to this: the law gives women the right to vote in this territory, and you three men who have been appointed to receive our votes, sit here and arbitrarily refuse to take them, giving no reason why, only that you have decided not to take the women's votes. There is no law to sustain you in this usurpation of power."11
News of the efforts of women to register and vote spread through formal and informal means. Women's rights and mainstream journals reported on them, but information also might have been passed by word of mouth through networks of activists. Many sisters and friends, often in different states, turn up in the stories of New Departure voting women. In her account, Mary Olney Brown tells of her sister, who was inspired by her efforts to try to vote in a nearby town. Brown's sister took a different approach and was more successful. Eager to vote in a school election, she and her friends prepared a special dinner for election officials. "When the voting was resumed, the women, my sister being the first, handed in their ballots as if they had always been accustomed to voting. One lady, Mrs. Sargent, seventy-two years old, said she thanked the Lord that he had let her live until she could vote."12
The voting women of the 1870s often went to the polls in groups. They believed in the suffrage as an individual right but an individual right that would be achieved and experienced collectively. The most famous of these voting groups was the nearly fifty local activists, friends, and relatives who joined Susan B. Anthony in attempting to vote in Rochester, New York, in 1872. Virginia Minor herself was swept up in this collective activism. When she and some of her friends, all suffrage activists and Republican partisans, tried to register in St. Louis and were refused, she sued.
The congressional passage of the Enforcement Act in May 1870 to strengthen the Fifteenth Amendment greatly accelerated women's direct action voting. The Enforcement Act was meant to enforce the freedmen's political rights by providing recourse to the federal courts and penalties against local election officials who refused the lawful votes of citizens. Women who wanted to vote saw the act as a way to use the power of the federal government for their own benefit. Benjamin Quarles reports that freedwomen in South Carolina were encouraged by Freedmen's Bureau officials to attempt to vote by appealing to the Enforcement Act.13 Some election officials responded to the Enforcement Act by accepting women's votes. When Nanette Gardner went to vote in Detroit in 1871, the ward official in her district was sympathetic to her protest and accepted her vote. The same man accepted Gardner's vote again in 1872, and she presented him with "a beautiful banner of white satin, trimmed with gold fringe on which was inscribed … 'To Peter Hill, Alderman of the Ninth Ward, Detroit.…By recognizing civil liberty and equality for woman, he has placed the last and brightest jewel on the brow of Michigan.'"14
Most local officials, however, refused to accept women's votes. While Nanette Gardner voted successfully in Detroit, her friend Catherine Stebbins (the daughter of one of the Rochester voters) was turned away in the next ward. When Mary Brown's vote was refused in Olympia, she concluded that politicians more powerful than the local committeemen had decided to resist women's direct action efforts to vote and that "money was pledged in case of prosecution." In Santa Cruz, California, when Ellen Van Valkenberg was similarly turned back at the polls, she became the first woman to sue an election official under the Enforcement Act for refusing her vote.15 By 1871 numerous New Departure woman suffrage cases were making their way through the federal courts.
Victoria Woodhull and the New Departure
Meanwhile, the New Departure gained an advocate who moved it from the local level into national politics: Victoria Woodhull. In January of 1871 Woodhull appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to make the constitutional case for women's right to vote. No woman had ever before been invited to address a committee of the United States Congress. Her appearance was sponsored by Massachusetts Republican Benjamin Butler, who may have helped her outline her constitutional case. The deeply felt conviction about women's rights underlying her argument was undoubtedly her own, however. Her memorial asked Congress to pass legislation clarifying the right of all women to vote under the new Reconstruction amendments.16 The major difference between Woodhull and the Minors was tactical; she urged women to turn to Congress to resolve the question, while they relied on the courts.
Like all New Departure advocates, Woodhull embraced the premise that popular sovereignty was absolute: "the sovereign power of this country is perpetual in the politically-organized people of the United States, and can neither be relinquished nor abandoned by any portion of them." Her case for woman suffrage was simple and, from a radical Reconstruction perspective, virtually unassailable: inasmuch as the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment made no reference to sex, women along with men were citizens of the United States, and foremost among the "privileges and immunities" of national citizenship was the right to vote.17 Like the Minors, Woodhull argued that the Fourteenth Amendment established the supremacy of national over state citizenship and the obligation of the federal government to protect the rights of all citizens equally.
Woodhull also argued from the Fifteenth Amendment, which she interpreted broadly, that voting is "a Right, not a privilege of citizens of the United States."18 She directly confronted the most obvious objection to this interpretation, that the Fifteenth Amendment specifically prohibits only disfranchisements by race, color, and previous condition. First, she argued, the amendment's wording does not bestow the right to vote but assumes it to be preexisting. Although it explicitly prohibited certain disfranchisements, Woodhull argued that it could not be read to implicitly permit others. Second, the Fifteenth Amendment forbids disfranchisement "under three distinct conditions, in all of which," Woodhull argued, "woman is distinctly embraced." In other words, "a race comprises all the people, male and female." Woodhull here seems to grasp what many modern white feminists are still struggling to understand, that counterpoising the discriminations of race and sex obscures the experience of those who suffer both, that is, black women. Finally, Woodhull argued for her broad construction of the right of suffrage on the grounds of what she called "the blending of [the Constitution's] various parts," that is, the relation between the Fourteenth Amendment, which nationalizes citizenship and links it to the power of the federal government, and the Fifteenth Amendment, which shifts the responsibility for the suffrage from the state to the national government.19
The first official reaction to the New Departure came in response to Woodhull's memorial. The House Judiciary Committee issued two conflicting reports on the constitutional issues she raised.20 Here we begin to see that debate over the feminists' particular constitutional arguments was inseparable from questions of the larger meaning of the Reconstruction amendments. The Majority Report rejected Woodhull's claims. Its author was John Bingham, one of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although Bingham conceded that women enjoyed the privileges of United States citizenship along with men, he disagreed that the Fourteenth Amendment added anything new to the content of national citizenship or altered the relationship between national and state citizenship. The Minority Report, signed by William Loughridge of Iowa and Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts, supported Woodhull's memorial and the generous and radical interpretation of the amendments on which it relied. The Minority Report interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment broadly, arguing that it was intended "to secure the natural rights of citizens as well as their equal capacities before the law." The Majority Report rejected Woodhull's argument that the Fifteenth Amendment shifted responsibility for the suffrage from the state to the national level, while the Minority Report agreed that the Fifteenth Amendment "clearly recognizes the right to vote, as one of the rights of a citizen of the United States."21 "Thus it can be seen," Woodhull observed archly, "that equally able men differ upon a simple point of Constitutional Law."22
The mere fact of a congressional hearing was a victory for woman suffrage leaders, and the language of constitutional principle was an improvement over the semi-sexual innuendo with which their claims were often met.23 The favorable Minority Report meant that some of the leaders of the Republican Party supported women's rights claims on the Constitution. In 1871 two committee rooms in the Capitol were put at the disposal of the suffragists to facilitate their lobbying efforts.24 "Could you feel the atmosphere of … Congress, to-day, you would not doubt what the end must be, nor that it will be very soon," Isabella Beecher Hooker wrote.25 The National Woman Suffrage Association urged women to put pressure on their congressmen to support the Butler Report, as well as to continue trying to vote and to work through the courts.26
The Bradwell Case
In late 1871 … the first New Departure cases began to reach the dockets of the federal courts. One was the case of Sara Spencer and seventy other women from the District of Columbia, who sued election officials under the Enforcement Act for refusing to permit them to vote. The District of Columbia was a deliberate choice for testing the New Departure argument. There, as advocates of black suffrage had first realized in 1867, the power of the federal government over the suffrage was not complicated by questions of dual sovereignty and states' rights.27
In October Judge Cartter of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia ruled against Spencer. Cartter conceded that the Fourteenth Amendment included women along with men in the privileges and immunities of national citizenship; however, he rejected the democratic theory of suffrage on which the case rested. To concede that voting was a right was, in his opinion, to open the door to anarchy and would "involve the destruction of civil government." "The right of all men to vote is as fully recognized in the population of our large centres and cities as can well be done," wrote Cartter. "The result … is political profligacy and violence verging upon anarchy."28 The larger context of the opinion, therefore, was anxiety about democratic politics, and Cartter's concern for the proper position of women in society was secondary. This was true of the entire New Departure debate (and perhaps of judicial disposition of women's rights claims more generally); it was conducted primarily in terms of "rights," not woman's sphere. What was claimed or denied for women was claimed or denied for all citizens, especially those previously excluded from rights due them. Whether this was because the question of women's place was subsumed in a more general struggle for political democracy or because sex-prejudice was still unspeakable in constitutional terms, the consequence was the same: denying women the rights they claimed under general provisions weakened those provisions in general.
The observation that general questions of constitutional rights had overtaken the specific discourse on woman's place is even clearer in the next major New Departure decision, the Myra Bradwell case. Bradwell was the first case touching on the New Departure to reach the Supreme Court. In 1869 Myra Bradwell, a Chicago feminist and pioneering woman lawyer, was refused admission to the Illinois bar. The grounds on which the state supreme court refused her application, along with the initial brief that Bradwell submitted in response, were concerned entirely with coverture, that is, with the question of the disabilities of married women before the law. By the time Bradwell brought her case before the United States Supreme Court in October 1871, she had changed the terms radically. Her case was no longer about coverture but had been reformulated in entirely New Departure terms. Her brief argued that her right to practice law was a citizen's right and that Illinois's action in refusing her was prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment. As for coverture, she asserted that "the great innovation of the XIV Amendment … sweeps away the principles of the common law," so that even reforms of married women's property rights were no longer necessary. The Bradwell case is one of the few concerning women's rights commonly included in the history of constitutional law, but in my opinion it is not correctly situated, since it is usually cited to illustrate judicial assumptions about woman's place rather than the constitutional issues of citizenship on which it was actually argued and decided.29
Bradwell's case was closely watched by suffragists as an indication of how much support to expect from the Republican Party. Bradwell was represented before the Supreme Court by Senator Matthew Carpenter, one of the major second-generation leaders of the Republican Party. While Carpenter took up Bradwell's case and argued it in strong Fourteenth Amendment terms, he prefaced his case with an equally strong argument about why the right to vote was not covered by the Reconstruction amendments. He insisted, in other words, on a distinction between civil and political rights. While the federal government protected civil rights, women's as well as men's, Carpenter argued, the suffrage remained under the control of the states, beyond the lawful interference of federal power.30
Suffragists were understandably confused by the way Carpenter argued Bradwell's case. Was it an indication that Republican leaders were in favor of the New Departure or against it? Stanton allowed herself to be encouraged; if women were covered along with men under the Fourteenth Amendment, wasn't the fundamental point of equal rights won?31 Victoria Woodhull, however, saw it differently; she argued that women might be admitted to the benefits of the postwar amendments only to find those amendments so narrowed that they bestowed virtually nothing at all, certainly not political rights. She charged that Republicans, "frightened by the grandeur and the extent" of the amendments they had enacted, had retreated to the enemies' doctrine of states' rights, where their own greatest achievements would ultimately be undone.32
The Supreme Court held back its decision on Bradwell until after the election. To trace the final judicial disposition of the suffragists' constitutional arguments, we have to understand what was at stake in this election and what a Republican victory would mean. The election of 1872 was a crisis for the Republicans.33 In June 1872 an important group of reformers split off from regular Republicans to run an independent presidential campaign. These political rebels, the Liberal Republicans, based their revolt on the old opposition between central government and individual rights. From the perspective of feminists, who were also looking for a political alternative to the regular Republicans, the terms of the bolt were particularly disappointing. Feminists had learned from freedmen to see the federal government not as a threat to their rights but as the agency for winning them.
To add insult to injury, the Liberal Republicans picked as their candidate Horace Greeley, a man who had made his opposition to woman suffrage clear many years before. Infuriated by the nomination of Greeley, many New Departure suffragists campaigned actively for Ulysses Grant in 1872.34 The regular Republicans cultivated their support, sending them about the country on official speaking tours and inserting a timid little reference to "additional rights" for women in their platform, a plank so insignificant that suffragists called it a "splinter." Holding off a decision on Bradwell was consistent with this temporary friendliness. Anthony expected that if Republicans won, they would reward women with the suffrage by recognizing the New Departure claims. She was so sure that when she came home from her last speaking tour on election day, she gathered together friends and relatives and went down to her local polling place to submit her vote for Grant. Although the local Republican official accepted the votes of fifteen of the demonstrators, including Anthony,35 a few weeks later a United States marshall came to her house and arrested her for violation of federal law—the Enforcement Act.
Anthony's arrest was a signal that the Republicans were ready to dispose of the New Departure. Because she was the most famous woman suffragist in the nation, there is good reason to suspect her arrest had been authorized at the highest level of government. The conduct of her trial several months later reinforces this suspicion. The trial was moved from her home county, where she had lectured extensively to educate potential jurors, to another venue. The judge, Ward Hunt, was no small-town jurist but a recent appointee to the United States Supreme Court. He refused to submit the case to the jury, instead directing a guilty verdict from the bench, a practice that was later found unconstitutional. Years later, Anthony's lawyer observed, "There never was a trial in the country with one half the importance of Miss Anthony's.…If Anthony had won her case on the merit it would have revolutionized the suffrage of the country.… There was a prearranged determination to convict her. A jury trial was dangerous and so the Constitution was deliberately and openly violated." Anthony was not even permitted to appeal.36
In general, the outcome of the election cleared the way for the Republican Party to retreat from the radical implications of the postwar amendments. There is a link between the judicial dismissal of the feminists' New Departure and the larger repudiation of the postwar amendments. It is embodied in the fact that the Supreme Court's opinions on Bradwell and on the Slaughterhouse cases were delivered on the same day in 1873. Slaughterhouse is generally considered the fundamental Fourteenth Amendment Supreme Court decision. The case involved a group of Louisiana butchers who challenged a state law regulating their occupation on the grounds that it violated their rights as federal citizens (to practice their vocation—the same issue as Bradwell) and that the Fourteenth Amendment established the supremacy of national over state citizenship.37
Six months after the election, the Court delivered negative opinions in both cases, interpreting the Fourteenth Amendment very narrowly and finding it inapplicable in both cases. The case that the Court lingered over was Slaughterhouse.38 By a bare majority, it ruled that the amendment's intent was only to ensure "the freedom of the slave race" and that it did not transfer the jurisdiction over fundamental civil rights from state to federal government. The opinion in Bradwell covered much less territory but did so by a larger majority. The Court merely rejected the claim that the right to practice law was one of the privileges and immunities of federal citizenship protected by the amendment. Beyond that, the Court simply commented that "the opinion just delivered in the Slaughterhouse Cases … renders elaborate argument in the present case unnecessary."39 We should not be misled by this preemptory dismissal, however. The very interpretation under which the Slaughterhouse cases had been decided, that the Fourteenth Amendment was limited to matters of race and did not elevate national over state citizenship, had first been articulated in 1871 in the Majority Report of the House Judiciary Committee, rejecting Victoria Woodhull's claim that the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed her right to vote.
The Minor Case
The Supreme Court ruled conclusively against the New Departure two years later, in 1875. The case in which it did so was Minor v. Happersett, brought, appropriately enough, by Virginia Minor, the woman who had first argued that as a citizen of the United States, she was constitutionally protected in her right to vote. Like Anthony, Minor had tried to vote in the 1872 election, but when her vote was refused, she brought suit under the Enforcement Act. The Missouri courts ruled against her, and she appealed to the United States Supreme Court on the grounds that constitutional protections of the citizen's right to vote invalidated any state regulations to the contrary. The Court ruled unanimously against her. Since the Slaughterhouse and Bradwell cases had disposed of the first element of the New Departure, that the Fourteenth Amendment established the supremacy of national citizenship, the decision in Minor concentrated on the second assertion, that suffrage was a right of citizenship. On this, the Court ruled starkly that "the Constitution of the United States does not confer the right of suffrage upon any one."40
Here, too, there was an intimate link between the fate of woman suffragists' constitutional claims and that of the Reconstruction amendments in general. The day after the Court delivered its opinion in Minor, it heard arguments in United States v. Cruikshank. In this case and in the United States v. Reese, black men for the first time brought suit under the Enforcement Act for protection of their political rights under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and the Court ruled against them. In the process of ruling against the plaintiffs, the Court found the Enforcement Act, under which both feminists and freedmen had sought protection, unconstitutional. Citing the recent decision in Minor, the Court ruled that inasmuch as the Constitution did not bestow the suffrage on anyone, the federal courts were outside their jurisdiction in protecting the freedmen's political rights.
The rejection of woman suffrage arguments on the grounds that the Fifteenth Amendment was only intended to forbid disfranchisement by race paved the way for a reading of the Fifteenth Amendment that was so narrow it did not even protect the freedmen themselves. In its decision in United States v. Reese, the Court argued that the plaintiff, although a black man, had not proved that his vote was denied on the grounds of race and so was not covered by constitutional protections. Eventually, of course, the freedmen were effectively disfranchised on grounds of income, residence, and education, all surrogates for race. Anthony had anticipated this connection. At her own trial, she predicted that the general narrowing of the Reconstruction amendments would follow on the heels of the repudiation of women's claims of equal rights under them. "If we once establish the false principle, that United States citizenship does not carry with it the right to vote in every state in this Union," she said, "there is no end to the petty freaks and cunning devices that will be resorted to exclude one and another class of citizens from the right of suffrage."41
Three years after the Minor defeat, suffragists began their pursuit of a separate constitutional amendment to prohibit disfranchisement on account of sex. At many levels, this was a less radical strategy. With the defeat of the New Departure, winning the vote for women was no longer tied to an overall democratic interpretation of the Constitution. To the degree that the struggle for women's votes was not strategically linked to the general defense of political democracy, that its goal was "woman suffrage" not "universal suffrage," elitist and racist tendencies faced fewer barriers, had freer reign, and imparted a more conservative character to suffragism over the next half-century.
Yet, despite this very important strategic shift, the New Departure period left a deep mark on the history of feminism. From time to time, some suffragist would see possibilities in the existing propositions of the Constitution and propose some clever legal mechanism for exploiting them.42 Even direct action voting never completely died away. Twenty years after the Minor decision, Elizabeth Grannis of New York City made her eighth attempt to register to vote.43 Certainly the larger spirit of militant direct action resurfaced in a spectacular way in the last decade of the American suffrage movement. The deepest mark of the New Departure, however, was to make women's rights and political equality indelibly constitutional issues. As Susan B. Anthony wrote, she "had learned … through the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments that it had been possible to amend [the Constitution] in such a way as to enfranchise an entire new class of voters."44 The Minor case, the historian Norma Basch has observed, "drew the inferiority of women's status out of the grooves of common law assumptions and state provisions and thrust it into the maelstrom of constitutional conflict. The demand for woman suffrage … acquired a contentious national life."45
- Ellen Carol DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women's Movement in America, 1848-1869, (Ithaca, N.Y., 1978); Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences, 1815-1897, ed. Ellen Carol DuBois (1898; Boston, 1993), 242.
- Stanton, Eighty Years and More, 242.
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda J. Gage, eds., History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 2 (Rochester, N.Y., 1881), 407-520; Ida Husted Harper, ed., Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, (Indianapolis, 1899), 1: 409-48.
- HWS 2: 407-10; on the Minors, see Louise R. Noun, Strong Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Iowa (Ames, 1986), 168-69.
- David Montgomery notes the importance of this Reconstruction Era shift in attitude to the positive state in Beyond Equality: Labor and the Radical Republicans (New York, 1967), 80-81.
- On this aspect of Reconstruction Era constitutional thought, see Judith A. Baer, Equality Under the Constitution: Reclaiming the Fourteenth Amendment (Ithaca, N.Y., 1983).
- While the Fifteenth Amendment was still pending, the Minors found an alternative constitutional basis for their claim that suffrage was a natural right in the frequently cited 1820 case Corfield v. Coryell, which included the franchise as one of the privileges and immunities protected in Article 4.
- In New Hampshire in 1870, Matilda Ricker tried to vote (HWS 2: 586-87). In New York in 1871, Matilda Joslyn Cage tried to vote in Fayetteville, and a group of women, led by Louise Mansfield, tried to vote in Nyack (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds., History of Woman Suffrage, [Rochester, N.Y., 1887], 3: 406; Isabelle K. Savelle, Ladies' Lib: How Rockland Women Got the Vote (New York, 1979), 13-16; in New York City, Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin tried to vote (Johanna Johnston, Mrs. Satan [New York, 1967], 110).
- HWS 3: 461-62, and HWS 2: 600-601.
- Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle: The Women's Rights Movement in the United States (Cambridge, Mass., 1959), 168, citing The Revolution, November 19, 1868, 307.
- HWS 3: 780-86.
- Ibid., 784.
- Benjamin Quarles, "Frederick Douglass and the Woman's Rights Movement," Journal of Negro History 25 (June 1940): 35.
- HWS 3: 523-24.
- Ibid., 766.
- Ibid., 2: 443-48.
- Ibid., 445.
- Victoria C. Woodhull, Constitutional Equality: A Lecture Delivered at Lincoln Hall, Washington, D.C., February 16, 1871 (New York, 1871).
- HWS 2: 445-46. The comment on "blending" was made in Woodhull's arguments in support of her congressional memorial. These are available in Victoria Woodhull, The Argument for Woman's Electoral Rights under Amendment XIV and XV of the Constitution of the United States (London, 1887), 44.
- Both reports can be found in HWS 2: 461-82.
- Ibid., 469, 478. In support of their interpretation, they cited the federal district court's decision in what was called the Crescent City case, later renamed the Slaughterhouse cases.
- Woodhull, Constitutional Equality, 4.
- Martha Wright complained to Elizabeth Stanton about a congressman who "said rudely to Mrs. Davis & Mrs. Griffing, 'You just call on us because you like to,'" to which Mrs. Griffing answered "'We call on you, because it is the only way known to us, to present our appeal to you,' & Mrs. Davis said 'You must remember that we are your constituents.'" Wright to Stanton, December 29, 1870, Garrison Family Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.
- HWS 2: 489.
- Isabella Beecher Hooker to the Editor, Independent, February 11, 1871, reprinted in Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, March 4, 1871, 10.
- Ibid.; An Appeal to the Women of the United States by the National Woman Suffrage and Educational Committee (Hartford, Conn., April 19, 1871).
- HWS 2: 587-99.
- Ibid., 598.
- Ibid., 622. The opinion in Bradwell that is usually cited is not the terse dismissal of the Fourteenth Amendment argument that settled the case, but an individual concurring opinion by Justice Bradley that addressed the coverture issues that Bradwell had removed from her argument.
- HWS 2: 618.
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton, "Argument before the Senate Judiciary Committee," January 11, 1872, reprinted in Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, January 27, 1872, 7; see also Stanton to Woodhull, December 29, , Stanton Miscellaneous Papers, New York Public Library, New York.
- Victoria Woodhull, Carpenter and Cartter Reviewed: A Speech before the National Suffrage Association at Lincoln Hall, Washington, D.C., January 10, 1872 (New York, 1872), 20.
- Montgomery, Beyond Equality, 379-86.
- Anthony to Stanton, July 10, 1872, box 38, NAWSA Papers, Library of Congress.
- Nancy A. Hewitt, Women's Activism and Social Change: Rochester, New York, 1822-1872 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1984), 211. Anthony to Stanton, November 5, 1872, Harper Papers, Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
- Harper, ed., The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, 1: 423-53; Charles Fairman, History of the Supreme Court, (New York, 1987), 7: 224.
- Fairman, History of the Supreme Court, 285. Carpenter's argument in Slaughterhouse can be found in 21 Court Reporters Lawyers Edition, 399-401 (1872).
- 16 Wall. 36 (1873).
- 16 Wall. 130 (1873).
- HWS 2: 734-42.
- Ibid., 641.
- The most important of these was Catherine McCullough's successful argument that the Constitution permitted states legislatively to enfranchise voters for presidential electors. In 1914 Illinois passed a "presidential suffrage" law, giving women votes in the 1916 presidential election. See Steven W. Buechler, The Transformation of the Woman Suffrage Movement: The Case of Illinois, 1850-1920 (New Brunswick, N.J., 1986), 174-76.
- Unidentified clipping, v. 12, 75, Susan B. Anthony Memorial Library Collection, Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.
- Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper, eds., History of Woman Suffrage, (Rochester, N.Y., 1902), 4: 10.
- Norma Basch, "Reconstructing Female Citizenship" (Paper delivered at Women and the Constitution Conference, American University and the Smithsonian, October 1987).
HARRIET SIGERMAN (ESSAY DATE 2000)
SOURCE: Sigerman, Harriet. "Laborers for Liberty: 1865-1890." In No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States, edited by Nancy F. Cott, pp. 303-10. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2000.
In the following excerpt, Sigerman discusses the setbacks and conflicts that plagued the suffrage movement followingthe Civil War and describes how the western states and territories proved most progressive in granting women the right to vote.
After the Civil War ended, American women had battles to wage on other fronts—for the right to vote, to attend college, and to gain greater control over their lives. As Ernestine Rose, a leader in the women's rights movement, once proclaimed, "Freedom, my friends, does not come from the clouds, like a meteor.… It does not come without great efforts and great sacrifices; all who love liberty have to labor for it." In the afterglow of victory for the Union and peace for the entire nation, she and other champions of women's rights forged ahead, ready to labor for their freedom. From their battles emerged many new ideas for achieving social and political equality for women.
During the war, leaders of the women's rights movement, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, had shifted their efforts from fighting for women's political and economic rights to campaigning for the abolition of slavery. Now that slavery had been abolished, they confidently expected fellow abolitionists to work for women's right to vote. But they would be sadly disillusioned—a long, hard struggle for woman suffrage lay ahead. Their disillusionment was even more keen because the origins of the postwar women's rights movement lay in the prewar abolition movement, and the two movements had been closely linked for thirty years.
After the Civil War, leaders of the women's rights movement looked to a new source for inspiration: the United States Constitution. They adopted the very same rationale for female suffrage used by proponents of suffrage for African Americans—that the right to vote was the individual's right as a citizen and provided the foundation for democratic government, which the North had just fought to protect in the Civil War. In the immediate post-Civil War years, women's rights leaders maintained that voting was a basic right shared by all citizens, men and women, white and black. Ernestine Rose declared, "Human beings are men and women, possessed of human faculties, and understanding, which we call mind; and mind recognizes no sex, therefore the term 'male,' as applied to human beings—to citizens—ought to be expunged from the Constitution and laws as a last remnant of barbarism."
ON THE SUBJECT OF…
SARAH MOORE GRIMKÉ (1792-1873) AND ANGELINA EMILY GRIMKÉ (1805-1879)
Sarah Moore and Angelina Emily Grimké were the daughters of wealthy, South Carolina plantation and slave owners. In the early 1820s, Sarah moved to Philadelphia and joined the Quaker Society of Friends. Angelina followed her in 1829. Both women devoted their lives first to the antislavery crusade and then to women's rights when they found that their gender hampered their pursuit of reformist goals. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison published an antislavery letter by Angelina in The Liberator in 1835, the same year Angelina joined the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. The sisters left the Society of Friends and moved to New York, where they joined the Anti-Slavery Society, and Angelina wrote the popular pamphlet An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836).
The sisters began speaking to small groups of women, urging them to influence their husbands, fathers, and brothers to vote against slavery, and further encouraging any women who owned slaves to free them and pay them wages for their labor. Sarah produced Address to Free Colored Americans and Angelina wrote Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States (1837). Angelina married fellow abolitionist Theodore Weld in 1838. Sarah moved with the couple to New Jersey, where all three continued to be active in the antislavery movement, operated a school, and published works on women's rights. Several major figures in the women's rights movement, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony, acknowledged their debt to the Grimké sisters. Late in life, the sisters learned that their brother Henry had fathered three sons with one of the family's slaves. The sisters embraced the young men as their nephews, and supported their educational endeavors. One of their nephews, Archibald Grimké, was the father of well-known Harlem Renaissance poet, Angelina Weld Grimké (1880-1958).
To achieve this goal, Stanton, Anthony, Antoinette Brown Blackwell, Lucy Stone, and other suffrage fighters established the American Equal Rights Association in 1865 to campaign for both black and female suffrage. Lucretia Mott was elected president, Stanton served as first vice president, and Anthony became corresponding secretary. The creation of this organization was a milestone in the struggle for female equality; it was the first organization formed by American women and men to fight for the right to vote.
Divisions soon emerged within the American Equal Rights Association over the best way to achieve suffrage for all Americans. Some members were willing to support the Republican party's strategy of working first to enfranchise black men—that is, grant them the right to vote—while postponing efforts to enfranchise women until they had achieved their first goal. In contrast, other members continued to support efforts to enfranchise both African-American men and all women. The first major conflict between proponents of black male suffrage and proponents of suffrage for all Americans erupted in 1867 in Kansas. There, two proposals—one that granted female suffrage and one that provided for black male suffrage—came to a vote. Stanton and Anthony campaigned for both, but two of their political partners—Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell, prominent activists in the prewar abolition movement—supported Republican abolitionists whose first priority was black male suffrage.
Stanton and Anthony were astonished that their fellow reformers would abandon the fight for female suffrage. For their part, Stone and Blackwell were unwilling to divert popular support for black male suffrage. They feared that supporting female enfranchisement would undermine any public support for black male suffrage. As it turned out, both proposals were defeated.
The fight for suffrage for all Americans suffered another blow with the ratification of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution on July 9, 1868. This amendment shattered the common basis of female and black suffrage—natural rights—by affirming black men's status and rights as American citizens while remaining silent about the citizenship rights of women. It did this by introducing into the Constitution the distinction of gender and penalizing states for denying to any of their "male inhabitants" the right to vote. It was the "Negro's hour," insisted former abolitionists—the freedman needed the ballot to protect him from physical harm and political injustice. When women were "dragged from their houses and hung upon lamp-posts" like black men, declared the great orator and former slave Frederick Douglass, then they, too, would need the ballot's protection as much as black men did.
On February 3, 1870, nearly three years after the 14th Amendment was passed, the 15th Amendment was ratified, making women's political invisibility complete. It prohibited states from denying to citizens the right to vote "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude" but remained silent about gender prohibitions. In effect, both the 14th and 15th Amendments excluded women from the fundamental right of citizenship—voting.
But the growing division within the women's rights movement and the blow dealt to woman suffrage by the 14th and 15th Amendments did not discourage African-American women from supporting female equality. Sojourner Truth pointedly reminded audiences of black women's need for equal political rights. She claimed that slavery had been only partly abolished because black women did not share the same rights as black men. But she wanted slavery destroyed "root and branch. Then we will all be free indeed."
Other prominent African-American women shared Truth's views. Mary Ann Shadd Cary, a teacher and one of the first women lawyers in the United States, joined the Universal Franchise Association, a suffrage organization composed of both black and white members in Washington, D.C., and represented it at conventions of African-American organizations. Along with other members of the Universal Franchise Association, she addressed the House Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Congress on behalf of woman suffrage. She also helped to organize the Colored Woman's Progressive Franchise Association, a group that set out to challenge the assumption that "men only may conduct industrial and other things." The association hoped to establish newspapers, banks, cooperative stores, and a printing press, all owned and operated by women.
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was also an outspoken supporter of women's rights. In the following excerpt from her poem "Dialogue on Woman's Rights," she explained why black men should support woman suffrage:
Some thought that it would never do
For us in Southern lands,
To change the fetters on our wrists
For the ballot in our hands.
Now if you don't believe 'twas right
To crowd us from the track
How can you push your wife aside
And try to hold her back?
By the late 1860s, Elizabeth Cady Stanton had adopted a new strategy in fighting for female suffrage. Like Sojourner Truth, she no longer emphasized women's common humanity with men and therefore women's common right to suffrage. Instead, she drew on the decades-old arguments that celebrated women's unique intellectual, emotional, and moral qualities to argue that women were different from men, and for that reason they were particularly worthy and needful of having the right to vote. In an address to a women's rights convention, she proclaimed, "There is sex in the spiritual as well as the physical and what we need today in government, in the world of morals and thought, is the recognition of the feminine element, as it is this alone that can hold the masculine in check."
Throughout American history, this celebration of women's unique qualities has helped to expand women's influence beyond the home and into the community. Although women were prohibited from voting, serving as legislators, and fighting for the defense of liberty because of their sex, they were obligated to raise liberty-loving sons who dutifully discharged these tasks of citizenship.
In the antebellum years of the 1830s, women had used the same argument to create more visible roles for themselves: As pious, virtuous, and kindly maternal figures, they were obligated not only to raise patriotic sons but to devote themselves to the public good—to extend a helping hand to widows, orphans, "fallen women," and others in need of their excellent influence. Middle-class women had organized or joined charitable societies to spread the moral standards of the home throughout the community. Now, in the post-Civil War era, Stanton and others once again elevated women's "feminine element" into a virtue that would protect the nation's moral life.
Stanton claimed that voting was both a basic right and the most effective way for women to exert their moral influence. In 1868 she and Susan B. Anthony established their own newspaper, the Revolution, to promote their campaign for women's rights. In a letter to Anthony, Stanton explained the significance of the newspaper's name and offered her vision of the struggle ahead: "The establishing of woman on her rightful throne is the greatest revolution the world has ever known or will know," she declared. "A journal called the Rosebud might answer for those who come with kid gloves and perfumes to lay immortal wreaths on the monuments which in sweat and tears others have hewn and built; but for us … there is no name like the Revolution." The motto on the Revolution's masthead read: "Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less." Anthony managed the office, handled the bookkeeping and bills, and hired the typesetters and printers, while Stanton served as senior editor and primary writer.
Although it lasted for only two and a half years, the weekly newspaper became a mouthpiece for some of the most prominent, creative, and uncompromising members of the women's rights movement. Matilda Joslyn Gage, Paulina Wright Davis, and Ernestine Rose—all highly dedicated and visionary leaders for women's rights—were regular correspondents. More important, the paper, under Stanton's direction, dealt with controversial issues that other papers and forums only touched upon gingerly. Abortion, regulation of prostitution, divorce, and prison reform—all were discussed openly in the Revolution's pages as reasons why women needed political power.
Nor did the paper shrink from condemning the "degrading" legal position of married women and disputing the traditional view of marriage as sacred and indissoluble. Stanton advocated more liberal divorce laws and better legal protection for married women and concluded that giving women the vote would help to rectify married women's legal inequities. The Revolution steadily focused the women's rights movement on the need for female suffrage, especially at a time when other reformers supported suffrage only for black men. The newspaper also linked female suffrage to dramatic and controversial reforms for women—reforms that more conservative factions of the movement were unwilling to champion.
The Revolution broke other new ground by reaching out to working-class women, whom the women's rights movement had previously ignored. Anthony, in particular, set out to capture working-class women's support. In September 1868, she helped to organize the Working Woman's Association "for the purpose of doing everything possible to elevate women, and raise the value of their labor." The Revolution reported on all proceedings of the Working Woman's Association, and Stanton and Anthony established a column entitled "The Working Woman" to highlight issues and events of concern to working-class women. They did not shy away from advocating policies that were highly unpopular, including equal pay for equal work and access to jobs traditionally reserved for men—goals that today's working women are still struggling to achieve.
Meanwhile, the conflict between those who supported women's immediate enfranchisement and those who chose to work for black male suffrage first and woman suffrage later on turned into a bitter schism. By 1869 two organizations had emerged with differing visions and strategies. In May 1869 Stanton and Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). This group refused to support the 15th Amendment—the amendment granting black male suffrage—unless it also enfranchised all women. NWSA members lobbied on a national level for a constitutional amendment to enfranchise women in all states.
In contrast, the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), which was founded by Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell in November 1869, supported passage of the 15th Amendment. Rather than seek a constitutional amendment to give women the ballot, members of AWSA appealed to individual state legislatures to pass state laws granting female enfranchisement. Members of AWSA published their views in their own newspaper, the Woman's Journal. Like its parent organization, the Woman's Journal spoke to a more conservative and narrow vision of women's rights. It tried to cultivate the support of conservative middle-class readers by linking suffrage to middle-class benefits, such as higher education for women, professional advancement, and protection of married women's earnings and property from their husbands.
The Woman's Journal also avoided discussion of controversial issues, such as abortion and prostitution. It took a chattier, more compromising tone than the Revolution and focused strictly on suffrage news—debates, speeches, conventions, and political platforms favoring suffrage. Despite financial reverses and frequent staff changes, the Woman's Journal outlasted its rival, the Revolution, and eventually became the main organ of the women's rights movement. Lucy Stone was its chief editor, and former abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison, Henry Blackwell, T. H. Higginson, and Julia Ward Howe served as assistant editors.
For twenty years, NWSA and AWSA pursued their separate goals, holding conventions, sponsoring debates, and sending speakers out on the lecture circuit. In 1887 Alice Stone Blackwell, daughter of Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell, launched a campaign to merge the two organizations. Three years later, in February 1890, the two associations joined hands to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Elizabeth Cady Stanton served as the first president of NAWSA until 1892, when she withdrew from active involvement in organized suffrage efforts. When Stanton died in 1902, the women's rights movement lost one of its most original and uncompromising voices. Anthony followed her into the presidency of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and remained at its helm until 1904. She died two years later. Although she was more cautious than Stanton in her thinking, Anthony was a courageous and tireless fighter for female equality.
American women had not yet received the constitutional right to vote, but in the two decades between the founding of the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 and their merger into the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890, the cause of female suffrage achieved important successes, especially in the West. The first victory for woman suffrage in the United States occurred in the Wyoming Territory, a sparsely settled region with few political traditions in place. The conditions of this region—the absence of long-standing political traditions and greater frontier opportunities for women—proved fertile ground for voting rights for women. In 1870 the tiny legislature in Wyoming passed a female enfranchisement bill, and the governor, John A. Campbell, who some years earlier had watched women conduct a women's rights convention in Salem, Oregon, signed it.
The neighboring territory of Utah followed suit in 1870. Most of Utah's settlers were Mormon. Although women held no important positions in the church hierarchy, they played an active role in community and church life. Church leaders encouraged women to serve as nurses and midwives, and some women even went to medical school. Mormon women also attended church meetings and voted on church matters, taught the younger children in their settlements, raised money for the church, and educated themselves about government, history, and parliamentary law. The Mormon community's acceptance of women's public responsibilities no doubt contributed to winning female suffrage in Utah.
In the Northwest—the region now comprising Oregon and Washington—Abigail Scott Duniway, a brave and feisty woman, led the fight for woman suffrage. In 1852, at the age of seventeen, she journeyed with her family by wagon train to the Oregon Territory. There she married and raised five children and discovered firsthand what it meant to toil long hours for no wages. She also discovered that even though wives had no legal rights, a wife was responsible for any financial obligations undertaken by her husband. When Duniway's husband became disabled in an accident, she was forced to pay his debts.
By the age of thirty-six, Duniway was ready to dedicate her life to woman suffrage. She established her own newspaper, the New Northwest, to convey her ideas and provide a forum for suffrage events out West. She also wrote and published vivid accounts of her travels throughout the Northwest. Duniway crisscrossed the region to give speeches and help organize suffrage events.
Duniway also clashed with East Coast suffrage leaders. She staunchly rejected their strategy of portraying women as morally superior to men in order to win public approval for female suffrage. She argued that this strategy perpetuated women's unequal political and economic status by sentimentalizing them. Instead, she urged, suffrage was the way to end the sexual and economic exploitation of women and give women a measure of control over their lives. Like Stanton, Abigail Scott Duniway was a clear-eyed, tough-minded, and dedicated suffrage leader whose unorthodox views did not always sit well with her more conservative suffrage sisters.
Southerners were even more resistant to women's rights. Because many early suffrage advocates had also been abolitionists, some Southerners regarded the movement as "a heresy that has a real devil in it," according to one suffrage worker traveling in Mississippi. Still, there were pockets of support for female suffrage throughout the South. Some Southern women joined the American Equal Rights Association, and in 1869 suffrage resolutions were offered at constitutional conventions in Texas and Arkansas, two former Confederate states applying for readmission into the Union. Although the resolutions did not pass, suffrage leaders were heartened that they had at least been introduced.