United States Suffrage Movement in the 19th Century: Primary Sources

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SOURCE: Cady Stanton, Elizabeth, Lucretia Mott, Martha C. Wright, Mary Ann McClintock, and Jane C. Hunt. "Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions at the First Woman's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls (1848)." In Public Women, Public Words: A Documentary History of American Feminism, edited by Dawn Keetley and John Pettegrew, pp. 190-93. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1997.

In the following excerpt, originally published in 1848, early suffragist leaders mimic the tone and sentiments of the American Declaration of Independence to advocate for women's rights, most notably equal voting rights.

Declaration of Sentiments

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hither to occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they were accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men—both natives and foreigners.

Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.

He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.

He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.

He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master—the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.

He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes of divorce; in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given; as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women—the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.

After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.

He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration.

He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction, which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.

He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education—all colleges being closed against her.

He allows her in Church, as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.

He has created a false public sentiment, by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated but deemed of little account in man.

He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.

He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation,—in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.

In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the state and national legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions, embracing every part of the country.

Firmly relying upon the final triumph of the Right and the True, we do this day affix our signatures to this declaration.

Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eunice Newton Foote, Mary Ann McClintock, Martha C. Wright, Jane C. Hunt, Amy Post, Catharine A. F. Stebbins, Mary H. Hallowell, Charlotte Woodward, Sarah Hallowell.

Richard P. Hunt, Samuel D. Tilman, Elisha Foote, Frederick Douglass, Elias J. Doty, James Mott, Thomas McClintock.

This Declaration was unanimously adopted and signed by 32 men and 68 women.


Whereas the great precept of nature is conceded to be, "that man shall pursue his own true and substantial happiness." Blackstone, in his Commentaries, remarks, that this law of Nature being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times; no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this, and such of them as are valid, derive all their force, and all their validity, and all their authority, mediately and immediately, from this original; therefore,

Resolved, That such laws as conflict, in any way, with the true and substantial happiness of woman, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and of no validity; for this is "superior in obligation to any other."

Resolved, That all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority.

Resolved, That woman is man's equal—was intended to be so by the Creator—and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.

Resolved, That the women of this country ought to be enlightened in regard to the laws under which they live, that they may no longer publish their degradation, by declaring themselves satisfied with their present position, nor their ignorance, by asserting that they have all the rights they want.

Resolved, That inasmuch as man, while claiming for himself intellectual superiority, does accord to woman moral superiority, it is preeminently his duty to encourage her to speak, and teach, as she has an opportunity, in all religious assemblies.

Resolved, That the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior, that is required of woman in the social state, should also be required of man, and the same transgressions should be visited with equal severity on both man and woman.

Resolved, That the objection of indelicacy and impropriety, which is so often brought against woman when she addresses a public audience, comes with a very ill-grace from those who encourage, by their attendance, her appearance on the stage, in the concert, or in feats of the circus.

Resolved, That woman has too long rested satisfied in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted application of the Scriptures have marked out for her, and that it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.

Resolved, That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.

Resolved, That the equality of human rights results necessarily from the fact of the identity of the race in capabilities and responsibilities.

Resolved, therefore, That, being invested by the Creator with the same capabilities, and the same consciousness of responsibility for their exercise, it is demonstrably the right and duty of woman, equally with man, to promote every righteous cause, by every righteous means; and especially in regard to the great subjects of morals and religion, it is self-evidently her right to participate with her brother in teaching them, both in private and in public, by writing and by speaking, by any instrumentalities proper to be used, and in any assemblies proper to be held; and this being a self-evident truth, growing out of the divinely implanted principles of human nature, any custom or authority adverse to it, whether modern or wearing the hoary sanction of antiquity, is to be regarded as a self-evident falsehood, and at war with the interests of mankind.

The only resolution which met opposition was the 9th, demanding the right of suffrage which, however, after a prolonged discussion was adopted. All of the meetings throughout the two days were largely attended, but this, like every step in progress, was ridiculed from Maine to Louisiana.


SOURCE: Stone, Lucy. Woman Suffrage in New Jersey: An Address delivered by Lucy Stone at a Hearing Before the New Jersey Legislature, pp. 3-19. Boston: C. H. Simmons & Co., 1867.

In the following excerpted address, Stone underscores the importance of women's suffrage.


Grateful for the hearing so promptly accorded, I will proceed without preliminary to state the object of the petition, and to urge its claim.

Woman ask you to submit to the people of New Jersey amendments to the Constitution of the State, striking out respectively the words "white" and "male" from Article 2, Section I, thus enfranchising the women and the colored men, who jointly constitute a majority of our adult citizens. You will thereby establish a republican form of government.

I am to speak to you of Suffrage. In any other country, it would be necessary to show that political power naturally vests in the people. But here the whole ground is granted in advance. When our fathers came out of the war of the Revolution, made wiser by those seven years of suffering, they affirmed these truths to be self-evident: "Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." "Taxation without representation is tyranny."

The Declaration of Independence, affirming these self evident truths, was unanimously adopted by the representatives of the thirteen United States. The descendants of those representatives have held these principles in theory ever since. We have called it "The Immortal Declaration." It has been read in every State, on every Fourth of July, since 1776. We have honored its authors and the day that gave it utterance, as we honor no other day and no other men. Not only we, but, the wide world round, men suffering under hoary despotisms, by a quick instinct turn their longing eyes to this country, and know that in the realization of our self-evident truths lies the charm by which their own bonds shall be broken.

New Jersey, in her State Constitution, in the very first Section of the first Article affirms that, "All men are, by nature, free and independent, and have certain natural and unalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and of pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness." Again in Article 2. That, "All political power is inherent in the people, and they have a right, at all times, to alter, or reform the same, whenever the public good may require it."

Gentlemen will see it is no new claim that women are making. They only ask for the practical application of admitted, self-evident truths. If "all political power is inherent in the people," why have women, who are more than half the entire population of this State, no political existence? Is it because they are not people? Only a madman would say of a congregation of negroes, or of women, that there were no people there. They are counted in the census, and also in the ratio of representation of every State, to increase the political power of white men. Women are even held to be citizens without the full rights of citizenship, but to bear the burden of "taxation without representation," which is "tyranny."

"Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." Not of the governed property-holders, nor of the governed white men, nor of the governed married men, nor of the governed fighting men; but of the governed. Sad to say, this principle, so beautiful in theory, has never been fully applied in practice!

What is Suffrage? It is the prescribed method whereby, at a certain time and place, the will of the citizen is registered. It is the form in which the popular assent or dissent is indicated, in reference to principles, measures and men. The essence of suffrage is rational choice. It follows, therefore, under our theory of government, that every individual capable of independent rational choice is rightfully entitled to vote.

The alien who is temporarily resident among us is excepted. He is still a citizen of his native country, from which he may demand protection and to which he owes allegiance. But if he become a permanent resident and renounce allegiance to foreign potentates and powers, then he is admitted to all the rights of citizenship,—suffrage included.

The minor is excepted. He is held an infant in law. He has not attained mental maturity. He is under guardianship, as being incapable of rational choice. He cannot legally buy, nor sell, nor make a valid contract. But when the white male infant arrives as years of discretion, he may do all these things and vote also.

Idiots and lunatics are excepted, because they are incapable of rational choice and so cannot vote.

None of these cases conflict with the principle. But when a persons disfranchised because he is a negro the principle of rational, individual choice is violated. For the negro possesses every human faculty. Many colored persons are wiser and better than many white voters. During the late war, the negroes were loyal to a man. Neither threats nor bribes could induce them to join their enemies and ours. They freely shared the poverty of their small cabins with our sick and wounded soldiers, tenderly offered the cooling cup to their fevered lips, and, again and again, at great personal peril guided them to our lines. Two hundred thousand colored soldiers wore the blue uniform of the United States and fought bravely in the Union ranks. Their blood was mingled with ours on many a hard-fought field. Yet this class, so loyal and patriotic, have no vote in the loyal State of New Jersey!

So, too, when a woman is disfranchised because she is a woman, the principle is violated. For woman possesses every human faculty. No man would admit, even to himself, that his mother is not capable of rational choice. And if the woman he has chosen for a wife is a fool, that fact lies at least as much against his ability to make a rational choice as against hers, and should accordingly put them both into the class of excepted persons.

The great majority of women are more intelligent, better educated, and far more moral than multitudes of men whose right to vote no man questions.

Woman are loyal and patriotic. During the late war, many a widow not only yielded all her sons to the cause of freedom, but strengthened their failing courage when the last good-bye was said, and kept them in the field by words of lofty cheer and the hope of a country really free.

An only son, crowned with the honors of Harvard University, living in elegance and wealth, with every avenue of distinction open before him, was offered the Colonelcy of a regiment of colored volunteers. His mother, with pulses such as thrilled the proud mother of the Gracchi when she called her sons her jewels, hailed the son's acceptance of the offer of fellowship with the lowliest for his country's sake. And when he fell, murdered at Fort Wagner, and was "buried with his negroes," her grief for his loss was more than equaled by the high satisfaction she felt that young life, so nobly lived, was so nobly given back to Him from whom it came. That mother is classed politically with madmen and fools. By her side stand ten million American woman who are taxed without representation and governed without consent. Women are fined, imprisoned, hanged—and no one of them was ever yet granted a trial by "a jury of her peers."

Every Fourth of July gentlemen invite women to "reserved seats for the ladies," and then read what these women too well knew before, that governments are just only when they obtain the consent of the governed. Strange to say, men do not seem to know that what they read condemns their practice.

But it may be said, "the consent of the governed is only a theory, a 'glittering generality'"—that, in fact, the governed do not consent and never have consented. Yet this theory is the "golden rule" of political justice. The right of the citizen to participate in making the laws is the sole foundation of political morality. As Mr. Lincoln said of slavery—if a government without consent of the governed is not wrong, nothing political is wrong. Deny this and you justify despotism. On the principle of limited suffrage, aristocracy is blameless and republican institutions are impossible. Can you believe that when God established an immutable code of morals for the individual, he left society without a moral code—a mere battle-ground of force and fraud? The men who deny political rights to the negro and the woman can show no title to their own.

Now, as there can be no argument against a self-evident truth, so none has ever been attempted. But ridicule, without stint or measure has been so heaped upon those who claim political equality, that many women have been induced to deny that they desire it, lest "the world's dread laugh," which few can bear, should burst upon them an unsexed viragos, "strong-minded women who wish to drive men to the nursery while take the rostrum." As, in the days of the Revolution, Tory priest sought to weaken the hands of our fathers by the Scripture, iterated and reiterated, "Honor the King," so now the haters of human liberty hurl texts at women and do not know that the golden rule, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them,"—that central truth round which all other divine utterance revolves—would settle this question in favor of women.

We are asked in triumph: "What good would it do women and negroes to vote"? We answer: "What good does it do white men to vote? Why do you want to vote, gentlemen? Why did the Revolutionary fathers fight seven years for a vote? Why do the English workingmen want to vote? Why do their friends—John Bright and Thomas Hughes and the liberal party—want the suffrage for them?" Women want to vote, just as men do, because it is the only way in which they can be protected in their rights. To men, suffrage stands for "a fair day's wages for a fair day's work." The workingmen of England do not get that because they have had no vote. Negroes and women in America do not get it, because they have no vote.

In Auburn, New York, the teachers of the public schools, male and female, united last spring in a petition for an increase of salary. So $200 was added to the salary of each man, and only $25 to that of each woman. The women, indignant at the injustice, wrote an ironical letter of thanks to the Board of Education for their very large liberality. Thereupon the Board required them to retract the letter, and coupled the demand with a threat of dismissal if the teachers did not comply. A part, driven by necessity, succumbed. A part, who preferred their own self-respect and a poorer crust, refused. Would those women have been thus treated, either in regard to salary or dismissal, if, as voters, they could have had a voice in the election of the Board for the following year?

It is said that women are now represented by their husbands, fathers, brothers or sons. Would men consent to be represented by their wives and sisters? If it were possible for any class to legislate well for another, it might be supposed that those who sustain to each other these tender relations, could do so. But we find, on the contrary, that in every State, the laws affecting woman as wife, mother and widow, are different from and worse than those which men make for themselves as husband, father and widower.

I will quote a few laws to show how women are represented in New Jersey.

A widower is entitled to the life use of all his deceased wife's real estate, but a widow is entitled only to the life use of one-third of her deceased husband's real estate.

A widower succeeds to the whole of his deceased wife's personal property, whether she will, or not, with the right to administer on her estate without giving bonds. But a widow has only one-third of her deceased husband's personal property (or one-half of it if he leaves no children), but none at all if he choose to will it to any one else, and if she administer on his estate she must give bonds.

A mother inherits the whole of her deceased child's estate only when that child leaves no brothers, nor sisters, nor children of brothers and sisters, and no father. But a father inherits the whole property of such a child when all these survive. In this State, where my child was born, a father has the sole custody of the children. The law provides (see Revised Statutes, page 915, Sec. 9,) that "any father, whether he be of age, or not, by a deed executed in his life-time, or by a last will, may dispose of the custody of his child, born or to be born—and such disposition shall be good against the child's mother and against every other person. And if the mother, or any other person, shall attempt to acquire the custody of the child, she, or they shall be subject to an action for ravishment, or trespass." Thus, the minor, whom the law holds incompetent to make any valid contract, whose written promise to pay even is worthless, who is not old enough to vote, is empowered by law to come to her side, whose wild strife with death and agony is ushering their child to life, to seize the new-born being and will it from her sight forever. The successful attempt on her part to recover her God-given right, the law calls "ravishment." the only woman in this State who is legally entitled to her child is the unhonored mother whose baby is a bastard!

By the law of New Jersey the sole definition of an orphan is "a fatherless child." And yet, in contempt, we are asked "why do women want to vote?" There are women, too, who say they "have all the rights they want!"

"When any husband and wife live in a state of separation, and have minor children, the Chancellor, the Supreme Court, or any Justice of said Court, many, if the children are brought before them by habeas corpus, make and order for the access of the mother to her infant child, or children, at such times and under such circumstances as they many direct—and if the child, or children are under seven years of age, shall make an order to deliver them to the mother, until they are seven." And then, still just as much in need of a mother's love, they must go back to the custody of the father. (Statutes page 361.)

Thus she has no legal right to her children, whose breast blessed their baby lips, whose tender care soothed their baby sorrows, whose hand guided their first tottering footsteps, and whose love for those who are "the bone of her bone and the flesh of her flesh" will last when all other love but the love of God shall fail!

"A widow may live forty days in the house of her deceased husband without paying rent, or even longer if her dower has not, within that time, been set off to her." But when the dower is assigned, this home, made by the mutual toil and thrift of husband and wife, this roof under which her children were born and where her husband died, hallowed by associations of their early love and her recent loss, can no longer give her shelter, unless she pay rent. The very crops, which would have been her food if the strong arm on which she leaned were not cold in death, are no longer hers. Appraisers have searched cupboard, closet and drawer, have set a market value upon articles of which no money could pay the price to her;—a sale is made, and this woman is houseless, as well as widowed.

But if death had chosen her for its victim, instead of her husband, the widower could remain in undisturbed possession of house and property, could gather his unmothered children around the still warm hearth-stone, desolate indeed, but not robbed.

A husband can sell his real estate and make a valid deed subject only to the wife's right of dower. But a wife can neither sell her personal property, nor her real estate, nor make a valid deed, without her husband's consent.

A husband can make a will of everything he possesses, except the dower of his wife. But a wife cannot will her personal property at all without her husband's consent indorsed upon the will. And even then if, after her death, the husband recall his consent before the will is admitted to probate, her will is null and void.

The above quotations show how women are now represented. They prove the truth of the old adage, "If you don't want your business done, send another; if you want it done, go yourself."

And still men object: "Women and negroes don't know enough to vote." As though it were possible for us to do worse for ourselves than they have done for us. Do they fear we shall return evil for evil? This objection comes with an ill grave from those who welcome to the polls voters of every degree of ignorance, so only they be white men. When a white man comes of age, it is never asked whether he knows enough to vote. He may not know the first letter of the alphabet. He many be an habitual drunkard, a haunter of gambling houses and brothels. But he belongs to the "white male" aristocracy, and so the way is prepared, without his asking, by which he shall take his place with the self-constituted sovereigns, to whose law-making power women and negroes must bow in silent submission. All such men think that "women don't know enough to vote." Will intelligent men rank their wives politically lower than these?

It is said that "if women vote it will make domestic discord." On the contrary, we always find that those who wish to secure the votes of others are extremely polite to them. Witness any election. "My dear fellow, I rely on your invaluable aid." "In this emergency, America expects every man to do his duty; let me treat you." "Here is a five dollar bill." "How is your good wife? Are the children well?" And straightway the deluded voter goes after him to vote, perhaps against his own interest and that of the State.

But seriously, does any man mean to say that if his wife have a different political opinion from his own and dare to express it, he will quarrel with her? Will he make his own narrowness and ill-temper a reason why his wife should not exercise a God-given right? If so, the argument is against him and not against her. A husband and wife often hold different religious opinions, respect their differences, and go quietly to their respective churches. It will be so in politics among decent men. But the unfortunate woman who has married a brute needs a vote all the more. With or without a vote, he will pound her all the same.

It is said that "it will demoralize women to vote." On the contrary, the presence of women would purify politics. Why is the political meeting which admits women an orderly assemblage, while that which excludes them in boisterous? If the wives and daughters of ignorant and intemperate men are not demoralized by daily association with them, it is scarcely possible that going once or twice a year to vote would do so. Are women demoralized by going to the market, or the post-office? But experience has already proved the contrary. Women now vote in Michigan, Kentucky, and Canada upon school questions. In Holland, women who are property holders vote. In Sweden they do the same. In Austria, women who are Nobles in their own right are members of the Diet.

But we have an example nearer home. In New Jersey, women and negroes voted from 1776 to 1807, a period of thirty-one years. The facts are as follows:

In 1709, a Provincial law confined the privilege of voting to "male freeholders having one hundred acres of land in their own right, or £50 current money of the province in real and personal estate," and during the whole of the Colonial period these qualifications continued unchanged.

But on the 2nd of July, 1776, (two days before the Declaration of Independence) the Provincial Congress of New Jersey, at Burlington, adopted a Constitution, which remained in force until 1844, of which Sec. 4 is as follows: "Qualifications of Electors for members of Legislatures. All inhabitants of the Colony, of full age, who are worth £50 Proclamation money, clear estate, in the same, and have resided within the county, in which they claim a vote, for twelve months immediately preceding the election, shall be entitled to vote for representatives in Council and Assembly, and also for all other public officers that shall be elected by the people of the county at large."

Sec. 7 provides that the Council and Assembly jointly shall elect some fit person within the Colony, to be Governor. This Constitution remained in force until 1844.

Thus, by deliberate change of the terms "male freeholder," to "all inhabitants," suffrage and ability to hold the highest office in the State, were conferred both on women and negroes.

In 1790 a committee of the Legislature reported a bill regulating elections, in which the words "he or she" are applied to voters, thus giving legislative indorsement to the alleged meaning of the Constitution.

In 1797 the Legislature passed an act to regulate elections, containing the following provisions:

"Sec. 9. Every voter shall openly and in full view deliver his or her ballot, which shall be a single written ticket containing the names of the person, or persons, for whom he or she votes," etc.

"Sec. 11. All free inhabitants of full age who are worth £50 Proclamation money, and have resided within the county in which they claim a vote, for twelve months immediately preceding the election, shall be entitled to vote for all public officers which shall be elected by virtue of this act, and no person shall be entitled to vote in any other township, or precinct, [except] that in which he, or she, doth actually reside at the time of the election."

Women voted. Yet no catastrophe, social or political, ensued. Women did not cease to be womanly. They did not neglect their domestic duties. Indeed the noble character and exalted patriotism of the women of New Jersey all through the Revolution have been the subject of historical eulogy. There is no evidence that the women and free negroes abused or neglected their political privileges. It is said that "woman don't want to vote." Yet, in New Jersey, when they were allowed to vote, they manifested a growing interest in public affairs. Mr. Wm. A. Whitehead, of Newark, an opponent of female suffrage, expressly states that as time elapsed "the practice extended," and that "in the Presidential election of 1800, between Adams and Jefferson, females voted very generally throughout the State and such continued to be the case until the passage of the act (1807) excluding them from the polls. At first the law had been so construed as to admit single women only, but, as the practice extended, the construction of the privilege became broader and was made to include females 18 years old, married or single, and even women of color; at a contested election in Hunterdon County, in 1802, the votes of two or three such actually electing a member of the Legislature."

But, unfortunately, New Jersey remained a Salve State. And, like all communities cursed with slavery, she had no efficient system of free schools. Her soil proved less fertile than the newer States of the West, and the more enterprising class of emigrants passed on. The later settlers of New Jersey were far inferior to the original Quaker and Puritan elements which controlled the Constitutional Convention of 1776. Society retrograded. Slavery smothered the spirit of liberty. In the sprint of 1807, a special election was held in Essex County to decide upon the location of a Court House and Jail—Newark and its vicinity struggling to retain the County buildings, Elizabethtown and its neighborhood striving to remove them to "Day's Hill."

The question excited intense interest, as the value of every man's property was thought to be involved. Not only was every legal voter, man or woman, white or black, brought out, but on both sides gross frauds were practised. The property qualification was generally disregarded; aliens and minors participated, and many persons "voted early and voted often." In Acquackanonk Township, thought to contain about 300 legal voters, over 1800 votes were polled, all but seven in the interest of Newark.

It does not appear that either women or negroes were more especially implicated in these frauds than the white men. But the affair caused great scandal and they seem to have been made the scapegoats.

When the Legislature assembled, they set aside the election as fraudulent, yet Newark retained the buildings. Then they passed as act (Nov. 15, 1807), restricting the suffrage to white male about citizens, residents in the county for the twelve months preceding and worth £50 Proclamation money. But they went on, and provided that all such, whose names appeared on the last duplicate of State or county taxes should be considered worth £50; thus virtually abolishing the property qualification.

In 1820 the same provisions were repeated, and were maintained until 1844, when the present State Constitution was substituted.

Thus, in defiance of the letter of the Constitution and of the Statutes and uniform practice of a generation, women and negroes were disfranchised by an arbitrary act of the Legislature, without discussion and almost without comment. Yet the very act which disfranchised voters whose only crime was sex and color, set aside the property qualification and admitted to the polls all white male tax-payers, however ignorant or degraded. Therefore, women come before you here in New Jersey with a peculiar and special claim. We have had this right. We have exercised it. It has been unjustly and illegally taken away, without our consent, without our being allowed to say a word in our own defence. We have been condemned unheard, not by the people, but by the Legislature. To-day, we ask you, after the lapse of more than half a century, to give the people of New Jersey an opportunity of rectifying an act of atrocious political usurpation and injustice. For it was worse in principle than the "coup d'etat" of Louis Napoleon. He, at least, went through the form of submitting the question to the verdict of the people. The Legislature of 1807 did not submit it. Our disfranchisement can only be justified upon the robber's plea that "might makes right."

It is said that "women would vote as their husbands and brothers do." If so, why should men object? These votes, at least, they could get without bribery, and thus double the vote of their party. But does any one believe that the drunkards' wives would vote with the drunkards? I do not.

It is said that "women do not want to vote." Then, let those who do not, stay away from the polls. No one is compelled to vote. Let those who do wish to vote be free to do so.

It is said that "women would sometimes want to hold office." Certainly. Those who bear the burdens of government should share its honors. Why should not a woman be President of the United States? The name of Elizabeth of England, or Catherine of Russia, of Isabella of Spain, or Maria Theresa of Austria—each of these proves woman's capacity to govern. And to-day, no sovereign in the world receives such love and loyalty as Queen Victoria. Are American women alone incompetent for great responsibilities? If so, alas, for free institutions!

It is said that "bad women will vote." True. But so do bad men. In both cases, the bad are a small minority.

It is asked "who will take care of the children while the mothers go to vote?" Who takes care of them now, while the mothers go to church fifty-two times a year? Who takes care of them while the mothers are at parties and balls? If caretakers can be found for the children on all these occasions, it will be easy to find some one to care for them during the half hour it takes the mother to go and vote, that she may have a legal right to take care of them and to share in their guardianship. Hon. Richard O'Gorman made a speech in Cooper Institute, Sunday evening, Feb. 24, in behalf of the destitute poor of the South. He said, "The women now-a-days did not want loyalty, did not want respect for their sex. They demanded liberty and equality." Whereupon there was "great laughter and applause." He said, "Woman would have to talk a great deal, before they could eradicate from the pure heart of man its delicate submission to the weaker, but nobler sex." More applause. Then he drew a picture of a country ravaged by a war of the "nobler sex." showing how very bad affairs would be in such a case, and he received more applause. In conclusion, he had the hardihood to make an especial appeal to the ladies, to help him raise the funds he wanted. By-and-by, when women have the ballot, Mr. O'Gorman will probably ask us to vote for him.

It is said that "women would be insulted and annoyed by contact with rowdies at the polls." A friend in Canada West told me that when the law was first passed, giving women who owned a certain amount of property, or who paid a given rental, a vote, he went trembling to the polls to see the result. This first woman who came was a large property holder in Toronto; with marked respect the crowd gave way as she advanced. She spoke her vote and walked quietly away, sheltered by her womanhood. It was all the protection she needed. But, if it seem best, what can be easier than to have separate polls for women?

These are some of the arguments against woman's demand that she may give her consent to the laws she is required to obey; that the political power which "inheres in the people" may be shared irrespective of sex, or color, by the more than half of the people to whom it is now denied.

Now let me state some of the reasons why women and negroes need to vote.

  1. Because it is right. Wendell Phillips once said: "The broadest and most far-sighted intellect is utterly unable to foresee the ultimate consequences of any great social change. Ask yourself on all such occasions if there be any element of right and wrong in the question, any principle of clear, natural justice that turns the scale? If so, take your part with the perfect and abstract right, and trust God to see that it shall prove the expedient.
  2. To repeal unjust laws, some of which I have quoted.
  3. To enable women and negroes to share all profitable employments, and thus to obtain fair wages of fair work. Colored men can now only be bootblacks, barbers or waiters. It is skilled labor that pays. The skilled labor is monopolized by white men who shut them out. In the South, indeed, where white men think it a disgrace to work, the trades were all in the hand of colored men, before the War. The master pocketed the proceeds, but the negro proved his capacity to excel in every branch of skilled labor. While voters of every grade of intelligence are freely admitted to all industrial pursuits, colored men, who are not voters but in every other respect competent, can get no openings but such as no one else will use. A colored mechanic, a Georgia slave, whose labor as a harness-maker earned his master from three to five dollars a day, ran away to the North. A gentleman who had known his in the South found him a waiter in a hotel at Saratoga. Being asked why he did not work at his trade, he replied that he would gladly do so, but in the North, nobody would employ him. At one harness shop, the proprietor was willing to give him work, but every mechanic in his employ refused to "work with a nigger." Slavery had robbed him of all his earnings while a slave. He had no capital with which to establish himself. And so, this strong, skilful harness-maker, whose skill is his only capital, and who might provide for is family a comfortable home, and add to his country's wealth, can only earn as a waiter the pittance which supplies his daily bread. Give this colored man a vote and the harness shops will no longer exclude him. Yet, in spite of these disadvantages, there is a smaller percentage of drunkards, paupers and criminals among out Northern black population than among our whites. You seldom see a negro beggar.

    To women also, who are not voters, and because they are not voters, only the poorest employments are open, except that of teaching. Even as a teacher, while a woman instructs as many pupils, for as many hours, in the same studies, and with equal ability, she gets only from one-third to one-half as much salary as a man gets who does similar work in every respect. This is true of the schools of New Jersey and of every other State. Horace Mann advised the employment of female teachers because, he said "they were better teachers and could be hired at a lower rate."

    The last annual report of the Superintendent of Public Schools in New York City stated that the salaries of the male Principals range from $2000 to $3000, those of female Principals from $900 to $1200; of male Assistants from $800 to $1500, those of female Assistants from $500 to $800.

    The great mass of women are crowded by the narrow range of female occupations into housework and needle-work. But the law of supply and demand knows no exception, and these employments, always over-stocked, are always underpaid. Rarely, by these occupations, can a woman save anything, either to make a home, or for her old age. Is it strange that multitudes, driven by the hunger-cry for the bread that perishes, should fall into the ranks of abandoned women, whose dreadful trade the New York Legislature is actually petitioned to license? Oh, if legislators could only see that neither "midnight missions" nor licenses can avail to regulate or destroy this unspeakable crime! Let them arm woman with the ballot. Acknowledge her right to protect herself, and when society has had time to adjust itself to the new conditions, this class will disappear. Believe me, when woman can earn her bread in honor, she will not seek it by disgrace.

  4. Women and negroes need the ballot to secure equal means of education. The children of all white voters of every means of education. The children of all white voters of every nationality are admitted to the public schools of New Jersey. But the colored children are excluded. In my immediate neighborhood is an aged colored man who owns and built with his own hands the house which he has occupied for more than twenty years. He possesses 2 ½ acres of ground. For twenty-three years, he has paid taxes for the support of school of his district. All white children, native or foreign, go freely to the school, but neither his children, nor his grandchildren have ever been admitted. The colored school in Newark is so far away, that virtually no education is provided for the descendants of this respectable, law-abiding, tax paying colored man. The two disfranchised classes, women and negroes, are the only ones excluded from the highest schools of the State, from the colleges, from the schools of Law, Medicine, and Theology. The avenues to the highest and widest spheres of influence are thus closed to us both.

    But, in Boston, colored men are voters. What follows? Their children are in all the schools, doing as well as white children. They are admitted to Harvard College. Two colored men are members of the Legislature, and several others are lawyers in successful practice. Thus it is easy to see how much better it is, as a mere matter of policy, to open to every class the avenues to respectability and usefulness, instead of incurring, by shutting them out, the inevitable results of ignorance and degradation. The vote is a power. With the vote women can protect themselves. In the District of Columbia, previous to the passage of the recent suffrage bill, the colored people had been for years unable to get their share of the public school fund. Within a week after the passage of the bill, $10,000 was voted to them without their asking, by the very men who had hitherto refused the money. At the late election in Georgetown, D.C., the colored men cast a solid vote for a loyal mayor, and elected him. Their quiet and orderly behavior in face of the grossest provocation was worthy of all praise.

    Again, Society needs the direct, responsible influence of women to purify politics. Men too often think and speak of politics as "a dirty pool," and ignoble scramble for place and power, a scene of bribery and intrigue. Such is not the American idea of politics. Such will not be the case when women share the political life of the nation. Our legislation now lacks precisely what women can give and what no other class can give—viz., moral tone, a recognition of higher principles than mere force and personal interest. Women will influence legislation by their tastes and character. Being temperate, they will be a power for temperance. Being chaste, they will repress licentiousness. Being peaceful, they will discourage war. Being religious and humane, they will create a religious and humane spirit in legislation.


SOURCE: Truth, Sojourner. "Colored Men Will Be Masters Over the Women (1867)." In Public Women, Public Words: A Documentary History of American Feminism, edited by Dawn Keetley and John Pettegrew, pp. 237. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1997.

In the following speech, originally delivered in 1867 and published in History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 2, 1861-1876 in 1886, Truth argues that former slave women deserve the right to vote just as much as black men.

My friends, I am rejoiced that you are glad, but I don't know how you will feel when I get through. I come from another field—the country of the slave. They have got their liberty—so much good luck to have slavery partly destroyed; not entirely. I want it root and branch destroyed. Then we will all be free indeed. I feel that if I have to answer for the deeds done in my body just as much as a man, I have a right to have just as much as a man. There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women; and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before. So I am for keeping the thing going while things are stirring; because if we wait till it is still, it will take a great while to get it going again. White women are a great deal smarter, and know more than colored women, while colored women do not know scarcely anything. They go out washing, which is about as high as a colored woman gets, and their men go about idle, strutting up and down; and when the women come home, they ask for their money and take it all, and then scold because there is no food. I want you to consider on that, chil'n. I call you chil'n; you are somebody's chil'n, and I am old enough to be mother of all that is here. I want women to have their rights. In the courts women have no right, no voice; nobody speaks for them. I wish woman to have her voice there among the pettifoggers. If it is not a fit place for women, it is unfit for men to be there.


SOJOURNER TRUTH (C. 1797-1883)

Sojourner Truth was a complex and popular figure who established a powerful persona for herself as a woman's suffragist and an African American rights crusader. In addition to The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave (1850), an autobiography that she dictated to Olive Gilbert, Truth is best remembered for her public speeches, the most famous of which was delivered at a women's rights convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851. Transcribed by contemporary author Frances Dana Gage, Truth's challenge to the assembly—"A'n't I a woman?"—immortalized her speech that demanded equal rights for all women, black and white, who comprised the early suffrage movements in America.

Truth was born into slavery in New York State, sometime around 1797. Named only Isabella, she married Thomas, a fellow slave, in 1814; the couple had five children between 1815 and 1826. In 1827, prior to the emancipation act of 1828 that freed all slaves in New York State, Isabella heard that her master planned to go back on his promise to grant her freedom and found refuge with the Van Wagenens, a Quaker family with whom she lived until 1829, when she moved to New York City. She remained in New York City until 1843, when she left to become a travelling evangelist and formally changed her name to Sojourner Truth to reflect what she believed was her destiny: to wander the earth spreading spiritual truth. Although she never learned to read or write, Truth was widely known and respected for her intelligence and wisdom. In Massachusetts, Truth became acquainted with the Northampton Association, a group of reformers, abolitionists, and women's rights advocates; she embraced the principles of abolitionism and equal rights and refocused her lectures to reflect these newfound beliefs. In 1981, Truth was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

I am above eighty years old; it is about time for me to be going. I have been forty years a slave and forty years free, and would be here forty years more to have equal rights for all. I suppose I am kept here because something remains for me to do; I suppose I am yet to help to break the chain. I have done a great deal of work; as much as a man, but did not get so much pay. I used to work in the field and bind grain, keeping up with the cradler; but men doing no more, got twice as much pay; so with the German women. They work in the field and do as much work, but do not get the pay. We do as much, we eat as much, we want as much. I suppose I am about the only colored woman that goes about to speak for the rights of the colored women. I want to keep the thing stirring, now that the ice is cracked. What we want is a little money. You men know that you get as much again as women when you write, or for what you do. When we get our rights we shall not have to come to you for money, for then we shall have money enough in our own pockets; and may be you will ask us for money. But help us now until we get it. It is a good consolation to know that when we have got this battle once fought we shall not be coming to you any more. You have been having our rights so long, that you think, like a slave-holder, that you own us. I know that it is hard for one who has held the reins for so long it give up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all the better when it closed up again. I have been in Washington about three years, seeing about these colored people. Now colored men have the right to vote. There ought to be equal rights now more than ever, since colored people have got their freedom. I am going to talk several times while I am here; so now I will do a little singing. I have not heard any singing since I came here.


SOURCE: Hooker, Isabella Beecher. "If Women Could Vote." In Early American Women: A Documentary History, 1600-1900, edited by Nancy Woloch, pp. 512-15. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1992.

In the following excerpt, originally published in Putnam's Magazine in 1868, Hooker argues that women are in fact better suited for enfranchisement and political office than men.

——,——, 1868

My Dear Daughter:

You ask me what I think of the modesty and sense of a woman who can insist, in these days, that she is not sufficiently cared for in public and in private, and who wishes to add the duties of a politician to those of a mother and housekeeper.

This is a large question to ask, and a still larger one to answer by letter; but since you have a clear and thoughtful head of your own, and we are widely separated just now and unable to converse together as in times past, I will see what can be said by pen and paper for just the woman you have described.

And let me begin by asking you the meaning of the word politician. Having consulted your dictionary, you reply, "One who is versed in the science of government and the art of governing." Very well. Now who is thus versed in the science and art of governing, so far as the family is concerned, more than the mother of it? In this country, certainly, the manners, the habits, the laws of a household, are determined in great part by the mother; so much so, that when we see lying and disobedient children, or coarse, untidy, and ill-mannered ones, we instinctively make our comments on the mother of that brood, and declare her more or less incompetent to her place.

Now let me suppose her to be one of the competent ones who, like your Aunt E., has helped six stout boys and four of their quick-witted sisters all the way from babyhood up to manhood and womanhood, with a wisdom and gentleness and patience that have been the wonder of all beholders—and let us think of her as sitting down now in her half-forsaken nest, calm, thoughtful, and matured, but fresh in her feeling as ever she was, and stretching out by her sympathies in many directions after the younglings who have gone each to a special toil, and what wonder if she finds it hard to realize that she is unfitted either by nature or education for the work of law making, on a broader and larger scale than she has ever yet tried.

Her youngest boy, the privileged, saucy one of the crowd, has just attained his majority, we will say, and declaims in her hearing on the incompetence of women to vote—the superiority of the masculine element in politics, and the danger to society if women are not carefully guarded from contact with its rougher elements—and I seem to see her quiet smile and slightly curling lip, while in memory she runs back to the years when said stripling gathered all he knew of laws, country, home, heaven, and earth, at her knee—"and as for soiling contacts, oh! my son, who taught you to avoid these, and first put it into your curly little head, that evil communications corrupt good manners, and that a man cannot touch pitch, except he be defiled."

I have taken the bull by the horns, you perceive, in thus taking our mother from her quiet country home and setting her by imagination among the legislators of the land—but it is just as well, because the practical end of suffrage is, not eligibility to office merely, but a larger use of this privilege than most women have ever yet dreamed of, much less desired.…

And now she is there, we will say, in the legislature of our State—a high-minded, well-bred woman; one who, amid all her cares, has never failed to read the newspapers more or less, and to keep alive her interest in the prosperity of her country, whatever the claims of her numerous family. She is one, too, who has not had the assistance of wealth in doing all this; she is, as you know, straight from the rural districts, a genuine farmer's wife. But she has more leisure now than she once had, and with it there comes a longing for change, for more cultivated society, for recreations and diversions such as her busy hours have seldom afforded her; and just now, by the unanimous vote of her townspeople, she is sent to our glorious old Hub, to spend the winter in considering what the Commonwealth of Massachusetts shall do this year, by legislation, for the public good.…

Having secured a home not far from the old State House, she seeks the Assembly Room and meets there gentlemen from all parts of the State—farmers, merchants and mechanics, physicians, teachers and ministers, lawyers and bankers, and they go into debate on such questions as these: Shall our deaf mutes be educated at home, or in the Institution at Hartford, as heretofore? What of the economies of our past practice, and are there better methods of training than those instituted there? State Prison—shall the discipline be penal merely, or reformatory? the institution self-supporting by a system of rigid tasks, or partially supported by the State? What punishment shall be allowed, what religious and moral instruction furnished, and what sanitary regulations enforced? The prohibitory law—has it proved itself adapted to the suppression of intemperance? Are its provisions enforced, and why not? Is a special license law better adapted to the desired end, or is there any thing which human ingenuity can devise that shall arrest the spread of intemperance over the land? The school for juvenile offenders—is that managed judiciously? Here obviously the great aim should be reformation. Is a system of rewards or punishments, or both together, best adapted to that end? Should boys and girls be associated in the same buildings and classes, and for what length of time should they be retained for improvement before sending them out again into society? Endowments for colleges and other educational institutions supported in whole or in part by the State: Shall these be confined to institutions designed exclusively for men, or shall they be applied equally to the education of both sexes? Taxation—how apportioned? What interests can best bear heavy taxation, and is any further legislation needed to secure the right of representation to all who are taxed? Prostitution—shall it be licensed as in the old countries, or left to itself, or subjected to severe penalties? Divorces—by whom granted, and for what cause, and upon what conditions? Common schools, and high schools, and the whole system of State education; insane asylums, poor-houses, jails, and many other institutions of modern civilization—in all these objects, you will perceive, our mother has a deep and intelligent interest, and it is not difficult to imagine the warm, even enthusiastic energy with which she will give herself to the discussion of the questions involved—some of them the highest that can come before a human tribunal.

If you say, There are other State interests with which she is less familiar, I reply, No one legislator understands the detail of all the business that comes before the House, or is expected to; committees are appointed for specialties, as you know, and composed, or they ought to be, of those whose education and training have fitted them for that special investigation.

Our mother will have her hands full if she should serve on the Committee of Charitable Institutions alone; and none can do better service there than such a wise, prudent, affectionate caretaker as she has ever been.…She need not necessarily perfect herself in the technicalities of a legal education, though some would like well to do that, no doubt; professional gentlemen are generally called upon now by committees at their need; but she can bring a clear, practical, and experienced head and sound heart to the help of many a vexed question. And as to railroad bills and management—would that she might have a voice there; you may be sure that all charters would contain provisions for the comfort and safety of passengers, and the holding of all officials to a strict responsibility for neglect of duty.

And so in all matters pertaining to merchandise and business, which fairly come under state jurisdiction; it is late in the day to assert that women know nothing of those things, and could not learn if they should try. There are too many honest and successful women-traders, artists, and littérateurs in every city of the land, and too many men dependent in whole or in part upon their earnings, to give a show of color to such assertions.…

On the whole, then, my dear, you begin to perceive that my mind receives no shock when I am charged with the crime of desiring to meddle with politics, and to educate my daughters as well as my sons to take an intelligent, and, if need be, an active part in the government of their country; though I begin to fear, since the receipt of your letter, that my efforts in your behalf have not been crowned with the success I had much reason to hope. However, there is a gallant young husband in the case now, and I am very much mistaken if this is not the chief cause of your present difficulty; so I wish to say further, that I owe my young son-in-law no grudge whatever for this counter influence, nor do I abate one jot my confidence in him as a man of intelligence, integrity, and true nobility. The truth is, that one chief reason why your husband, and so many like him, oppose the extension of suffrage is, that their sense of true gallantry, their desire to shield and protect, is violated by their conception of the probable result of a woman's going to the polls. This is certainly a misconception. Every woman knows in her own heart that she does not hold her purity and delicacy subject to injury by such cause. We know that we have never entered any precinct, however vile and debased, without carrying something of that God-given power of woman-hood—of motherhood—with us, which is a greater protection against insult and contamination than all the shields that man can devise. But we ought not to blame men too severely for their reluctance to relinquish this office of protector and guardian, which custom has so long laid upon them as a high duty and privilege.

In the days when physical forces ruled the world, men might naturally offer, and women receive with thankfulness, the protection of a strong arm, and become greatly dependent upon it, without serious harm to either sex; but in the day of moral forces it is quite otherwise. This day has come upon us, however, so silently, so gradually, that we ourselves have scarcely recognized that we are now near its noon-tide: how then can our fathers, brothers, and husbands be expected to feel its quickening glow and inspiration? It may seem to them a consuming heat though to me it is delicious warmth, pure air, God's own blue sky, and His benignant smile over all.

But I must stop here and wait your reply, since on your acceptance of my views thus far stated will depend the courage and enthusiasm with which I shall proceed to develop further my thought on the whole matter of the relation of the sexes to each other and to government.…I am persuaded, contrary to the judgment of many earnest advocates of equal suffrage, that women are quite as much responsible for the present condition of affairs as men, and that they, as a body, will be the last to be convinced of their duty in the matter of good citizenship; so I am seriously anxious to make converts to my faith from the young mothers, rather than from any other class. I know, of course, that the power of regulating suffrage now lies wholly with men; that not a single vote can be given, save by them; but I know as well that the minds of all honest, earnest thinkers among them are turned to this subject, and that they are inclined to give it an impartial hearing; and I am convinced that the indifference, not to say opposition, of their wives, mothers, and sisters, stands in the way of their coming to a right solution of the problem before them, beyond anything or all things else.

I beg you, therefore, to give my argument so far a candid consideration, and let me hear from you in reply.

I am always your affectionate



National Woman Suffrage and Educational Committee. An Appeal to the Women of the United States, pp. 2-4. Hartford: Case, Lockwood & Brainard, 1871.

In the following letter, the committee for woman suffrage and education implores the women of America to ban together in an effort to attain equal rights.

Dear Friends:—

The question of your rights as citizens of the United States, and the grave responsibilities which a recognition of those rights will involve, is becoming the great question of the day in this country, and is the culmination of the great question which has been struggling through the ages for solution, that of the highest freedom and largest personal responsibility of the individual under such necessary and wholesome restraints as are required by the welfare of society. As you shall meet and act upon this question, so shall these great questions of freedom and responsibility sweep on, or be retarded, in their course.

This is pre-eminently the birth day of womanhood. The material has long held in bondage the spiritual; henceforth the two, the material refined by the spiritual, the spiritual energized by the material, are to walk hand in hand for the moral regeneration of mankind. Mothers, for the first time in history, are able to assert, not only their inherit first right to the children they have borne, but their right to be a protective and purifying power in the political society into which those children are to enter. To fulfil, therefore, their whole duty of motherhood, to satisfy their whole capacity in that divine relation, they are called of God to participate, with man, in all the responsibilities of human life, and to share with him every work of brain and of heart, refusing only those physical labors that are inconsistent with the exalted duties and privileges of maternity, and requiring these of men as the equivalent of those heavy yet necessary burdens which women alone can bear.

Under the constitution of the United States justly interpreted, you were entitled to participate in the government of the country, in the same manner as you were held to allegiance and subject to penalty. But in the slow development of the great principles of freedom, you, and all, have failed both to recognize and appreciate this right; but to-day, when the rights and responsibilities of women are attracting the attention of thoughtful minds throughout the whole civilized world, this constitutional right, so long unobserved and unvalued, is becoming one of prime importance, and calls upon all women who love their children and their country to accept and rejoice in it. Thousands of years ago God uttered this mingled command and promise, "Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." May we not hope that in the general recognition of this right and this duty of woman to participate in government, our beloved country may find her days long and prosperous in this beautiful land which the Lord hath given her.

To the women of this country who are wiling to unite with us in securing the full recognition of our rights, and to accept the duties and responsibilities of a full citizenship, we offer for signature the following Declaration and Pledge, in the firm belief that our children's children will with fond veneration recognize in this act our devotion to the great doctrines of liberty in their new and wider and more spiritual application, even as we regard with reverence the prophetic utterances of the Fathers of the Republic in their Declaration of Independence:

Declaration and Pledge of the Women of the United States concerning their Right to and their Use of the Elective Franchise.

We, the undersigned, believing that the sacred rights and privileges of citizenship in this Republic were guaranteed to us by the original Constitution, and that these rights are confirmed and more clearly established by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, so that we can no longer refuse the solemn responsibilities thereof, do hereby pledge ourselves to accept the duties of the franchise in our several States, so soon as all legal restrictions are removed.

And believing that character is the best safe-guard of national liberty, we pledge ourselves to make the personal purity and integrity of candidates for public office of the first test of fitness.

And lastly, believing in God, as the Supreme Author of the American Declaration of Independence, we pledge ourselves in the spirit of that memorable Act, to work hand in hand with our fathers, husbands, and sons, for the maintenance of those equal rights on which our Republic was originally founded, to the end that it may have, what is declared to be the first condition of just government, the consent of the governed.

You have no new issue to make, no new grievances to set forth. You are taxed without representation, tried by a jury not of your peers, condemned and punished by judges and officers not of your choice, bound by laws you have had no voice in making, many of which are specially burdensome upon you as women; in short, your rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are daily infringed, simply because you have heretofore been denied the use of the ballot, the one weapon of protection and defence under a republican form of government. Fortunately, however, you are not compelled to resort to force in order to secure the rights of a complete citizenship. These are provided for by the original Constitution, and by the recent amendments you are recognized as citizens of the United States, whose rights, including the fundamental right to vote, may not be denied or abridged by the United States, nor by any State. The obligation is thus laid upon you to accept or reject the duties of citizenship, and to your own consciences and your God you must answer if the future legislation of this country shall fall short of the demands of justice and equality.

The participation of woman in political affairs is not an untried experiment. Woman suffrage has within a few years been fully established in Sweden and Austria, and to a certain extent in Russia. In Great Britain women are re now voting equally with men for all public officers except members of Parliament, and while no desire is expressed in any quarter that the suffrage already given should be withdrawn or restricted, over 126,000 names have been signed to petitions for its extension to parliamentary elections; and Jacob Bright, the leader of the movement in Parliament, and brother of the well known John Bright, says that no well informed person entertains any doubt that a bill for such extension will soon pass.

In this country, which stands so specially on equal representation, it is hardly possible that the same equal suffrage would not be established by law if the matter were to be left merely to the progress of public sentiment and the ordinary course of legislation. But as we confidently believe, and as we have before stated, the right already exists in our national constitution, and especially under the recent amendments. The interpretation of the Constitution which we maintain, we cannot doubt, will be ultimately adopted by the Courts, although, as the assertion of our right encounters a deep and prevailing prejudice, and judges are proverbially cautious and conservative, we must expect to encounter some adverse decisions. In the mean time it is of the highest importance that in every possible way we inform the public mind and educate public opinion on the whole subject of equal rights under a republican government, and that we manifest our desire for and willingness to accept all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, by asserting our right to be registered as voters and to vote at the Congressional elections. The original Constitution provides in express terms that the representatives in Congress shall be elected by the PEOPLE of the several States &——with no restriction whatever as to the application of that term. This right, thus clearly granted to all the people, is confirmed and placed beyond reasonable question by the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments. The act of May, 1870, the very title of which, "An Act to enforce the rights of citizens of the United States to vote," is a concession of all that we claim, provides that the officers of elections throughout the United States shall give an equal opportunity to all citizens of the United States to become qualified to vote by the registry of their names or other pre-requisite; and that where upon the application of any citizen such pre-requisite is refused, such citizen may vote without performing such pre-requisite; and imposes a penalty upon the officers refusing either the application of the citizen to be qualified or his subsequent application to vote. The Constitution also provides that "each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns, and qualifications of its own members." When therefore the election of any candidate for the lower House is effected or defeated by the admission or rejection of the votes of the women, the question is brought directly before the House, and it is compelled to pass at once upon the question of the right of women to vote under the Constitution. All this may be accomplished without the necessity of bringing suits for the penalty imposed upon public officers by the act referred to: but should it be thought best to institute prosecutions where the application of women to register and to vote if refused, the question would thereby at once be brought into the Courts. If it be thought expedient to adopt the latter course, it is best that some test case be brought upon full consultation with the National Committee, that the ablest counsel may be employed and the expenses paid out of the public fund. Whatever mode of testing the question shall be adopted, we must not be in the slightest degree discouraged by adverse decisions, for the final result in our favor is certain, and we have besides great reason to hope that Congress at an early day will pass a Declaration Act affirming the interpretation of the Constitution which we claim.

The present time is specially favorable for the earnest presentation before the public mind of the question of the political rights of women. There are very positive indications of the approaching disintegration and re-formation of political parties, and new and vital issues are needed by both the great parties of the country. As soon as the conviction possesses the public mind that women are to be voters at an early day, as they certainly are to be, the principles and the action of public parties will be shaping themselves with reference to the demands of this constituency. Particularly in nominations for office will the moral character of candidates become a matter of greater importance.

To carry on this great work a Board of sic women has been established, called "The National Woman Suffrage and Educational Committee," whose office at Washington it is proposed to make the centre of all action upon Congress and the country, and with whom through their Secretary, resident there, it is desired that all associations and individuals interested in the cause of woman suffrage should place themselves in communication. The committee propose to circulate the very able and exhaustive Minority Report of the House Judiciary Committee on the constitutional right of woman suffrage. They also propose ultimately, and as a part of their educational work, to issue a series of tracts on subjects vitally affecting the welfare of the country, that women may become intelligent and thoughtful on such subjects, and the intelligent educators of the next generation of citizens.

The Committee are already receiving urgent appeals from women all over the United States to send them our publications. The little light they have already received concerning their rights under the constitution, and the present threatening political aspect of the country, make them impatient of ignorance on these vital points. A single Tract has often gone the rounds in a neighborhood until worn out, and the call is for thousands and thousands more.

A large printing fund will therefore be needed by the Committee, and we appeal first to the men of this country, who control so large a part of its wealth, to make liberal donations toward this great educational work. We also ask every thoughtful woman to send her name to the Secretary to be inserted in the Pledge Book, and if she is able, one dollar. But as many working women will have nothing to send but their names, we welcome these as a precious gift, and urge those who are able, to send us their fifties and hundreds, which we promise faithfully to use and account for. Where convenient it is better that many names should be sent upon the same paper, and the smallest contributions in money can be put together and sent with them. Every signature and every remittance will be at once acknowledged by the Secretary, and one or more tracts enclosed, with a circular as to the work to be done by individuals.

Isabella Beecher Hooker, President.
Paulina Wright Davis.
Josephine S. Griffing, Secretary.
Ruth Carr Denison.
Mary B. Bowen, Treasurer.
Susan B. Anthony.
Washington, D.C., April 19, 1871.


SOURCE: Anthony, Susan B. "United States of America vs. Susan B. Anthony (1873)." In Public Women, Public Words: A Documentary History of American Feminism, edited by Dawn Keetley and John Pettegrew, pp. 244-45. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1997.

In the following court transcript, originally published in History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 2, 1861-1876 in 1886, Anthony argues that the guilty verdict rendered against her for the crime of voting is unjust because she is denied the fundamental rights of an American taxpaying citizen.

… The Court, after listening to an argument from the District Attorney, denied the motion for a new trial.

the court: The prisoner will stand up. Has the prisoner anything to say why sentence shall not be pronounced?

miss anthony: Yes, your honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled underfoot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually, but all of my sex, are, by your honor's verdict, doomed to political subjection under this so-called Republican government.

judge hunt: The Court can not listen to a rehearsal of arguments the prisoner's counsel has already consumed three hours in presenting.

miss anthony: May it please your honor, I am not arguing the question, but simply stating the reasons why sentence can not, in justice, be pronounced against me. Your denial of my citizen's right to vote is the denial of my right of consent as one of the governed, the denial of my right of representation as one of the taxed, the denial of my right to a trial by a jury of my peers as an offender against law, therefore, the denial of my sacred rights to life, liberty, property, and—

judge hunt: The Court can not allow the prisoner to go on.

miss anthony: But your honor will not deny me this one and only poor privilege of protest against this high-handed outrage upon my citizen's rights. May it please the Court to remember that since the day of my arrest last November, this is the first time that either myself or any person of my disfranchised class has been allowed a word of defense before judge or jury—

judge hunt: The prisoner must sit down; the Court can not allow it.

miss anthony: All my prosecutors, from the 8th Ward corner grocery politician, who entered the complaint, to the United States Marshal, Commissioner, District Attorney, District Judge, your honor on the bench, not one is my peer, but each and all are my political sovereigns; and had your honor submitted my case to the jury, as was clearly your duty, even then I should have had just cause of protest, for not one of those men was my peer; but, native or foreign, white or black, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, awake or asleep, sober or drunk, each and every man of them was my political superior; hence, in no sense, my peer. Even, under such circumstances, a commoner of England, tried before a jury of lords, would have far less cause to complain than should I, a woman, tried before a jury of men. Even my counsel, the Hon. Henry R. Selden, who has argued my cause so ably, so earnestly, so unanswerably before your honor, is my political sovereign. Precisely as no disfranchised person is entitled to sit upon a jury, and no woman is entitled to the franchise, so, none but a regularly admitted lawyer is allowed to practice in the courts, and no woman can gain admission to the bar—hence, jury, judge, counsel, must all be of the superior class.

judge hunt: The Court must insist—the prisoner has been tried according to the established forms of law.

miss anthony: Yes, your honor, but by forms of law all made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men, in favor of men, and against women; and hence, your honor's ordered verdict of guilty, against a United States citizen for the exercise of "that citizen's right to vote," simply because that citizen was a woman and not a man. But, yesterday, the same man made forms of law declared it a crime punishable with $1,000 fine and six months' imprisonment, for you, or me, or any of us, to give a cup of cold water, a crust of bread, or a night's shelter to a panting fugitive as he was tracking his way to Canada. And every man or woman in whose veins coursed a drop of human sympathy violated that wicked law, reckless of consequences, and was justified in so doing. As then the slaves who got their freedom must take it over, or under, or through the unjust forms of law, precisely so now must women, to get their right to a voice in this Government, take it; and I have taken mine, and mean to take it at every possible opportunity.

judge hunt: The Court orders the prisoner to sit down. It will not allow another word.

miss anthony: When I was brought before your honor for trial, I hoped for a broad and liberal interpretation of the Constitution and its recent amendments, that should declare all United States citizens under its protecting aegis—that should declare equality of rights the national guarantee to all persons born or naturalized in the United States. But failing to get this justice—failing, even, to get a trial by a jury not of my peers—I ask not lenience at your hands—but rather the full rigors of the law.

judge hunt: The Court must insist—(Here the prisoner sat down.)

judge hunt: The prisoner will stand up. (Here Miss Anthony arose again.) The sentence of the Court is that you pay a fine of one hundred dollars and the costs of the prosecution.

miss anthony: May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. All the stock in trade I possess is a $10,000 debt, incurred by publishing my paper—The Revolution—four years ago, the sole object of which was to educate all women to do precisely as I have done, rebel against your man-made, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, that tax, fine, imprison, and hang women, while they deny them the right of representation in the Government; and I shall work on with might and main to pay every dollar of that honest debt, but not a penny shall go to this unjust claim. And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim, that "Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God."

judge hunt: Madam, the Court will not order you committed until the fine is paid.


SUSAN B. ANTHONY (1820-1906)

Susan B. Anthony was one of the most influential figures in the early campaign for women's rights in the United States. Active in the temperance movement through the early 1850s, she campaigned against slavery until 1863, when her outrage at finding that the women at a world temperance convention were refused the right to serve as delegates inspired her to the take up the cause of women's rights. Anthony was introduced to Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Amelia Bloomer, the editor of the temperance journal Lily, and the women forged a lifelong professional partnership and friendship.

Anthony began her women's rights work by campaigning for several years for women's property rights in the state of New York; in 1860 a law was passed ensuring property rights for married women. In 1868 Anthony founded with Stanton and Parker Pillsbury the Revolution, a feminist newspaper, and in 1871 Anthony and Stanton founded the National Women's Loyal League. In 1872 she was arrested for voting in Rochester, New York, in the national election, found guilty, and fined. Anthony ignored the judge's demand that she remain silent and delivered a spontaneous speech in which she refused to recognize all laws in the country that did not grant her basic rights of citizenship.

In the 1880s Anthony toured Europe and began to organize what would become the International Council of Women, and along with Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper, coauthored the first four volumes of History of Woman Suffrage, a written legacy detailing their work for future generations of feminists. In 1889 Anthony helped found the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and served as its president from 1892 to 1900. The nineteenth constitutional amendment granting American women the right to vote is known as the "Susan B. Anthony Amendment."


SOURCE: Anthony, Susan B. and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. "Political Lessons." In Early American Women: A Documentary History, 1600-1900, edited by Nancy Woloch, pp. 509-11. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1992.

In the following excerpt, originally published in History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 2 in 1882, Stanton and Anthony argue that the rejection of their movement by liberal male abolitionists over issues concerning the Fifteenth Amendment turned out to be a blessing in disguise, freeing women to fight for their rights without the need to compromise with the interests of men.

So utterly had the women been deserted in the Kansas campaign by those they had the strongest reason to look to for help, that at times all effort seemed hopeless. The editors of the New York Tribune and the Independent can never know how wistfully, from day to day, their papers were searched for some inspiring editorials on the woman's amendment, but naught was there; there were no words of hope and encouragement, no eloquent letters from an Eastern man that could be read to the people; all were silent. Yet these two papers, extensively taken all over Kansas, had they been as true to woman as to the negro, could have revolutionized the State. But with arms folded, Greeley, Curtis, Tilton, Beecher, Higginson, Phillips, Garrison, Frederick Douglass, all calmly watched the struggle from afar, and when defeat came to both propositions, no consoling words were offered for woman's loss, but the women who spoke in the campaign were reproached for having "killed negro suffrage."

We wondered then at the general indifference to that first opportunity of realizing what all those gentlemen had advocated so long; and, in looking back over the many intervening years, we still wonder at the stolid incapacity of all men to understand that woman feels the invidious distinctions of sex exactly as the black man does those of color, or the white man the more transient distinctions of wealth, family, position, place, and power; that she feels as keenly as man the injustice of disfranchisement. Of the old abolitionists who stood true to woman's cause in this crisis, Robert Purvis, Parker Pillsbury, and Rev. Samuel J. May were the only Eastern men. Through all the hot debates during the period of reconstruction, again and again, Mr. Purvis arose and declared, that he would rather his son should never be enfranchised, unless his daughter could be also, that, as she bore the double curse of sex and color, on every principle of justice she should first be protected. These were the only men who felt and understood as women themselves do the degradation of disfranchisement.…

And here is the secret of the infinite sadness of women of genius; of their dissatisfaction with life, in exact proportion to their development. A woman who occupies the same realm of thought with man, who can explore with him the depths of science, comprehend the steps of progress through the long past and prophesy those of the momentous future, must ever be surprised and aggravated with his assumptions of headship and superiority, a superiority she never concedes, an authority she utterly repudiates. Words can not describe the indignation, the humiliation a proud woman feels for her sex in disfranchisement.

In a republic where all are declared equal an ostracised class of one half of the people, on the ground of a distinction founded in nature, is an anomalous position, as harassing to its victims as it is unjust, and as contradictory as it is unsafe to the fundamental principles of a free government. When we remember that out of this degraded political status, spring all the special wrongs that have blocked woman's success in the world of work, and degraded her labor everywhere to one half its value; closed to her the college doors and all opportunities for higher education, forbade her to practice in the professions, made her a cipher in the church, and her sex, her motherhood a curse in all religions; her subjection a text for bibles, a target for the priesthood; seeing all this, we wonder now as then at the indifference and injustice of our best men when the first opportunity offered in which the women of any State might have secured their enfranchisement.

It was not from ignorance of the unequal laws, and false public sentiment against woman, that our best men stood silent in this Kansas campaign; it was not from lack of chivalry that they thundered forth no protests, when they saw noble women, who had been foremost in every reform, hounded through the State by foul mouthed politicians; it was not from lack of money and power, of eloquence of pen and tongue, nor of an intellectual conviction that our cause was just, that they came not to the rescue, but because in their heart of hearts they did not grasp the imperative necessity of woman's demand for that protection which the ballot alone can give; they did not feel for her the degradation of disfranchisement.

The fact of their silence deeply grieved us, but the philosophy of their indifference we thoroughly comprehended for the first time and saw as never before, that only from woman's standpoint could the battle be successfully fought, and victory secured. "It is wonderful," says Swift, "with what patience some folks can endure the sufferings of others." Our liberal men counseled us to silence during the war, and we were silent on our own wrongs; they counseled us again to silence in Kansas and New York, lest we should defeat "negro suffrage," and threatened if we were not, we might fight the battle alone. We chose the latter, and were defeated. But standing alone we learned our power; we repudiated man's counsels forever-more; and solemnly vowed that there should never be another season of silence until woman had the same rights everywhere on this green earth, as man.

While we hold in loving reverence the names of such men as Charles Sumner, Horace Greeley, William Lloyd Garrison, Gerrit Smith, Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass, and would urge the rising generation of young men to emulate their virtues, we would warn the young women of the coming generation against man's advice as to their best interests, their highest development. We would point for them the moral of our experiences: that woman must lead the way to her own enfranchisement, and work out her own salvation with a hopeful courage and determination that knows no fear nor trembling. She must not put her trust in man in this transition period, since, while regarded as his subject, his inferior, his slave, their interests must be antagonistic.

But when at last woman stands on an even platform with man, his acknowledged equal everywhere, with the same freedom to express herself in the religion and government of the country, then, and not till then, can she safely take counsel with him in regard to her most sacred rights, privileges, and immunities; for not till then will he be able to legislate as wisely and generously for her as for himself.


SOURCE: The National Woman Suffrage Association. Library of Congress. Gift of the National American Woman Association (1 November 1938).

In the following document, originally created in 1883, the members of the National Woman Suffrage Association detail the mission and structure of the organization.

The National Woman Suffrage Association

ARTICLE 1.—This organization shall be called the NATIONAL WOMAN SUFFRAGE ASSOCIATION.

ARTICLE 2.—The object of this Association shall be to secure NATIONAL protection for women citizens in the exercise of their right to vote.

ARTICLE 3.—All citizens of the United States subscribing to this Constitution, and contributing not less than one dollar annually, shall be considered members of the Association, with the right to participate in its deliberations.

ARTICLE 4.—The officers of this Association shall be a President, a Vice-President from each of the States and Territories, Corresponding and Recording Secretaries, a Treasurer and an Executive Committee of not less than five.

ARTICLE 5.—A quorum of the Executive Committee shall consist of nine, and all the Officers of this Association shall be ex-officio members of such Committee, with power to vote.

ARTICLE 6.—All Women Suffrage Societies throughout the country shall be welcomed as auxiliaries; and their accredited officers or duly appointed representatives shall be recognized as members of the National Association.

Those desiring to join can do so by sending one dollar with name and address to MRS. JANE H. SPOFFARD, Treasurer, RIGGS HOUSE, Washington, D.C.

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United States Suffrage Movement in the 19th Century: Primary Sources

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United States Suffrage Movement in the 19th Century: Primary Sources