When we were first given ideas for ourNational History Day Projects, I asked what the women’s suffrage movement was.When I was told it was the fight for the right of women to vote, I becameinterested in studying this topic because I wanted to know why women were notallowed to vote. I also wanted to know why it took so long for women to get theright to vote.
Before 1776, our country was a colony ofEngland. In the United States, married women’s rights were under the laws of coverture.This meant a married woman did not have any legal rights. Once married, alllegal rights and decisions that they had were now given up to their husbands. When our Declaration of Independence waswritten in 1776, it said, “all men are created equal.” But this did not applyto women, slaves, Native Americans, or free blacks, it only applied to mostlywhite men, who owned property.
The only people allowed to vote were white menwho owned property and some even had to pay taxes. The people thought thatsince they owned land, they are the only ones who had the best interest of thecountry when voting. Early in our country’s planning, even thewife’s of our founding fathers such as Abigail Adams, asked her husband JohnAdams, the United States second president, to remember the ladies, when thelaws were developed and written. But they believed that the men should be incharge of business and politics and the women should influence these parts oflife from home. They did not think it was a good idea to include women in thesedecisions. For the 40 years that followed, women continued to discuss the ideaof equal rights for women, but it was all behind closed doors. The movement for women’s suffrage startedbecoming serious in the 1820’s, during the beginning of the anti-slaverymovement, when women who supported the anti-slavery movement began speaking outin public about anti-slavery and women’s rights.
The men at this time thatsupported anti-slavery made fun of these women, and believed they had nobusiness being out in public speaking. They still believed that they should beat home taking care of the home and children. In the 1830’s though, abolitionists, thepeople who wanted to end slavery fast, not gradually like the anti-slaveryactivists before them, began supporting women rights.
They began giving the womensupport for their movement and the movement really began. This continued into the 1840’s. Then in1848, the women’s rights movement was first talked about seriously at SenecaFalls, NY. This is where Elizabeth Cady Stanton lived. She was one of the mostfamous leaders of the Suffrage movement. The Seneca Falls convention was agroup of about 300 men and women who came together to have a conference aboutwomen’s rights. They talked about lots of different rights, not just the rightto vote. Not everyone at the conference agreed that women should have the rightto vote, even though they agreed on everything else.
A lot of the people thatwent were husband and wife or sisters as seen on the “Roll of Honor,” whichshowed the signers of the Declaration of Sentiments. The Declaration of Sentiments was a set ofideas that the conference voted on. It was written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton,who modeled it after the Declaration of Independence.
In it, she said, womenwere equal to men in every way and should have the same rights as men. In the 1850’s, nationwide suffrage conventionsand meetings occurred almost every year pushing for change. This showed a moreorganized movement than in the past, but it was still not going as fast as theleaders of the movement would like. During the civil war, the women’s rightsmovement slowed, due to the effort by the suffragists to make sure the warended slavery. Most of the women’s rights supporters were also supporters ofthe abolitionist movement, so during the war they helped that effort, and didmany things to support the North in the war, such as nursing and cooking. After the civil war, three amendments weremade to the U.S. Constitution that affected the movement.
One of them, the 13thamendment, made slavery against the law. Another one, the 14thamendment, stated that all people born in the United States were now consideredcitizens. The last one, the 15th amendment, said that men over 21could vote, and that it doesn’t matter on their race. This last one created a split in themovement supporters. Some of them did not want to support the 15thamendment because they wanted the right for women to vote to be included inthis amendment.
Others did support it, saying that women would get the votesoon enough. Thissplit caused the different supporters to make two different national organizations.Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth CadyStanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association. They wanted to getvoting rights for women by getting an amendment to the U.
S. Constitution passed.They did not support the 15th amendment as it was written. Lucy Stone, her husband Henry Blackwell, and others, formed the AmericanWoman Suffrage Association, who wanted to gain voting rights for women throughthe individual state constitutions. They did support the 15thamendment.
They thought if they supported the 15th that eventuallywomen would get the right to vote. Suffragists began using thecourts to argue that the 14th amendment gave women the right tovote, by making everyone a citizen and that voting was a right of citizens.Women such as Susan B. Anthony began fighting the laws by illegally voting andeven getting jailed for it. People who disagreed with the suffragists made funof these protesting women and printed bad stories in the papers about them. In 1875, a court case in Missouri,where a woman was denied the right to vote went all the way up to the U.S.Supreme Court.
The court ruled that the 14th amendment did NOT givethe right to vote to women. Then starting first in Wyoming in 1890, thewestern states began letting women vote. It was still opposed in the East,South, and North.
People think the western states began allowing women to vote becausethere were not many women out west at the time, and they wanted them, to feelincluded. Also in 1890 the two national organizations joined together to becomeone and lead the cause behind one group, now called the National American WomanSuffrage Association. Not much happened for about 15 years,until 1910, when two more western states let women vote. Then the cause gotmore life again.
This is also when the first anti-suffragist organization wasformed. The anti-suffragists took a traditionalistviewpoint. They believed in how it used to be. They believed that women shouldbe at home taking care of the house and children, so they did not have time toparticipate in politics.
Some even went back to the idea that women were not assmart as men, and shouldn’t be involved in politics. For most of the suffrage movement, thewomen involved were from the middle class and upper class. In the early 1900’sworking class women, began becoming more aggressive and militant about women’slabor condition and reforming those conditions.
These women also started beingconcerned with the suffrage movement. The traditional suffragists liked thisway of doing things because they saw how the labor strikes, marches andprotests got things done. These protests and marches caused riotsbringing much attention to the cause. In 1917, a group broke away from the NationalAmerican Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), and formed the National Women’sParty. The National Women’s party was the first organization to picket at theWhite House.
This picket lasted for more than a year and many of the protesterswere arrested. This brought a lot of attention to the cause. Also in1917, Montana’s Jeannette Rankin was sworn into the 65th Congress (1917–1919)on April 2. Elected two years after her state let women vote, Rankin became thefirst woman to serve in the national legislature.
So even though women couldnot vote nationwide, they were already being allowed to serve in Congress. World War I slowed the movement slightly, buthelped the movement because women helped out during the war. The NAWSAencouraged the suffragists to help in the war effort. In 1918, PresidentWoodrow Wilson endorsed Women’s Suffrage.
And after World War I, where womenproved their worth, the 19th amendment finally made it through Congressin June 1919. It was finally ratified on August 18, 1920. Women could now vote, but it was still madedifficult by many for women to vote and looked down upon by many. But afterearning the ability to vote, women were now able to attend college and begantraining for jobs usually held by men. They were now able to continue fighting forequality. For the first time in American History, women had the same rights asmen to participate in politics.
Because of the Suffrage Movement, women beganparticipating in other community projects. The Women Suffrage has caused womento keep fighting for more equality in all parts of life. It is important because without this movement,women and minorities wouldn’t have the rights they have today. Imagine what itwould be like in the United States, if the Women’s Suffrage Movement hadn’thappened.