When we were first given ideas for our
National 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 became
interested in studying this topic because I wanted to know why women were not
allowed to vote. I also wanted to know why it took so long for women to get the
right to vote.
Before 1776, our country was a colony of
England. 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, all
legal rights and decisions that they had were now given up to their husbands.
When our Declaration of Independence was
written in 1776, it said, “all men are created equal.” But this did not apply
to women, slaves, Native Americans, or free blacks, it only applied to mostly
white men, who owned property. The only people allowed to vote were white men
who owned property and some even had to pay taxes. The people thought that
since they owned land, they are the only ones who had the best interest of the
country when voting.
Early in our country’s planning, even the
wife’s of our founding fathers such as Abigail Adams, asked her husband John
Adams, the United States second president, to remember the ladies, when the
laws were developed and written. But they believed that the men should be in
charge of business and politics and the women should influence these parts of
life from home. They did not think it was a good idea to include women in these
decisions. For the 40 years that followed, women continued to discuss the idea
of equal rights for women, but it was all behind closed doors.
The movement for women’s suffrage started
becoming serious in the 1820’s, during the beginning of the anti-slavery
movement, when women who supported the anti-slavery movement began speaking out
in public about anti-slavery and women’s rights. The men at this time that
supported anti-slavery made fun of these women, and believed they had no
business being out in public speaking. They still believed that they should be
at home taking care of the home and children.
In the 1830’s though, abolitionists, the
people who wanted to end slavery fast, not gradually like the anti-slavery
activists before them, began supporting women rights. They began giving the women
support for their movement and the movement really began.
This continued into the 1840’s. Then in
1848, the women’s rights movement was first talked about seriously at Seneca
Falls, NY. This is where Elizabeth Cady Stanton lived. She was one of the most
famous leaders of the Suffrage movement. The Seneca Falls convention was a
group of about 300 men and women who came together to have a conference about
women’s rights. They talked about lots of different rights, not just the right
to vote. Not everyone at the conference agreed that women should have the right
to vote, even though they agreed on everything else. A lot of the people that
went were husband and wife or sisters as seen on the “Roll of Honor,” which
showed the signers of the Declaration of Sentiments.
The Declaration of Sentiments was a set of
ideas that the conference voted on. It was written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
who modeled it after the Declaration of Independence. In it, she said, women
were equal to men in every way and should have the same rights as men.
In the 1850’s, nationwide suffrage conventions
and meetings occurred almost every year pushing for change. This showed a more
organized movement than in the past, but it was still not going as fast as the
leaders of the movement would like.
During the civil war, the women’s rights
movement slowed, due to the effort by the suffragists to make sure the war
ended slavery. Most of the women’s rights supporters were also supporters of
the abolitionist movement, so during the war they helped that effort, and did
many things to support the North in the war, such as nursing and cooking.
After the civil war, three amendments were
made to the U.S. Constitution that affected the movement. One of them, the 13th
amendment, made slavery against the law. Another one, the 14th
amendment, stated that all people born in the United States were now considered
citizens. The last one, the 15th amendment, said that men over 21
could vote, and that it doesn’t matter on their race.
This last one created a split in the
movement supporters. Some of them did not want to support the 15th
amendment because they wanted the right for women to vote to be included in
this amendment. Others did support it, saying that women would get the vote
split caused the different supporters to make two different national organizations.
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady
Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association. They wanted to get
voting 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 American
Woman Suffrage Association, who wanted to gain voting rights for women through
the individual state constitutions. They did support the 15th
amendment. They thought if they supported the 15th that eventually
women would get the right to vote.
Suffragists began using the
courts to argue that the 14th amendment gave women the right to
vote, 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 and
even getting jailed for it. People who disagreed with the suffragists made fun
of 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 give
the right to vote to women.
Then starting first in Wyoming in 1890, the
western 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 because
there were not many women out west at the time, and they wanted them, to feel
included. Also in 1890 the two national organizations joined together to become
one and lead the cause behind one group, now called the National American Woman
Not much happened for about 15 years,
until 1910, when two more western states let women vote. Then the cause got
more life again. This is also when the first anti-suffragist organization was
The anti-suffragists took a traditionalist
viewpoint. They believed in how it used to be. They believed that women should
be at home taking care of the house and children, so they did not have time to
participate in politics. Some even went back to the idea that women were not as
smart as men, and shouldn’t be involved in politics.
For most of the suffrage movement, the
women involved were from the middle class and upper class. In the early 1900’s
working class women, began becoming more aggressive and militant about women’s
labor condition and reforming those conditions. These women also started being
concerned with the suffrage movement. The traditional suffragists liked this
way of doing things because they saw how the labor strikes, marches and
protests got things done.
These protests and marches caused riots
bringing much attention to the cause. In 1917, a group broke away from the National
American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), and formed the National Women’s
Party. The National Women’s party was the first organization to picket at the
White House. This picket lasted for more than a year and many of the protesters
were arrested. This brought a lot of attention to the cause.
1917, 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 the
first woman to serve in the national legislature. So even though women could
not vote nationwide, they were already being allowed to serve in Congress.
World War I slowed the movement slightly, but
helped the movement because women helped out during the war. The NAWSA
encouraged the suffragists to help in the war effort. In 1918, President
Woodrow Wilson endorsed Women’s Suffrage. And after World War I, where women
proved their worth, the 19th amendment finally made it through Congress
in June 1919. It was finally ratified on August 18, 1920.
Women could now vote, but it was still made
difficult by many for women to vote and looked down upon by many. But after
earning the ability to vote, women were now able to attend college and began
training for jobs usually held by men.
They were now able to continue fighting for
equality. For the first time in American History, women had the same rights as
men to participate in politics. Because of the Suffrage Movement, women began
participating in other community projects. The Women Suffrage has caused women
to 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 it
would be like in the United States, if the Women’s Suffrage Movement hadn’t