The year 2020 year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which guarantees all American women the right to vote. It was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920, after a decades-long struggle. And for Women’s History Month, we are paying trubute to some of the notable women who dedicated their lives and fought for a woman’s right to vote.
The Suffrage Movement is Launched
Some women involved in the Women’s Suffrage movement have become household names. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) and Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) organized the first meeting dedicated to women’s rights, which was held on July 19 and 20, 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York.
At what would later become known as the Seneca Falls Convention, the Declaration of Sentiments was read and ultimately adopted. The Declaration of Sentiments was written by Stanton to echo the preamble of the Declaration of Independence with the word “women” inserted: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.” The Seneca Falls Convention galvanized women to fight for the right to vote and launched the Women’s Suffrage movement.
The Right To Vote for Women
After the convention, Stanton and Mott, along with Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), led the effort in the adoption of the 19th Amendment—an effort that would take more than 50 years of struggle. None of them would live to see women achieve the right to vote, but their leadership would live on through the many lesser-known, but no less notable, women who carried on what they had begun.
First Woman To Run For President
Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838 – 1927), a leader of the suffrage movement, was the first woman to be nominated and campaign for the U.S. presidency, running on behalf of the Equal Rights Party in 1872. She was also the first woman to own (along with her sister) a brokerage firm on Wall Street and the first woman to start a weekly newspaper.
Equal Rights Party Is Formed
The Equal Rights Party was one of many organizations established to lobby for local, state, and national voting rights. After the Civil War ended in 1865, the battle for women’s right to vote grew more intense and fractious. A split in the movement occurred over the proposed 15th Amendment, which gave the right to vote to black men. Stanton, Anthony, and others didn’t support the amendment because it excluded women.
Other suffragists, including Lucy Stone (1818 – 1893) and Julia Ward Howe, did support it, contending that once black men could vote, women would soon follow. Stone dedicated her life to fighting inequality. She was the first woman in Massachusetts to earn a college degree, and she defied gender norms when she famously wrote marriage vows to reflect her egalitarian beliefs, including excluding any reference to wifely obedience. She also refused to take her husband’s last name.
In 1890, the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association united under the common heading of “National American Woman Suffrage Association” (NAWSA). In addition to organizing suffrage groups and rallying at conventions and meetings, suffrage supporters employed a number of other strategies.
Suffragists exercised their First Amendment rights to “peaceably assemble” and “petition for a government redress of grievances” using traditional strategies, including lobbying lawmakers and challenging laws in the courts. Some of the activism that now seems tame, such as marching in parades and making street corner speeches, was deemed “unladylike” at the time.
One of the more radical suffragists, Alice Paul (1885 – 1977) was forced to resign from the NAWSA because of her insistence on using militant strategies—after college, she had gone to England and was exposed to the more extreme tactics used by British suffragists. She advocated for the use of these tactics in the U.S. to bring attention to the cause.
Paul was a visionary leader who was the first to organize picketing at the White House. Militant suffragists also organized parades and silent vigils. Many endured being heckled and harassed in public, and, at times, more brutal opposition, including being jailed and physically abused.
Carrie Chapman Catt (1859 – 1947) was named president of the NAWSA in 1915. Involved in women’s suffrage since the 1880s, Catt developed her “Winning Plan,” a political strategy that coordinated state campaigns in the effort to push for amending the U.S. Constitution.
After the 19th Amendment, Catt went on to found the League of Women Voters in 1920 to educate women about and encourage their active participation in politics. By 1900, more than three million women worked for wages outside the home. Conditions were often unfair and unsafe so many women joined the movement to gain influence in the making of labor laws.
The movement grew even further when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, and more women entered the workforce. The swelling ranks of activists brought successes at the state level. Wyoming was the first territory and state to grant women the right to vote in 1869 and 1890, respectively.
First Woman To Serve in Congress
A suffragist and peace activist from Montana, Jeannette Rankin (1878 – 1920) was the first woman to serve in Congress. She was elected in 1916 to one of her state’s at-large congressional seats almost four years before the 19th Amendment was passed. By the time of Rankin’s election, most of the suffragists were behind the goal of a constitutional amendment. Key victories came in 1917 when New York adopted women’s suffrage, and in 1918, when President Wilson (a reluctant convert) urged Congress to pass a voting rights amendment. On May 21, 1919, the House of Representatives passed the amendment, and two weeks later, the Senate followed suit.
The Final Hurdle
When Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, the amendment passed its final hurdle to obtaining the agreement of three-fourths of the states. When the 19th Amendment went into effect on August 26, 1920, it opened the door for greater roles for women in public life and changed the course of American history forever.