10 Groundbreaking Events of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement

10 Groundbreaking Events of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement

Larry Holzwarth - May 18, 2018

When the Founders, male all, completed the Constitution of the United States they left decisions regarding the qualifications for voters to the states. Women in all states but one – New Jersey – were disenfranchised. In 1790 New Jersey extended the right to vote to all inhabitants of the state who were not held in slavery, but 17 years later the right to vote was denied women in the Garden State. The laws of the states denied the right to vote to men too under some circumstances as each state considered who among its citizens was allowed to participate in the electoral process.

Men ran the governments, and men decided who could vote. The process of enfranchising citizens was a long and complicated one. The suffrage movement in America was viewed with alarm by some, amusement by others, and outright fear by many. The United States was not alone in the debate over women’s right to vote. Women in the United Kingdom could vote in Parliamentary elections only under the rarest circumstances throughout the nineteenth century, and Canada too had laws which denied women’s voting rights despite growing pressure from suffragists. In France women were denied the right to vote until 1945, and then had to prove they were not illiterate before exercising the right.

10 Groundbreaking Events of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (seated) with Susan B. Anthony circa 1900. Library of Congress

Here are ten events and important persons who labored for decades to allow women to participate in the democratic process in the United States.

10 Groundbreaking Events of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement
A portrait of Lucretia Mott painted by Joseph Kyle in 1842. National Portrait Gallery

The Seneca Falls Convention

Although Kentucky granted limited voting rights to women in 1838, allowing unmarried heads of households to vote on issues related to taxes and education, in 1840 the idea of women voting was considered preposterous. Women were supposed to practice quiet subservience, those who spoke out publicly were considered eccentric at best. In 1831, during the Second Great Awakening, an American Presbyterian minister named Charles Finney urged women to pray aloud alongside men, a decision which was supported by some women and looked upon with consternation among most men. But not all, the following year William Lloyd Garrison welcomed women in the abolitionist societies he organized in the North, urging them to publicly express their views.

The Religious Society of Friends, commonly called the Quakers, were a group leading the discussion about women’s rights and their position in society in general by the 1840s. Quakers considered women and men to be equal and women held the same rights as men in Quaker communities, expressing themselves openly at meetings. A large Quaker community was in the area of Seneca Falls, in western New York. In the summer of 1848 five women, led by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, announced a meeting to be held at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Seneca Falls to address women’s rights. The meeting was scheduled for July 19.

The first day’s meeting was attended by about three dozen men, in addition to a large crowd of women and children. Although the first day had been advertised as being solely for women the men were allowed to remain, though they were requested to maintain silence. Likely the admonition to keep quiet was unnecessary, as few men would have been willing to speak under the circumstances. A list of previously prepared grievances was delivered and discussed. That evening Lucretia Mott delivered an oration, much of it addressed to the men in attendance, urging them to help women achieve the equality denied them by both social norms and the law.

A Declaration of Sentiments, written by five women led by Stanton and Mott and drafted along the lines of the Declaration of Independence was presented on the first day, to be voted upon by the participants of the second day, including men. The grievances in the Declaration of Independence were directed towards George III, Stanton changed that in the Sentiments to be directed towards “mankind” and included, “He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.” The line caused her husband, Henry Stanton, to leave the area so as to not be associated with the convention.

Stanton also added a resolution which read, “Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.” The former slave and noted abolitionist Frederick Douglas spoke in favor of the resolution on the afternoon of the second day. When the nation learned of the Seneca Falls Convention the reaction was decidedly mixed. It was the first of many successive conventions held to address the issue of women’s equality and voting rights, which grew larger and more vocal over time. The Declaration of Sentiments was signed by about one third of the attendees on the second day, 68 women and 32 men.

10 Groundbreaking Events of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement
Photograph of Lucy Stone as she appeared circa 1850. Library of Congress

The National Women’s Rights Convention, Worcester Massachusetts

In October 1850 more than 1,000 women’s rights advocates from 11 states gathered at Brinley Hall in Worcester Massachusetts. Calling the meeting the first National Women’s Rights Convention was the suggestion of William Lloyd Garrison and leading suffragists Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony all endorsed the convention and attended. One attendee, Massachusetts native Abby Kelley, asserted at the convention that a woman “was just as well qualified to be President as a man”, leading the New York Herald to opine that the women’s movement intended to abolish the Constitution as well as the Bible.

Though the women’s movement originated largely in churches and the abolitionist movement, it found in many pulpits one of its most powerful enemies. The Bible was held up as the source of authority relegating women to roles of subservience and service. The women’s movement which demanded equality was scorned as being a violation of the laws of nature and the divine design established by God. Women who were thus supportive of the movement were not only inciting insurrection against the law of the land but were likewise immoral and impious. Resistance to their demands was demanded by the invocation of scripture from many ministers, priests, and newspapers.

Most of the speakers at the National Convention were women, though a few men did address the assemblage, including Ralph Waldo Emerson. The intent of the organizers was to raise awareness of inequality and create a single national group to address the issues of women’s rights as one unified voice. Abby Price addressed the convention on the need to secure access to the trades and professions on an equal footing with men. The convention was informed that women had taken an equal role with men when the nation was founded. Lucy Stone argued that women should be allowed to own property on the same basis as men.

A few newspapers reported on the convention favorably, but most did not. Headlines expressed outright alarm, the New York Herald called it a “piebald assemblage” (piebald meaning black and white) seeking, among other things, the appointment of Lucretia Mott as Commander in Chief of the Army. The general attitude among most newspaper reports of the convention was that the attendees betrayed their femininity, were dangerous radicals in opposition to natural laws, and in many cases were threats to the Christian morals which shaped the nations society and laws. Those at the convention who refuted scriptural calls for women’s subservience were called infidels.

The convention aligned the women’s movement with the abolitionist movement by passing a resolution which called for the same rights they demanded for themselves being extended to the enslaved women of the South. The resolution was introduced and passed after Sojourner Truth addressed the convention on its second day. The reports of the convention in Southern newspapers were overwhelmingly negative and served to add further incentive to the growing demands there for secession. The publicity generated by the convention added some to the cause of women’s rights, but overall did little else to change societal attitudes towards voting rights for women.

10 Groundbreaking Events of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement
Woman suffragists were often the subject of ridicule in the publications of the day, as in this cartoon of Susan B. Anthony demonstrating her knowledge of women’s clubs which appeared in the Minneapolis Journal. Library of Congress

The American Equal Rights Association

In 1866 the women’s rights movement, which had been mainly dormant during the Civil War, held its eleventh National Women’s Rights Convention. During the convention the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) was formed. During the debate over the 14th Amendment, which was sent to the states for ratification following the Civil War and which introduced the word “male” to the Constitution, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony called for the formation of a group to revise the amendment to use the word persons instead of identification by gender.

In opposing the amendment as written the women’s rights movement lost much of the support they had enjoyed before the war from the abolitionist movement. Those supporting the enfranchisement of former slaves were concerned that the women’s movement would impede their goal, since most men still opposed women receiving the right to vote. The AERA elected Lucretia Mott as its president and began a campaign of petitions and meetings arguing for universal suffrage. Mott made it clear she opposed enfranchising Black males if women were not given full voting rights at the same time, since it would increase the number of men opposing universal suffrage.

In 1867 New York established a convention to revise its Constitution, and Anthony and Stanton lobbied the committee established to revise the voting laws. Chaired by Horace Greeley, a former abolitionist and supporter of women’s rights, the committee removed the property restrictions on New York voters, but refused to include female suffrage. Greeley responded to personal attacks by Anthony and Stanton by ending the support of the New York Tribune and beginning coverage more critical of the women’s movement. The AERA thus alienated a former ally and created a powerful new opponent to its goals.

In Kansas that same summer, the AERA campaigned to include voting rights for women in that state’s referendum for Black voting rights, only to find that the former white abolitionists and their new Black allies opposed the inclusion of women. In the search for allies in Kansas the AERA split into quarreling factions, with Stanton and Anthony exhibiting the willingness to work with openly racist opponents to Black enfranchisement if universal enfranchisement was not passed. Once again former abolitionist allies began to distance themselves from the women’s movement, seeing them as demanding all or nothing, unwilling to allow Black voting unless they received the franchise as well.

By 1869 the divisions ran so deep within the AERA that it dissolved. Before it did it lost yet another former ally, Frederick Douglas, who believed unimpeded voting rights for Blacks was a higher priority than for women. The divide formed two competing organizations, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) led by Stanton and Anthony, and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) led by Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone. They would remain separate until 1890, when the groups merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), with Anthony as the primary leader.

10 Groundbreaking Events of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement
Stanton and Anthony’s alliance with George Francis Train caused deep rifts within the women’s rights movement in the late 19th century. Wikimedia

The Revolution

In 1868 Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed a newspaper which they published in New York City. They named the newspaper The Revolution. The newspaper was published as a weekly, and gave the two women an opportunity to print their views during the period when the women’s rights movement was seemingly irrevocably split. One of the reasons for the split was Stanton and Cady’s alliance with George Francis Train, an openly racist opponent to Black enfranchisement with whom they had worked in Kansas. Rather than end their relationship with Train they used his financial backing to establish the newspaper.

The business operations of the newspaper were handled by Stanton and Cady edited the paper with the assistance of Parker Pillsbury, a minister, former abolitionist, and supporter of women’s suffrage. Stanton explained the name of the newspaper as its goal, in which the owners wanted to see a complete revolution in society regarding women and their role, not simply the right to vote. Besides arguing for suffrage, the newspaper reported achievements of women, acts of discrimination against them, and supported the labor movement. It had correspondents in Europe and India, as well as across the United States.

In 1869 Stanton used the paper to report on a local scandal in which a man had murdered his ex-wife’s fiancé. Stanton’s reporting was considered lewd by many, but she used the events of the murder and the preceding divorce to argue for changes to divorce laws. The Revolution was also used to express Stanton’s views on fashions of the day, claiming they were imposed on women by morality laws written entirely by men. Cases of domestic violence, widely ignored by most newspapers of the day, were openly discussed in its pages. The American Woman Suffrage Association opposed many of the views expressed in The Revolution and soon started its own newspaper, the Woman’s Journal.

Stanton ran the paper for 29 months, during which time it steadily lost money, before selling it to Laura Bullard, who continued its publication while tamping down the confrontational style which it carried under Stanton. After sixteen months the paper was taken over by Reverend W. T. Clarke, who toned it down even further. Clarke published The Revolution for another four months before closing it down completely. Under his brief tenure the newspaper remained focused on women’s issues, but as they pertained to the home and marriage for the most part. The style was in complete conflict with the name of the paper.

The Revolution helped deepen the split within the women’s rights movement. Stanton and Cady used the newspaper to argue against ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which established that the right to vote could not be denied because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Woman’s Journal of the AWSA supported ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment and argued in its support. At the same time that it deepened the rift between the two branches of the women’s movement it strengthened its own branch by giving its leaders a voice which otherwise would not have been available to them.

10 Groundbreaking Events of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement
Judge Ward Hunt ordered a verdict of guilty in the Susan B. Anthony trial, and refused to allow her to testify. Library of Congress

The Trial of Susan B. Anthony

In 1872 Susan B. Anthony registered to vote in Rochester, New York and voted in the general election, claiming that the Fourteenth amendment to the Constitution guaranteed her right to do so. Anthony used the threat of suing the voting registrars personally if they attempted to prevent her from registering. On November 14 an arrest warrant for Anthony was issued, since she had taken an oath that she was qualified to vote, and she was arrested. Before voting Anthony had visited a local newspaper and the resulting publicity had led several women to register and attempt to vote. Most had been turned away. The registrars who had allowed Anthony to register were also arrested.

Fourteen other women had succeeded in being allowed to vote, all were subsequently arrested. All were released on bail. Anthony refused to post bail, and an order for her to be held in the Albany County jail was issued, however Anthony remained free on her own recognizance. Anthony embarked on a speaking tour in Monroe County New York, where she was to be tried, to generate as much publicity as possible. Anthony argued that the Fourteenth amendment guaranteed that all persons born in the United States are citizens and that no state could deny the rights of citizens without due process of law. Anthony claimed the issue was whether or not women were persons.

Anthony’s case was complicated in several ways, she was to be tried in Federal court though she had allegedly violated a state law. The federal judge, Ward Hunt, heard the case alone, it was usual practice for two judges to consider a case. Both sides presented their cases to Judge Hunt, who denied Anthony the opportunity to testify, as was the practice in federal court at the time, and Anthony’s case was presented by attorney Henry Selden. Judge Hunt, after hearing both sides, ordered the jury to find Anthony guilty. The directed verdict was ordered because of the fact that according to the judge Anthony had conceded the facts of the case as correct.

Judge Hunt announced in his written verdict that a trial by jury is only guaranteed when there exists facts in the case being disputed by the contending parties. The only issue in the Anthony case was one of law, since Anthony had admitted registering and subsequently voting. Hunt also found in his verdict that the Constitution allowed states to prohibit certain persons from voting. When Selden asked the judge if would be allowed to poll the jury to determine what their verdict might have been he was denied. There has ever since been debate over whether Hunt wrote his verdict before the trial was even held.

Anthony was sentenced on the third day of the trial, after being given the opportunity to address the court. After several minutes of listening to her remarks the judge ordered her to sit down. She refused and continued to condemn the entire trial. She also mentioned that she had not been allowed a jury of peers since women were not allowed at the time to serve on juries. After her remarks she was fined one hundred dollars, which she announced she would not pay. Hunt refused to issue an order holding her in custody, a legal move which denied her the right to file a writ of habeas corpus, which could have taken her case to the Supreme Court. She never paid the fine.

10 Groundbreaking Events of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement
Virginia Louisa Minor fought all the way to the Supreme Court but was denied the right to vote in a unanimous decision. Library of Congress

Minor v. Happersett

Minor v. Happersett was an 1875 Supreme Court decision which ruled that the right to vote was not a protected privilege or immunity under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court found that the plaintiff was a citizen of the United States, but that citizenship in and of itself did not guarantee the right to vote. The case arose following Virginia Minor’s attempt to register to vote in St. Louis county Missouri in 1872. She was denied by the registrar, Reese Happersett. Minor filed suit against the Happersett, arguing in the lower Missouri courts that the restrictions against her registering and voting written into the Missouri Constitution were a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Minor’s legal argument was that full citizenship implied all of the rights of a citizen, including voting rights. As the case rose in the Missouri state courts she suffered setback after setback as judges decided that citizenship did not automatically convey voting rights. When it reached the Missouri Supreme Court the bench ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment was clearly written with the intent of granting citizenship to recently freed Blacks, and that the second portion of the amendment specifically referred to Black males. The court stated that it was not the intent of the amendment to force any state to change its laws in respect to voting requirements.

The next step for Minor was the Supreme Court of the United States, which although it had not heard, was well aware of the 1873 controversy over the Susan B. Anthony trial. Judge Ward Hunt, who had directed the jury’s verdict in that case, was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court when it heard arguments over Minor v. Happersett. When Minor’s case was presented, the additional argument was made that the Constitutional Convention had clearly intended for women to have the right to vote. The Supreme Court stated that the only issue which was before them for consideration was whether the Constitution specifically granted women the right to vote.

In a unanimous decision the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution did not grant women the right to vote, and as such the requirements for voting qualifications were in the hands of the states. They found that the right to vote was not an automatic right of citizenship, and that the Fourteenth Amendment did not enfranchise nor disenfranchise women. The court noted that at the time the Constitution was written numerous restrictions on voting existed, some requiring real property ownership and so forth. Despite not being qualified to vote, they were still citizens. The court found that had the framers desired otherwise it would have been clearly stated.

“The Constitution of the United States does not confer the right of suffrage on anyone” wrote Chief Justice Morrison Waite. Virginia Minor returned to Missouri, where she had been a leader of the women’s suffrage movement prior to undertaking her legal battle to vote. Although Virginia would later testify before Senate committees on the subject of women’s suffrage and other issues regarding women’s rights she died in Missouri in 1894, more than two and a half decades before women finally achieved the right to vote in most states.

10 Groundbreaking Events of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement
The anti-suffragists became as strident as the suffragists in opposing the voting franchise for women in the early 20th century. Library of Congress

Partial Voting Rights for Women

During the 1870s several states and territories under US jurisdiction began to consider limited voting rights for women. These areas recognized women’s involvement with school boards and other local issues and began to allow them to cast votes in board elections, referenda, and tax issues related to education. Several states had referendum votes on women’s suffrage, none of which passed, though the legislatures provided the limited voting rights for issues which were somewhat condescendingly considered part of women’s normal societal role.

Several minor successes in obtaining limited voting rights were struck down by state courts, arguing that the state constitutions did not establish conditions for different classes of voters. As the states and territories wrestled with the issues, the House of Representatives and the Senate began to yield to the pressure from women’s rights advocates and social reformers. The women’s rights movement developed a strong ally in the growing temperance movement, and many of the leading suffragists were also strong supporters of the temperance movement, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone.

In 1878 an amendment was introduced in the Senate which would allow women the right to vote, thus superseding all existing state and local laws. The amendment was tabled and both houses of Congress took up the topic by establishing committees to hear testimony four years later. In 1884 the subject of women’s suffrage was debated on the House floor, though no vote was forthcoming. In 1886 the Senate rejected the women’s suffrage amendment by a large majority. Meanwhile the Washington Territory passed an ordinance which granted women there full voting rights. It would be struck down in 1887 by the Supreme Court.

The standard arguments against women voting were adopted by the Anti-Suffragist Movement. The Anti-Suffragist Movement contained both men and women, though many of its smaller organizations were of women only, concerned about the damage being done to families by the suffragists. They supported the idea that women involved in politics would bring disruption to the family, that it was against the laws of nature for women to take an active role in the affairs which were the purview of men, and most women were poorly informed on affairs of law and business and would thus be unable to vote intelligently.

As the suffragist movement gained momentum in state capitals and in Washington so did the activities of the Anti-Suffragists, which reached its peak in the decade before World War I. One of its prominent leaders, Josephine Dodge, wrote, “The life of the average woman is not so ordered as to give her first hand knowledge of those things which are the essentials of sound government”. The Temperance Unions and women’s rights groups accused Dodge and many of the Anti-Suffragist groups of being in the pay of large alcohol business interests, determined to head off the growing push for Prohibition in the United States.

10 Groundbreaking Events of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement
By the end of the 19th century the views of Susan B. Anthony, seated at center, were widely disregarded by less radical suffragists. Wikimedia

The National American Woman Suffrage Association

Following the Senate’s overwhelming defeat of the proposed suffrage amendment the leaders of the AWSA and the NWSA met to resolve their differences and unite their two organizations as part of an overall strategy to focus their efforts on individual states. The NAWSA was formed in 1890 when the two organizations merged after several years of discussion to resolve the differences between them. The reconciliation was initiated by Lucy Stone and was accommodated by Susan B. Anthony. At its founding convention Elizabeth Cady Stanton was elected as its president and Anthony became a vice president at large.

Although Stanton was the president in name, it was Anthony who largely led the organization, with Stanton mostly absent, staying with her daughter in England. Stanton quickly proved to be too radical in her approach for most of the younger members of the organization. In 1895 Stanton published The Woman’s Bible in which she roundly condemned the Bible as a source of many of the restrictions imposed on women. The NAWSA announced that it had no connection with Stanton’s book and did not endorse it and Stanton found her influence over the organization and the women’s movement in sharp decline. Increasingly embittered and detached she died in 1902.

After the defeat of the suffrage amendment it was evident that there was little support for women’s suffrage in the South, which bode ill for any future attempts to obtain suffrage in the southern states. The NAWSA derived a strategy through which they could persuade politicians in the south desirous of maintaining white supremacy by giving the vote to educated women who would have to pass literacy tests, who would at the time be mostly white. Several suffrage societies were established in the South, and the NAWSA held its annual conventions in the southern cities of Atlanta and later New Orleans (where their old ally Frederick Douglas was denied credentials to attend), but the strategy did not succeed.

The NAWSA began to appeal to the middle class and upper class women, distancing themselves from the radicalism of Anthony and creating a new image of her as a wise and gentle grandmother. By 1907 societies were formed which appealed to upper class and middle class women throughout the United States, most of them affiliated with the NAWSA. In 1909 the World Suffrage Party was formed modeled on the lines of Tammany Hall, with its members for the most part remaining loyal to the NAWSA. Where before the public view of women working with the suffrage movement was mostly negative, the reforms of the progressive era created a more accepting atmosphere.

The NAWSA continued to accept few black women, although they did allow some, but not in the South. It continued to focus on obtaining the franchise in individual states until enough allowed women could vote and an amendment could be forced through Congress. In 1913 the Southern States Woman Suffrage Committee was formed by Kate Gordon to stop the process from going beyond the state level. Gordon believed that enforcement of an amendment allowing women to vote would lead to enforcement of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments regarding Black voters, which most southern states were avoiding through poll taxes and other means.

10 Groundbreaking Events of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement
Tennessee’s ratification of the 19th Amendment ensured that women had the right to vote across the United States in August 1920. National Archives

The Nineteenth Amendment

In 1918, with the United States at war in Europe, the House of Representatives passed the proposed suffrage amendment in January. The more conservative Senate did not debate the amendment until September, citing the importance of war issues taking precedent. President Wilson spoke before the Senate, an uncommon act for a President, and asked the Senate to pass the amendment, saying that it was a necessary measure in support of the war. The Senate failed to pass the amendment by two votes. The NAWSA immediately targeted four of the Senators who had voted against the amendment that were standing for re-election that fall.

After succeeding in defeating two of the four targeted Senators, the NAWSA urged the creation of a league of women’s voters in Missouri, a state which granted women the right to vote in national elections in March 1919. President Wilson called Congress into special session, and in June 1919 the 19th Amendment was passed by Congress and sent to the legislatures of the states for ratification. Three quarters of the states were required to vote for ratification before the amendment could be accepted and enforced as the law of the land. The NAWSA had put in place a process to push through ratification before Congress had passed the amendment.

Although the ratification process went fairly smoothly in the Northern and Western states there was little or no support for ratification in the South, which had been expected. Both the Democratic and Republican Parties endorsed the amendment, removing much of its political toxicity for some, but in the South there was still resistance based on the fear that enforcement would bring with it enforcement of Black voting rights. Gradually southern resistance was overcome by the strategy of the NAWSA and the belief that white women voters would support state laws which limited access by Black voters to the polls.

In late June Texas voted for ratification, followed by Missouri and Arkansas in July. Other states of the Old South rejected the amendment for decades after it became law, Mississippi did not change its vote and ratify the amendment until 1984, North Carolina in 1971, Louisiana in 1970. When Tennessee voted in favor of ratification on August 18, 1920 the required number of 36 states was achieved. After the amendment was ratified and officially the law of the United States it faced yet another challenge, this one beginning in the courts of Maryland, which had not voted for ratification.

Oscar Leser sued to stop women from voting in Maryland, citing the Maryland Constitution as limiting the franchise to men, and because two of the states which had ratified the amendment did so in violation of their rules and procedures. The Supreme Court held that the process of ratification was established by federal law and was thus not subject to state law. The court decision was reached in 1922, allowing women to register and vote in Maryland.

10 Groundbreaking Events of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement
The National League of Women Voters was formed from the remnants of the suffragist movements which secured women the right to vote. National Archives

Women and the vote

In the general elections of 1920 nearly all states had the mechanisms in place to support voting by women, but the turnout among eligible women voters was low, and remained so for many years. In the first election following certification of the Nineteenth Amendment, in the fall of 1920, only about 36% of eligible women voters chose to exercise the franchise, compared to about 68% of eligible men. The reasons for the lack of participation are unclear and speculation ranges from simple lack of interest to the social stigma still attached by some to women entering into what was considered to be the business of men.

Several prominent politicians had expected the emergence of large voting blocs composed of women and altered their political agenda to accommodate them. This too did not occur for a considerable period, even during the war years of World War II, when more women were in the work force than ever before in American history. Not until the post-war baby boom years did substantial women’s voting blocs become a feature of the American electorate. Numerous efforts to shift the suffragist movement to one of uniting women to vote as a bloc were thwarted to a large degree by the two party system.

The NAWSA held its final convention in February 1920, where confident in the outcome of the Nineteenth Amendment they dissolved themselves and created in their stead the League of Women’s voters. The League was created expressly to help women exercise their right to vote by merging the NAWSA and the National Council of Women Voters. In its initial charter men were prohibited from joining the League. The ban was lifted in 1973. The League was established as a non-partisan organization, officially not endorsing either candidates or parties, though it does support various issues and policies.

In 1918 in England, Parliament granted the right to vote to women over the age of 30, or to wives of householders or householders themselves. In 1928 the minimum age requirement was lowered to 21, and the property requirements lifted. France did not allow women to vote until the waning days of World War 2, and the first opportunity for women to do so were the municipal and parliamentary elections of 1945. Despite it taking decades for the United States to enfranchise women, it was largely part of a global shift in the notions of the role of women in society, the home, commerce, and of course politics.

In 1965, in part in response to the laws in the South which prevented many Black women from voting, President Johnson pushed through Congress the Voting Rights Act. Literacy tests as a prerequisite to voter registration were outlawed by the act, as were other devices designed to limit the access of voters to the polls, and despite numerous efforts to evade the purpose of the act by some states it has been called the most effective single piece of civil rights legislation in the history of the United States. Access to polls based on sexual discrimination are history in the United States, despite the misguided efforts of some to re-establish policies restricting the right to vote.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Susan B. Anthony: A Biography of a Singular Feminist”, by Kathleen Barry, 1988

“Century of Struggle”, by Eleanor Flexner, 1959

“Women’s Suffrage in America”, by Elizabeth Frost Knappman and Kathryn Cullen-DuPont, 2004

“Women’s Suffrage”, entry and documents from the Library of Congress, selected collections, online

“Senators to Vote on Suffrage Today: Fate of Susan B. Anthony Amendment Hangs in Balance on Eve of Final Test”, by The New York Times, September 26, 1918

“The Trial of Susan B. Anthony: Legal Questions before the Federal Courts”, by Ann D. Gordon, Federal Judicial Center, online

“New Women of the New South: The Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States”, by Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, 1993

“Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life” by Jacqueline Van Voris, 1996

“What’s changed for African-Americans since 1963, by the numbers”, by Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post, August 22, 2013