History of Women's Suffrage

The Women’s Suffrage Movement was about more than the right to vote. It was about women fighting for their right to be heard, and be considered equal citizens of the United States. The Movement lasted over one hundred years before women earned the right to vote, and showed that their voices do carry, and are important.

Many women became famous for their work in the early years of the Movement:

  • Mary Lyon founded Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts in 1837. It became the first four-year college exclusively for women in the United States.
  • Lucretia Mott helped Elizabeth Cady Stanton create the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. After the convention, she continued to speak out on women’s rights, and wrote the book Discourse on Women , which discussed the educational, political and economic restraints on women in the United States and Western Europe.
  • Harriet Tubman escaped slavery in 1849, and formed the Underground Railroad over the next ten years.
  • Amelia Jenks Bloomer launched the first dress reform movement in 1850. The Bloomer costume was abandoned by suffragists later on in the Movement.
  • Lucy Stone was an organizer for the first National Women’s Right Convention , held in Worcester, Mass., in 1850. When she married Henry Blackwell in 1855, she chose to keep her maiden name. She focused her attention on winning equality for women, and formed the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) in 1869. It was a direct rival of the NWSA, forming its own opinions and ideas as to how to earn equal rights for women.

The split into the two factions in 1869 was a pivotal moment in the Movement, but both were still focused on a single goal: equal rights for women.

In 1870, the AWSA began publishing The Woman’s Journal, a weekly periodical aimed at addressing middle-class women who were interested in women’s rights. Around the same time, the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, allowing black men the right to vote. Events leading up to the passing of this Amendment was a major cause of the Movement’s split into the two factions. The Amendment’s gender-neutral language gave the impression that women were also given the right to vote, but when they showed up at the polls, they were turned away.

In 1883, many prominent suffragists traveled to Liverpool, where they formed the International Council of Women. The leaders of the two National and American Associations worked together, and laid the groundwork for a reconciliation of the two groups. They came back together in 1890, and merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Stanton was the first president of the organization.

The Association worked hard for many years to win the right to vote for women, but had to slow down once World War I broke out in 1918, and many women took part in “war work” to help their country. As it turned out, this pivotal move caused a chain reaction in the Movement:

  • In 1918, President Wilson issued a statement supporting a federal amendment to grant women’s suffrage.
  • Jeanette Rankin , elected to the Montana House of Representatives in 1916, opened debate in the house on the amendment, and it passed.
  • President Wilson addressed the Senate in support of the Nineteenth Amendment, but at this time, it failed.
  • In 1919, after Michigan, Oklahoma and South Dakota joined the full suffrage states, the House once again voted to enfranchise women.
  • The Senate finally passed the Nineteenth Amendment, and suffragists began their ratification campaign.
  • The Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified on August 26, 1920.

Although winning the right to vote was a huge success for the Movement, it did not stop there. Women continued to fight for their equal rights, and are still fighting today, in what we consider the Feminist Movement .

And it is not only women in the United States fighting for equal rights:

Women all over the world had to fight for the right to vote, and are still fighting today for equal rights.