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Women's Suffrage

Page history last edited by Stacy Takacs 10 years, 9 months ago

History of American Voting

Women's Suffrage

Women had to undergo similar paths, like blacks, to gain their right to vote. Women, like blacks, were not included in “We” the people. Women were not even included in the fifteenth amendment although they were considered citizens of the United States.  Many women proved their equality to men by being able to keep the family and farms running while the men were fighting in the Civil War.  This act by women, however, did not constitute an adjustment in the men's thinking towards women's rights.

Originally, after the Declaration of Independence, women had the right to vote.  However, after the Articles of the Confederation decided to leave voting laws to the states many states immediately repealed women’s right to vote.  By 1807, all states denied women the right to vote. It can be said that Abigal Adams, wife of John Adams, marked the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement when she wrote to her husband “remember the ladies (Lewis quotes A. Adams).”  The women’s suffrage movement began in earnest on July 19, 1848.  Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, activist for the anti slavery movement, found themselves leading the Seneca Falls Convention in New York.  At the convention the delegates adopted a resolution calling for Women’s Suffrage.  The resolution dubbed the Declaration of Sentiments reads,

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position… to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them…. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal…. The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.  To prove this let facts be submitted to a candid world. (DiClerico, 18) 

          The Declaration of Sentiment has a stark resemblance to the Declaration of Independence and was done so deliberately by author Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  The very similar grievances that men had against the King of England, women had against men.  If men deserve freedom and equality from England so do women deserve freedom and equality from men.  The Seneca Falls Convention would be followed by conventions in Akron, Ohio: Salem, Massachusetts: Syracuse, New York: and Rochester, New York. The first National Women’s Rights meeting was assembled in 1850 in Worchester Massachusetts. 

Women were not the only ones that believed in the women’s suffrage movement.  Men such as Horace Greeley, Wendell Phillips, and Fredrick Douglass also pressed for women’s suffrage.  They later decided to abandon this as they were also abolitionists and felt that fighting for women’s suffrage would detract from the abolitionist movement.

Many women, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton believed that their right to vote was guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment since women were in fact citizens of the United States and that no state could deny that right.  In the presidential election of 1872, supporters of women suffrage, including Anthony, appeared at the polls, arguing that if all citizens had the right to the privileges of citizenship, they could certainly exercise the right to vote. Virginia Minor filed suit against the registrar of St. Louis, Missouri, Reese Happersett, for denying her the opportunity to register to vote and thereby interfering with her freedom of speech and her rights under the fourteenth amendment.  In Minor v. Happersett, the Supreme Court ruled that women could only receive the right to vote as a result of unambiguous legislation or a constitutional amendment, instead of through interpretation of the Constitution. In a unanimous decision, the Court stated that it was too late to claim the right of suffrage by implication. It also ruled that suffrage was a matter for the states to decided not the federal government.

“In 1878, a constitutional amendment was introduced in the U.S. Senate prohibiting the denial of the vote on the basis of sex.” (DiClerico, 17)  The Legislature and the House of representatives created a committee to study the issue and both committees gave the measure a favorable recommendation.  However, the measure was soundly defeated on the Senate floor.

           Although defeated by the Supreme Court, women were slowly getting their right to vote in the western territories.  Wyoming Territory, in attempting to get a larger population, extended voting rights to women.  Utah later, in their attempt to increase non-Mormon voters, extended the right to vote to women in 1870.  Other territories also extended voting right to women including Idaho and Colorado.

The suffrage movement was sidetracked with the leaders of the movement making two separate organizations.    

·         National Woman Suffrage Association

·         American Woman Suffrage Association

The National Woman Suffrage Association was started by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Their focus was to be on the federal level and to press for more extensive institutional changes, such as the granting of property rights to married women.  Lucy Stone created the American Woman Suffrage Association, which aimed to secure the ballot through state legislation. Twenty years later the two organizations merged forming the National American Woman Suffrage Association.


The battle for women rights continue through the turn of the century and come to a head with the changing of the guard in the women’s movement.  As the pioneers of the movement were aging and stepping away, women like Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul took over the cause. Paul was removed from the NAWSA for her stance on use of violence in the movement.  Paul formed the National Woman’s Party.  Paul’s tactics usually consisted of hunger strikes and mass marches and sometimes these ended in violence.  Between the two organizations the NWP’s use of media to bring attention to the issue and NAWSA's use of diplomacy women gained the right to vote on August 16, 1920 with the ratification of the nineteenth amendment.

History of American Voting

Works Cited                          


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