The Woman Suffrage Movement in America

Photos: The Battle for Women’s Suffrage in the U.S.
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After the return to power of the Liberal Party in , the succeeding years saw the defeat of seven suffrage bills in Parliament. As a consequence, many suffragists became involved in increasingly violent actions as time went on. These women militants, or suffragettes, as they were known, were sent to prison and continued their protests there by engaging in hunger strikes.

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When World War I began, the woman suffrage organizations shifted their energies to aiding the war effort, and their effectiveness did much to win the public wholeheartedly to the cause of woman suffrage. The need for the enfranchisement of women was finally recognized by most members of Parliament from all three major parties, and the resulting Representation of the People Act was passed by the House of Commons in June and by the House of Lords in February Under this act, all women age 30 or over received the complete franchise.

An act to enable women to sit in the House of Commons was enacted shortly afterward. In the voting age for women was lowered to 21 to place women voters on an equal footing with male voters. Women's suffrage. Article Media. Info Print Print. Table Of Contents.

Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. See Article History. Start your free trial today for unlimited access to Britannica. Load Next Page. More About. Many states restricted voting rights to those who owned land or substantial taxable property. Given the property laws and economic status of citizens at that time, these restrictions meant that most women and persons of color could not vote, and only about "half of the adult white men in the United States were eligible to vote in " Ibid.

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Nevertheless, a few state constitutions-such as New Jersey's -were written in such a way that allowed free women to vote. In limited numbers, these women took advantage of verbal loopholes in state constitutions and cast their ballots.

However, in general "woman suffrage was almost unheard of up to the middle of the nineteenth century" Porter , Most women were prohibited from voting or exercising the same civil rights as men during this time based on the idea that "a married woman's legal existence was incorporated into that of her husband" Ibid. This viewpoint reflected a widespread ideology of "separate spheres" for men and women; the many people who adopted this perspective argued that the place for women was at home and not in the affairs of the government Robb With so few rights, many women drew parallels between their social and political state and that of slaves.

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This comparison won support of greater numbers of women and men to their cause, among them were the famous suffragettes attributed with founding the woman suffrage movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott Porter Dedicated abolitionists, Stanton and Mott returned to the United States in June of highly indignant that they had been denied the right to participate in the World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London because they were women Harper Determined to overcome the social, civil, and religious disabilities that crippled women of their day, Stanton and Mott organized the first woman's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, on 19 July It drew over persons Weatherford ; Harper ; Coolidge Stanton drafted the "Declaration of Sentiments," a document declaring that "men and women are created equal" Woman's Rights Conventions, Modeled on the U.

Declaration of Independence, it outlined several resolutions regarding higher education, property rights, and woman's suffrage Graham ; Carter Susan B. Anthony, a Quaker and rising leader in the woman's suffrage movement, made nationwide suffrage a goal and recruited many supporters Carter ; Weatherford Anthony was convinced that women would not obtain the rights listed in the Declaration of Sentiments or be effective in implementing social reforms until they had voting power.

However, despite the close cooperation between abolitionists and advocates of woman's rights following the Seneca Falls Convention, arguments over the Fifteenth Amendment led to a split in the movement in Graham ; Porter ; Weatherford The Fifteenth Amendment provided black males the right to vote, building upon language in the previous amendment in which "any male inhabitants" were granted voting privileges.

But many viewed the Amendment as an insult to women because the language did not even bother to exclude them Weatherford Some persons sought to postpone woman's suffrage in order to focus efforts on securing enfranchisement for blacks freed following the Civil War, a move that Stanton and Anthony felt "compromised a betrayal of the ideal of universal suffrage" Graham , 5; Kraditor Over the course of the next three decades, efforts on the part of both associations resulted in gains for woman's suffrage in several states, including Wyoming, the territory of Utah, and Washington.

These two associations remained separate entities until , when they merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Headed by Stanton, the consolidated organization marked a new era in the history of woman's suffrage Weatherford ; Harper Despite the growing support for women's right to vote, there were many who were opposed to the idea.

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Many anti-suffragists were men who argued that a woman's place was in the home and that voting rights would compromise those characteristics that made women distinctly feminine Porter ; Kraditor According to Kraditor, "This 'separate but equal' doctrine of the respective spheres of man and woman was a central part of the sociological argument against woman suffrage, which declared that social peace and the welfare of the human race depended upon woman's staying home, having children, and keeping out of politics" , Some opponents of woman's suffrage also argued that women lacked the political experience and competency necessary to vote Kraditor Women's commitment to prohibition and close ties with the Women's Christian Temperance Union also produced many opponents to the woman suffrage movement Weatherford The liquor industry feared that if women voted, prohibition laws would be passed, which would make it illegal to make or sell alcoholic beverages Hossel Immigrants also opposed woman's suffrage for similar reasons.

According to The History of Woman Suffrage, as cited by Weatherford , "In suffrage for women [German immigrants] saw rigid Sunday laws and the suppression of their beer gardens" Irish immigrants were also reportedly fearful that American women's vote would end their pub habits Weatherford Other industries were opposed to woman's suffrage.

In the late s, as the woman suffrage movement gained momentum, women became more attentive to social issues, such as food and drug safety, worker safety, and child labor. Factory and business owners fought against women's right to vote because they were worried that women would pass laws requiring changes in procedures and make it more expensive to operate their businesses Hossell Moreover, clerics and other laypersons relied on scriptural interpretations to debate the validity of woman's suffrage.

Along with anti-suffragist clerics, many women spoke against suffrage, arguing that marriage was a sacred unity in which the family was represented by the man; thus, women need not vote Weatherford In , anti-suffragists came together to form the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, which voiced the opinions of the conservatives until women gained the right to vote in Nevertheless, by so many women had gained voting rights within their individual states that presidential candidates began to court the female vote for the first time.

The woman's suffrage movement is important because it resulted in passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U. Constitution, which finally allowed women the right to vote. However, as Lucinda Desha Robb suggests, "one of the most important lessons of the woman suffrage movement may be the relative unimportance of suffrage all by itself" , The early suffragists did not see voting privileges as their primary goal; rather they saw suffrage as an opportunity to participate more fully in the public affairs of society through political engagement and civic action Kraditor In the Declaration of Sentiments, Stanton proposed twelve resolutions, of which woman's enfranchisement was just one.

While many of her contemporaries initially felt that woman's suffrage was inconceivable, Stanton and Anthony soon saw that achievement of their other goals regarding women's rights was only possible through suffrage and the political advances and allies they would make along the way Carter ; Weatherford Though they faced obstacles and hardships, Robb points out,.

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The resulting publicity helped put pressure on Congress to consider a suffrage amendment. No one since has taken on the daunting task of producing a comprehensive account of this vitally important movement. Corkrey, Lara Hernandez. Reviewing the record in , NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt counted state legislative campaigns and forty-one state referenda resulting in only nine state or territorial victories, all in the western United States. Search within

The years of hard work women put into making suffrage a reality taught them the full potential of democracy and how to employ that potential. They learned grassroots skills and gained the political credentials that made them more effective and laid the groundwork for their increasing participation in government. The woman suffrage movement has promoted human welfare in numerous ways. It has stimulated social and political reform through individual and group civil action. Local community organizations were formed and gained membership. The movement also led to the development of non-partisan organizations such as the League of Women Voters, which helps to educate women so that they may be informed voters and also prompts women to exercise their right to vote-a privilege many people today take for granted.

During the early part of the suffrage movement, suffragists and abolitionists worked together closely to fight for universal suffrage: the right to vote for all adult persons regardless of race, religion, or gender. Advocates for women's rights also developed intimate ties to supporters of the temperance movement, who sought to deter the abuse of alcohol and promote greater familial responsibilities among married men.

Women were active participants as well in Progressivism, the movement that sought to address such social issues as worker safety and food and drug laws Hossell A number of commonly understood terms or ideas related to woman suffrage exist in our vocabulary. Among them are feminism , inequality , sexism , and women's rights. In addition, other ideas bear the need for more explanation or historical context:. Abolition : The opposition and eradication of slavery. The anti-slavery or abolitionist movement was established in with the formation of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia, although anti-slavery sentiment predated the formation of the republic Library of Congress.

Following the U.

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Constitution, which officially abolished slavery. Enfranchisement : To endow a person with the rights of citizenship, particularly the right to vote. Equal rights : Those benefits and privileges that are due to a person by law, tradition, or nature without discrimination, specifically in regard to one's sex.

Passage of the Nineteenth Amendment marked the first specific written guarantee of women's equal rights in the Constitution. However, in response to the many laws and practices at work and in society that still perpetuated the unequal treatment between men and women, Alice Paul introduced the Equal Rights Amendment ERA in The ERA advocated for the equal application of the Constitution to all citizens to ensure freedom from discrimination based on sex. Grassroots advocacy : Active support for something such as a policy, an idea or cause spearheaded by people or society at a local level rather than as a result of major political activity.

Progressivism : The principles and practices of political progressives. Persons in support of progressivism promote progress toward better conditions or new policies, ideas, or methods. Efforts made by Progressives during the early s led to the establishment of laws governing child labor and food and drug safety Hossell In the simplest terms, prohibition refers to restrictions against the sale of alcohol; however, prohibition also refers to the period during which the Eighteenth Amendment which outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages was in force in the United States.

In , prohibition of alcohol was repealed by passage of the Twenty-first Amendment. Several key figures in the woman's suffrage movement are central to its success. Anthony Yet, other individuals have played equally important roles in the advocacy of women's enfranchisement. Among these are:. Catt was a talented speaker and active figure in the international suffrage movement. Alice Paul : A Quaker suffragist, Paul is considered one of the leading figures responsible for the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Alice Paul continued -later evolved into the National Woman's Party. Following the passage of woman's suffrage, Paul became involved in the struggle to introduce and pass an Equal Rights Amendment, also known as the Lucretia Mott Amendment Kraditor ; also see Women's History. Lucy Stone : A prominent abolitionist and one of the most important figures in the first generation of suffragists.

Known for her liberal marriage to Henry B. Blackwell , Lucy headed the American Woman Suffrage Association and was the mother of Alice Stone Blackwell , who would later be called "the foremost suffragist propagandist" Kraditor , Stanton, Anthony, and others were not avid supporters of black suffrage because of fear it would lessen their chances of obtaining voting rights for women Weatherford ; Hossell Nevertheless, the woman suffrage movement was aided by the efforts of three important black figures: Sojourner Truth ca.

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Wells-Barnett All three fought for woman's suffrage, although Wells-Barnett fought primarily for the right of black women to vote Hossell The Federal Suffrage Association : The FSA was formed in by Reverend Olympia Brown with the purpose of creating coalitions with organizations focused on issues other than suffrage Weatherford In , the association was reorganized as the Woman's Federal Equality Association in an attempt to address women's concerns Harper Arthur M.

Dodge, the association was organized in in New York. This organization sought to "increase general interest in the opposition to universal woman suffrage and to educate the public in the belief that women can be more useful to the community without the ballot than if affiliated with and influenced by party politics" Harper , As stated by Weatherford, the Association was "the conservatives' banner-carrier until they finally lost" in , With help from.

NAWSA, Park helped organize similar leagues on other college campuses and in the National College Equal Suffrage League was formed to "promote equal suffrage sentiment among college women and men both before and after graduation" Harper , Woman's Christian Temperance Union WCTU : The oldest continuing non-sectarian women's organization in the world, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union was formed in by a group of women concerned about the problem of alcohol abuse in the United States. Because of common goals between the temperance and the woman's rights movements, "the move from temperance work to suffrage work was a natural evolution for tens of thousands" Weatherford , ; WCTU.

It currently has members in 6, clubs around the United States, with more than one million members worldwide. GFWC was originally established as a means of self-education and personal and professional development for women, the organization groomed many women to be political actors on a local level prior to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote.

Consequently, the federation has a notable record of governmental activity on issues of historical importance.

Specifically, the organization helped establish a model for juvenile courts; promoted conservation before the environmental movement began; aided in passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of ; supported the first child labor law and legislation restricting the workday to eight hours; and called for both equal rights and responsibilities for women.

Among its primary goals, the League of Women Voters. League of Women Voters continued --was established to remove the remaining legal discrimination against women in state codes and constitutions, to use its influence to achieve full enfranchisement for women, and to assist millions of women to fulfill their new responsibilities as voters.

An online e-library makes The National Voter periodical and historical documents available for downloading. The site honors the th anniversary of the women's rights movement.