My hope in bringing you this review of womens suffrage, is that you will appreciate the freedom we women have to vote this Tuesday! Enjoy this history lesson in order to understand just what happened, and how many years it took for us to make our feelings count.
While John Adams was attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1776, working on the Declaration of Independence, his wife, Abigail Adams, wrote to her husband, “Remember the Ladies”. John thought her letter was humorous. The Declaration’s wording specifies that “all men are created equal.”
For 60 years, from 1820 to 1880, a variety of printed sources such as advice manuals, poetry and literature, sermons, and medical texts reveals that Americans in general held highly sterotypical notions about women’s and men’s role in society. This phenomenon was later given the term “The Cult of Domesticity” by historians. Here are some of the events that took place during these years.
The first women’s rights meeting in the United States was held in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York. The meeting followed several decades of a quietly-emerging spirit among women. Delegates called for the right to vote and other women’s rights. What a long and unsafe road it would be to actually winning the vote for women! Before the Nineteenth Amendment secured women’s right to vote in the US, more than 70 years would pass.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, called the 1848 gathering at Seneca Falls. Stanton and Susan B. Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). The association included only women and opposed the 15th Amendment because, for the first time, citizens were explicitly defined as male. Many of the participants signed a “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions” which outlined issues and goals for the womens’movement. The Woman Suffrage movement that started in 1848 with that pivotal meeting, weakened during and after the Civil War. There were several suffrage groups during the next several years, such as the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA).After that, womens’ rights meetings were held on a a regular basis.The NWSA worked for a national Constitutional Amendment for woman suffrage.
The Civil War disrupted suffrage activity from 1861 to 65 because women, North and South, diverted their energies to “war work”. This work served as a training ground, as women gained important organizational and occupational skills that could be used in organizational activities.
Frances Willard’s Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the growing Women’s Club movement after 1868, and many other social reform groups drew women into other organizations and activities. Many of the groups worked for suffrage, too. These women often applied their organizational skills learned in the other groups to the suffrage battles — but by the turn on the century, those suffrage battles had been going on for fifty years already.
In 1890, the two rival organizations, the NWSA and the AWSA, merged under the leadership of Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt in the National American Woman Suffrage Association. After fifty years, a leadership transition had to take place because those earlier leaders, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton , and her lifelong friend and coworker Susan B. Anthony had all died.
Women continued to provide active leadership in other movements, too: the National Consumer’s League, the Women’s Trade Union League, movements for health reform, prison reform, and child labor law reform, to name a few. Their work in these groups helped build and demonstrate women’s competence in the political realm, but also drew women’s efforts away from the direct battles to win the vote.
Large parades in 1913 and 1915 helped bring the cause of women suffrage back to national attention. The NAWSA also shifted tactics and in 1916 unified its chapters around efforts to push a suffrage Amendment in Congress. Mabel Vernon and Sarah Bard Field and others traveled across the nation by automobile in 1915, carrying half a million signatures on a petition to Congress. The press then took more notice of the “suffragettes.”
Montana, in 1917, three years after establishing woman suffrage in the state, elected Jeannette Rankin to Congress, the first woman with that honor. Finally, in 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, sending it to the states. On August 26, 1920, after Tennessee ratified the Amendment by one vote, the 19th Amendment was adopted.
Gaining the vote for all citizens wasn’t easy, as you can gather from this history. Women’s right to cast a ballot took brave and smart women who were dedicated to winning the freedom to vote. Many women were humiliated and jailed for trying to win the vote. Voting is an honor that was given to us by those women; an honor that we should not take lightly.
So, Women, on Tuesday, November 6th, take the time to vote for the candidates of your choice, candidates that you believe can serve you and your fellow countrymen and women in the best way possible. We have come a long way – with many women holding power the same as men. We have the “suffragettes” to thank for that.
One Hundred Years toward Suffrage: An Overview compiled by E. Susan Barber