The History of Women's Voting Rights in America

Written by LoMaxx

History of the Right to Vote in America

As the United States of America Constitution was formed, constructed and written, the majority of those who constructed it, White men, did not believe in comprehensive suffrage, the right to vote in political elections for everyone .  They believed that White women and African Americans should not be included in the right to vote.  White women and African Americans struggled and fought for and have received voting

Women Suffragists demonstrating.jpg

 rights through several Constitutional Amendments. This struggle was called Suffrage - the right of White women only, by law, to vote in national or local elections. 

Women Suffragists demonstrating for the right to vote in 1913.

Even though Suffrage was a women’s movement, it excluded African American women and men.

Women’s Suffrage

With little or no support from the White men of that time period, White women took the helm and began the Suffrage journey.  Historically speaking, “Suffrage” was the battle of the upper-class White women to be treated equally, including the right to vote, never to include the African American woman of the African American male, for that matter.  The origins of the women's suffrage movement are tied to the Abolitionist movement.  The suffragist movement is depicted with a single thread… they are the White women and African American women whose names are prolific in our history books who developed a political consciousness by mobilizing in support of abolitionism and suffrage, the right to vote for women.

The pressure for women's suffrage began to gather strength in the 1840s, emerging from the broader movement for women's rights.  In 1848, the first women's rights convention at the Seneca Falls Convention was held. At the first National Women's Rights Convention in 1850, however, suffrage had become an even more important part of the movement's activities. 

These history-making White women fought courageously at the beginning of this struggle for equal rights—the likes of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Lucy Stone and others. The African American women fought and struggled just as hard, such as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, Frances E. W. Harper progressing to African American women like Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell and many others.  The legal right of women to vote was established in the United States in 1920 and for African American women in 1965.

Woman Sufferage Rally.jpg

Members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association marching from Pennsylvania Terminal to their headquarters on Aug. 28, 1920, after welcoming home Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the Association, on her arrival from Tennessee.

American Equal Rights Association

The Eleventh National Women's Rights Convention was held in 1866, helping the women's rights movement regain the momentum it had lost during the civil war. The convention voted to transform itself into the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), whose purpose was to campaign for the equal rights of all citizens, especially the right of suffrage.

Sarah Moore Grimké (1792–1873) was an American abolitionist, widely held to be the mother of the women's suffrage movement and Angelina Emily Grimké (1805–1879), known as the Grimké sisters, were the first nationally-known white American female advocates of abolition of slavery and women's rights. They were speakers, writers, and educators. ... They became early activists in the women's rights movement.  Sarah wrote letters and discusses the wrongs done to women that are inconsistent with the Bible and gives advice on how women ought to combat these issues.  In another letter she condemns the behavior of American men's treatment of women and slaves simply as a means to promote and benefit themselves. 

The pressure for women's suffrage began to gather strength in the 1840s, emerging from the broader movement for women's rights.  In 1848, the first women's rights convention at the Seneca Falls Convention was held. At the first National Women's Rights Convention in 1850, however, suffrage had become an even more important part of the movement's activities. 

Susan B Anthony.jpg
Elizabeth Stanton.jpg
Alice Paul.jpg
Lucy Stone.jpg

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Lucy Stone

These history-making White women fought courageously at the beginning of this struggle for equal rights—the likes of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Lucy Stone and others. The African American women fought and struggled just as hard, such as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, Frances E. W. Harper progressing to African American women like Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell and many others.  The legal right of women to vote was established in the United States in 1920 and for African American women in 1965.

American Equal Rights Association

The Eleventh National Women's Rights Convention was held in 1866, helping the women's rights movement regain the momentum it had lost during the civil war. The convention voted to transform itself into the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), whose purpose was to campaign for the equal rights of all citizens, especially the right of suffrage.

Sarah Moore Grimké (1792–1873) was an American abolitionist, widely held to be the mother of the women's suffrage movement and Angelina Emily Grimké (1805–1879), known as the Grimké sisters, were the first nationally-known white American female advocates of abolition of slavery and women's rights. They were speakers, writers, and educators. ... They became early activists in the women's rights movement.  Sarah wrote letters and discusses the wrongs done to women that are inconsistent with the Bible and gives advice on how women ought to combat these issues.  In another letter she condemns the behavior of American men's treatment of women and slaves simply as a means to promote and benefit themselves. 

Lucretia Mott.jpg

Lucretia Mott

(1793 – 1880) was a U.S. Quakerabolitionistwomen's rights activist and social reformer. Even though they were delegates to the World Anti-Slavery Congress 

at an 1840 conference in London, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton could not participate in the convention because they were female. This snub inspired them to work together to guarantee rights for women and when slavery was outlawed in 1865, she advocated giving former slaves who had been bound to slavery laws within the boundaries of the United States the right to vote, whether male or female.  Noted abolitionist and human rights activist, Frederick Douglass, was in attendance and played a key role in persuading the other attendees to agree to a resolution calling for women's suffrage.  After the Civil War, Mott advocated universal suffrage.

Ernestine Louise Rose.jpg

Ernestine Rose

(1810 – 1892) became a naturalized American citizen 1837.  In the 1840s and 1850s, Rose joined the "pantheon of great American women," a group that included such influential women as Elizabeth Cady StantonSusan B. AnthonyLucretia MottPaulina Kellogg Wright Davis and Sojourner Truth,

along with William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, to fight for women's rights and abolition. When she was in the South to speak out against slavery, one slaveholder told her he would have "tarred and feathered her if she had been a man.”   Rose was elected president of the National Women's Rights Convention in October 1854 despite objections that she was an atheist. Rose also attended and spoke at numerous conferences and conventions, including, but not limited to the First National Convention of Infidels,  the Women's Rights Convention in the Tabernacle, the tenth national convention of the National Women's Rights Convention,  the State Women's Rights Convention and the Equal Rights Association meeting in which there was a schism.

Elizabeth Stanton.jpg

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

(1815 – 1902) Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the first leaders of the woman's rights movement, organized the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. She and Lucretia Mott were responsible

for calling the convention and she was the primary writer of the convention's Declaration of Sentiments.This marked the beginning of the campaign for women suffrage.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton worked closely with Susan B. Anthony, lending her skills as a writer and theorist and was, reportedly, the brains behind Anthony's brawn—for over 50 years to win the women's right to vote. Stanton forever changed the social and political landscape of the United States of America by succeeding in her work to guarantee rights for women and slaves. Her unwavering dedication to women's suffrage resulted in the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote.

Lucy Stone

(1818 – 1893) Lucy Stone and others founded the American Woman Suffrage Association and began to publish the Woman’s Journal out of their offices at 5 Park Street with Mary Rice Livermore as the first editor.

It wasn’t until 20 years later, thanks to Alice Stone, that the two sides were united as the National American Woman Suffrage Association. More committed to the anti-slavery movement than women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Stone accepted the argument that by confusing women's suffrage with African American suffrage, both would be lost and that the African American's need was at this moment greater. In 1869 she was one of the organizers of the American Woman Suffrage Association, which differed from the Stantonites' organization, the National Woman Suffrage Association.

Susan B. Anthony

(1820 – 1906) The foremost well-known of the women’s rights activist in history, Susan B. Anthony, believed that men and women should study, live and work as equals to the eradication of cruelty and injustice in the 

world. Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 alongside activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Women needed the vote, she concluded, so that they could make certain that the government kept women’s interests in mind. In 1872, Susan B. Anthony led a group of 16 women in demanding to be registered and vote in Rochester, New York and they voted illegally in the presidential election of 1872.  However, she campaigned against the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed African American men the right to vote but denied it to women.  Anthony's work helped pave the way for the Nineteenth Amendment (1920) to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote. The nineteenth amendment was known as the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment” to honor her work on behalf of women’s rights, and on July 2, 1979, she became the first woman to be featured on a circulating coin from the U.S. mint.

The Night of Terror:

Suffragists were imprisoned and tortured in 1917, enduring the most harrowing night in the long history of the suffrage movement.  After peacefully demonstrating in front of the White House, 33 women endured a night of violent beatings. “Two men handling one of the arrestees were twisting her arms above her head. Then suddenly they lifted her up and banged her down over the arm of an iron bench—twice.”  Alice Paul was among them.

African American women began to agitate for political rights in the 1830s. These interracial groups were radical expressions of women's political ideals, and they led directly to voting rights activism before and after the Civil War. Throughout the 19th century, African-American women like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Sojourner Truth worked on two fronts simultaneously: reminding African American men and White women that African American women needed legal rights, especially the right to vote.

Alice Paul.jpg

Alice Paul advocated for and helped secure passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, granting women the right to vote. She became a leading advocate for women’s suffrage and joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Paul organized over 8,000 women for a 1913 protest the day before President Wilson’s inauguration.  After Wilson’s inauguration, Paul and 1,000 women took turns picketing the White House, being arrested for “obstructing traffic”. The news of how they organized hunger strikes in prison and how they were brutally treated eventually changed public opinion favorably and President Wilson’s public support of suffrage in 1918.

The NAWSA's movement marginalized many African American women and through this effort was developed the idea of the "educated suffragist”.  This was the notion that being educated was an important prerequisite for being allowed the right to vote. Since many African American women were uneducated, this notion meant exclusion from the right to vote. This movement was prevalent in the South but eventually gained momentum in the North as well.  African American women were not deterred by the rising opposition and became even more aggressive in their campaign to find equality with men and other women.

As a result, many women mobilized during this time period and worked to get African American women involved and included in the suffrage movement.  Some of these suffragists were Sojourner Truth, Harriett Tubman, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, Sarah Remond, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Mary Talbert, Nannie Helen Burroughs and Fannie Lou Hamer.  Let’s start the journey:

Sojourner Truth.jpg

Truth fought for African American rights and women’s rights unwaveringly, chastising the abolitionist community when it failed to advocate for African American women to the extent that it advocated for African American men. She saw achieving women’s suffrage to be essential in the fight for equality and would not settle to see African American men on equal footing as White men, only to leave women without voting rights.   In 1851, she gave her infamous speech, “Ain’t I A Woman” at a Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, admonishing White men to let the women “vote”.

She hosted anti-slavery events at her home and with her husband Robert Purvis ran an Underground Railroad station. Robert and Harriet also founded the Gilbert Lyceum. She fought against segregation and for the right for blacks to vote after the Civil War.

Harriett Tubman.jpg

Harriett Tubman

(1822 – 1913)  Many supporters of Harriet Tubman during her Underground Railroad years who let her use their properties to harbor fugitives and funded her trips, were involved in the women’s rights movement.

After the Civil War Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Canton and Lucretia Mott had become strong advocates and leaders of the women’s rights movement.  Tubman believed in the equality of all people, African American or White, male or female, which made her sympathetic to the women’s rights movement. Tubman’s role was not that of a leader but that of a strong supporter. She described her years as “Moses” and the impact on who found freedom. She toured New York, Boston and Washington speaking in on women’s suffrage rights. She was especially interested in the rights of African American women.

Frances Parker.jpg

for equality and suffrage. As an African American woman, she was ostracized in the suffrage movement.  She basically called out Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony for their denigration of African American men and their dismissal of the voting rights due African American people.  She also called out the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) about how racist they were. But she kept working with the WCTU as well as the organizations that Stanton and Anthony lead.  Her special quote regarding suffrage: “I do not believe that giving the woman the ballot is immediately going to cure all the ills of life. I do not believe that White women are dewdrops just exhaled from the skies. I think that, like men, they may be divided into three classes, the good, the bad and the indifferent. The good would vote according to their convictions and principles; the bad, as dictated by prejudice or malice; and the indifferent will vote on the strongest side of the question, with the winning party.” (National Women's Rights Convention, 1866)

Mary Church Terrell

(1863 – 1954) was one of the first African American women to earn a college degree and became known as a national activist for civil rights and suffrage. Terrell, along with journalist Ida B. Wells, organized anti-lynching campaigns to mobilize advocates and generate awareness.  Terrell was an active member of the National Association of Women’s Suffrage Act (NAWSA), where she worked alongside the organization’s founder, Susan B. Anthony. Terrell was invited to deliver two speeches on the challenges faced by women, and particularly women of color in America, at the International Congress of Women in Berlin in 1904. Terrell, in her recorded speeches in the NAWSA’s History of Woman Suffrage, reminded White women that to exclude African American women from voting because of race was like excluding White women because of gender. 

Mary Bethune.jpg

Mary McCleod Bethune

(1875 – 1955) For African American women, getting the vote often didn't mean being able to cast a ballot. But Mary McLeod Bethune, a well-known activist and educator, was determined that she and other women would exercise their rights. Bethune raised money to pay the poll tax 

in Daytona, Florida (she got enough for 100 voters), and, also taught women how to pass their literacy tests. Even facing off with the Ku Klux Klan couldn't keep Bethune from voting.

Fannie Lou Hamer

(1917 – 1977) an American voting and women's rights activist, community organizer, and a leader in the civil rights movement, did not learn about her right to vote until she was 44.  Fannie Lou Hamer became a leader of the African-American voting rights movement in Mississippi that culminated in 1964’s Freedom Summer. Forced off her land when her landlord demanded that she take her name off the voter registration list, she told him, “I didn’t register for you to vote, I registered for me to vote” and left his place. Hamer was repeatedly jailed and beaten during her voting rights activities. “The only thing they could do to me was kill me,” Hamer said, “and it seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time ever since I could remember.”

15th Amendment

The Fifteenth Amendment (Amendment XV) to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government and each state from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "racecolor, or previous condition of servitude." It was ratified on February 3, 1870,[1] as the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments.

 

19th Amendment

The Nineteenth Amendment (Amendment XIX) to the United States Constitution prohibits the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex. Initially introduced to Congress in 1878, several attempts to pass a women's suffrage amendment failed until passing the House of Representatives on May 21, 1919, followed by the Senate on June 4, 1919. It was then submitted to the states for ratification. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee was the last of the necessary 36 ratifying states to secure adoption. The Nineteenth Amendment's adoption was certified on August 26, 1920: the culmination of a decades-long movement for women's suffrage at both state and national levels.

 

August 26, 1920 - Three quarters of the state legislatures ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. American Women win full voting rights with the passage of the 19 Amendment. On Election Day in 1920, millions of American women exercised this right for the first time. For almost 100 years, women (and men) had been fighting for women’s suffrage: They had made speeches, signed petitions, marched in parades and argued over and over again that women, like men, deserved all of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. The leaders of this campaign—women like Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone and Ida B. Wells—did not always agree with one another, but each was committed to the enfranchisement of all American women.

 

Woman Suffrage Timeline (1840-1920)

1840 -Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are barred from attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention held in London. This prompts them to hold a Women's Convention in the US.

1848 - Seneca Falls, New York is the location for the first Women's Rights Convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes "The Declaration of Sentiments" creating the agenda of women's activism for decades to come.

1850 - Worcester, Massachusetts, is the site of the first National Women's Rights Convention. Frederick Douglass, Paulina Wright Davis, Abby Kelley Foster, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucy Stone and Sojourner Truth are in attendance. A strong alliance is formed with the Abolitionist Movement.

1851 - Worcester, Massachusetts is the site of the second National Women's Rights Convention. 172 women cast ballots in a separate box during the presidential election.  The Fourteenth Amendment is ratified. "Citizens" and "voters" are defined exclusively as male.

1869 - Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony found the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) is formed to work for woman suffrage through amending individual state constitutions.

1870 - The Fifteenth Amendment gave African American men the right to vote.  NWSA refused to work for its ratification and instead the members advocate for a Sixteenth Amendment that would dictate universal suffrage.  Frederick Douglass broke with Stanton and Anthony over the position of NWSA.  

1872 - Susan B. Anthony casts her ballot for Ulysses S. Grant in the and is arrested and brought to trial in Rochester, New York.  Fifteen other women are arrested for illegally voting.  Sojourner Truth appears at a polling booth in Battle Creek, Michigan, demanding a ballot to vote; she is turned away.

1874 - The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is founded by Annie Wittenmyer. With Frances Willard at its head (1876), the WCTU became an important proponent in the fight for woman suffrage. 

1878 - A Woman Suffrage Amendment is proposed in the U.S. Congress. When the 19th Amendment passes forty-one years later, it is worded exactly the same as this 1878 Amendment.  

1890 - NWSA and AWSA merge and the National American Woman Suffrage Association is formed. Stanton is the first president.

1890-1925 - The Progressive Era begins. Women from all classes and backgrounds enter public life. Women's roles expand and result in an increasing politicization of women. Consequently, the issue of woman suffrage becomes part of mainstream politics.

1892 - Olympia Brown founds the Federal Suffrage Association to campaign for woman’s suffrage. 

1894 - 600,000 signatures are presented to the New York State Constitutional Convention in a failed effort to bring a woman suffrage amendment to the voters.

1896 - Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Frances E.W. Harper among others found the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs.

1911 - The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS) is organized led by Mrs. Arthur Dodge.

1913 - Suffragists organized a parade in Washington, DC. The parade was the first major suffrage spectacle organized by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).

1914 - The National Federation of Women’s Clubs, which had over two million women members throughout the U.S., formally endorses the suffrage campaign.

1916 - Woodrow Wilson states that the Democratic Party platform will support suffrage.

1919 - The Senate finally passes the Nineteenth Amendment and the ratification process begins.