Women Get the Vote - August 18, 1920 

90 Years Since Ratification!

Compiled by Beverly Bandler, American researcher and friend, Mexico  

"To get the word ‘male’ in effect out of the Constitution cost the women of the country fifty-two years of pauseless campaign … During that time they were forced to conduct fifty-six campaigns of referenda to male voters; 480 campaigns to urge Legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters; 47 campaigns to induce State constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into State constitutions; 277 campaigns to persuade State party conventions to include woman suffrage planks; 30 campaigns to urge presidential party conventions to adopt woman suffrage planks in party platforms, and 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses."  – Carrie Chapman Catt


Carrie Chapman Catt, women’s suffrage leader, in the above quotation was dating the women’s suffrage effort in the United States from 1868 when the Fourteenth Amendment,  defining citizens as male, was adopted. She and the hundreds of women who “gave the accumulated possibilities of an entire lifetime,” the thousands who “gave of their lives,” the hundreds of thousands who “gave constant interest and such aid as they could” knew well that the American Women’s Suffrage movement actually began in earnest in 1848 with the pivotal first Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York.

The Constitution left the question of who should have the right to vote to the states. Initially, women who owned property could vote in New Jersey, but by 1808 this right had disappeared even there. The historic success in 1920 of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution took 72 years and “the largest civil rights movement in the history of the world.” It took 42 years after the amendment, known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, was introduced in 1878 to become the law of the land. It took women 50 more years to achieve suffrage than it did African-American men. The right of women to vote was not recognized by the United States until 144 years after the Declaration of Independence.

The 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920. The ratification was certified by the secretary of state on August 26, 1920. The decision was made in 1971 to designate August 26 of each year as Women’s Equality Day.

The following chronology hardly does justice to the story of the long road to the women’s right to vote in the United States, but these highlights reveal almost a century of struggle. American women need to remember this struggle and not take our vote and our right to political speech and action for granted. This is not only the suffragists’ story, it is our story.

Celebrate the Anniversary of the Women’s Right to Vote!

Vote in the 2010 Midterm Elections!   


Suffrage parade, New York City, May 6, 1912
Library of Congress

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”  – Amendment XIX to the Constitution of the USA


“The Woman’s Vote: A Chronology” was compiled by Beverly Bandler, public affairs professional and citizen activist for more than three decades in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Washington, D.C. area. She was president of the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands from 1972-73. She now writes from Mexico. Readers should feel free to distribute widely among their contacts.  
Email: bbandler1938@yahoo.com
May,  2010

Who's Who in Suffrage - Gallery

The Woman’s Vote - A Chronology

18th Century -- Plantocracy and White Male Rule

Early 19th Century -- Stereotypes Hold Sway

1830s -- Movements Begin to Emerge 

1840s -- And Merge

Seneca Falls

1850-1860 -- Suffrage Acquires National Stature

1861 to 1865 -- The Civil War 

1867-1869  Referenda on woman suffrage are held in fifty-six states

1870 to 1875 -- Go Straight to Jail

1878-1888 Women's Suffrage Amendment Introduced

1890 to the Turn of the Century

1900 -- New Century, the Struggle Continues

1908 - 1915 -- Go, get another State

1916 - 1920 -- Home Stretch, Running the Gauntlet

    1916  A pivotal year for women suffrage

    1917 Militancy Increases; So Does Violent Reaction

    1918  Anti-Suffrage Senators Campaigned Against in Midterms

    1919  Burning Words: A Watchfire for Freedom

    1920  Put the 'Rat' in Ratification!

1921-Present -- A Monument to Unfinished Business

c.1600  Near the place later known as Seneca Falls, New York, Iroquois women stage a protest against irresponsible warfare. They refuse to make love or bear children unless their voices are heard on whether to wage war.  Colonial women of European descent note that Iroquois women and men share power almost equally.

1657  George Fox (1624-1691), English Dissenter and a founder of the Religious Society of Friends (commonly known as the Quakers or Friends), writes “To Friends beyond the sea that have Blacks and Indian Slaves.” He reminds them that Quakers who own slaves should be merciful and should remember that God “hath made all Nations of one Blood.” Quakers also believe that all men and women are equal in the eyes of God. Fox initiates three centuries of Quaker debate and activism over slavery and Quakers contribute significantly to the women’s suffrage movement. Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), a prominent Massachusetts Quaker, was a pioneer in both efforts.

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18th Century -- Plantocracy and White Male Rule

The plantocracy in colonial America may have been less horrific than the brutality recorded in the West Indies by Thomas Thistlewood (1721-1786) in his 14,000 page diary, but “the bottom line” was that all slaves were controlled through force and/or terror. The economic value of plantation slavery in the United States was magnified in 1793 with the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney. The Quakers played a crucial role in changing public opinion in England and in colonial and independent America in abolition societies.
Education in the Thirteen Colonies during the 17th and 18th centuries varied considerably depending on location, race, gender, and social class. With very few exceptions, white males had more educational opportunity than any other group of people in the colonies. The New England Puritans had valued education for the sake of religious study and for economic success. Secondary schools were rare outside of major towns. Higher education began with the founding of Harvard in 1636. The first colleges were strictly for men, and primarily white men. Overwhelmingly rural, the South had few schools of any sort until the Revolutionary era. 

Wealthy children studied with private tutors; many poor and middling white children as virtually all black children went unschooled. In French colonial Louisiana, however, more importance was placed on the education of girls than that of boys because it was felt that it was going to be females that brought French civilization and sophistication to the colony and that it was more important for boys to be educated in their future trade than to receive formal education. Common schooling would not emerge until the 1830s.

1756  Lydia Chapin Taft (1712-1778) becomes the first woman legally allowed to vote in colonial America. Because of the landowner and taxpayer status of her husband Josiah in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, upon his untimely death, she is permitted to vote at three town meetings.

1769  The colonies adopt the English system of property ownership for married women as stated by Judge John Wilford Blackstone: “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law. The very being and legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated into that of her husband under whose wing and protection she performs everything.” As a result, women cannot own property in their own names nor keep their own earnings.

1770s-1860s  Slavery is a contentious issue in U.S. politics during this entire period. It becomes a topic of heated debate in the drafting of the Constitution and an unresolved issue until the Civil War. In 1767 the Newport Mercury publishes the first poem by Phyllis Wheatley (1753-c.1784), the first African-American woman whose writings are published and the first one to publish a book, Poems on Various Subjects in 1774.  She becomes a sensation in Boston in the 1760s. In the 1830s, abolitionists reprint her poetry and powerful ideas.

1776  On March 31, Abigail Adams writes to her husband, John, who is attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia: “Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound to any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”  

But starting in 1777, laws are passed in the original thirteen states that prohibit women from voting. Women will lose the right to vote in New York (1777), in Massachusetts (1780), in New Hampshire (1784). Following the American Revolution (1775-1783), women were allowed to vote only in New Jersey provided they met property requirements then in place, from 1790 until 1807. In 1807, women were again forbidden from voting in New Jersey, the last state to revoke the right.
1787  The United States Constitutional Convention places voting qualifications in the hands of the states. When the Constitution is written, only white male property owners (about 10 to 16 percent of the nation's population) have the vote. Women in all states, except New Jersey, lose the right to vote.

1792  The modern movement for women’s suffrage is considered to have originated in France, where Antoine Condorcet and Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793) advocated women’s suffrage in national elections. De Gouges publishes Declaration des Droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne in this same year that Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) publishes A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. The latter is thought to have begun the struggle to achieve equal rights for women in the English-speaking world.

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Early 19th Century -- Stereotypes Hold Sway

Americans, in general, hold highly stereotypical notions about women’s and men’s roles in society. What historians would later term “The Cult of Domesticity” is evident from a variety of printed sources published during this period -- advice manuals, poetry and literature, sermons, and medical texts. The Cult of Domesticity was a prevailing view among upper and middle class women during the nineteenth century in both Great Britain and the United States. Women were “supposed to embody perfect virtue in all senses.” Women were put in the center of the domestic sphere and “True Women” were to hold the four cardinal virtues: piety, purity, submission, and domesticity. “Without them...all was ashes. With them she was promised happiness and power.” 

Godey’s Lady’s Book (1830-1898), the most widely circulated women’s magazine in the United States and one with “an influence unimaginable for any single publication today,” encouraged motherhood as a religious obligation: “The perfection of womanhood…is the wife and mother, the center of the family, that magnet that draws man to the domestic altar, that makes him a civilized being, a social Christian.” One historian suggests that in the nineteenth century: “any form of social change was tantamount to an attack on woman’s virtue.”

1820s  The struggle for women's suffrage in America is said to have begun in the 1820s with the writings of the wealthy Frances “Fanny” Wright (1795-1852).  Born in Scotland, the controversial lecturer, writer, freethinker, abolitionist and social reformer, emigrated to the United States in 1818 and toured from 1818 to 1820. Wright became the first woman to lecture publicly before a mixed audience when she delivered an Independence Day speech at New Harmony, Indiana in 1828.

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1830s -- Movements Begin to Emerge 

The abolition of slavery and the women’s suffrage movement are closely linked. Many women who fought for the abolition of slavery fought for women’s rights and vice versa from the 1770s through the 1860s. Slave importation had become illegal in 1808. After 1830, a religious movement led by William Lloyd Garrison declared slavery to be a personal sin. The highly controversial movement was a factor in causing the American Civil War. 

During the decade of the 1830s, the participation of women’s anti-slavery activities reached its height when American women engaged in a massive petition campaign and organized female anti-slavery societies (FASS). The first FASS was formed in 1832 in Salem, Massachusetts. FASS proliferated after the founding of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia in 1833. In 1837, an Antislavery Convention of American Women met in New York City with both black and white women participating. Eighty-one delegates from twelve states attended.

In 1837 the “Pastoral Letter of the General Association of Massachusetts to the Congressional Churches under Their Care” is promulgated against women speaking in public against slavery. In a period when the white male was “superior,” women like Sojourner Truth (c.1797-1883), the Grimké sisters: Sarah (1792-1873) and Angelina (1805-1879), Harriet Tubman (c.1820-1913), Sarah Parker Remond (1826-1894), and many others, thought otherwise. These women fought against the voice of the majority for the rights and freedoms of the minority “in an age when ‘respectable’ women did not speak in public." 

The role of women in the abolition movement divided the male dominated society. The formation of 230 female anti-slavery societies between 1832 and 1859 has been documented. Members faced not only criticism and ridicule but also mob violence. Abolitionists would face increased antagonism by the end of the 1850s.  Frederick Douglass claimed the unity of the anti-slavery cause and the fight for women's rights, saying: "When the true history of the antislavery cause shall be written, women will occupy a large space in its pages, for the cause of the slave has been peculiarly woman's cause."

“As common schooling emerged in the 1830s, providing white children of all classes and ethnicities with the opportunity to become full-fledged citizens, it redefined citizenship as synonymous with whiteness. This link between school and American identity increased white hostility to black education at the same time that it spurred African Americans to demand public schooling as a means of securing status as full and equal members of society.” [Hilary J. Moss. Schooling Citizens: The Struggle for African American Education in Antebellum America.]

1831  The beginning of the American woman’s reform movement is considered by some to date with the decision of Reverend Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875), a Presbyterian and Congregationalist figure in the “Second Great Awakening” (1790-1840s). Finney began allowing women to pray aloud in gatherings of men and women, a challenge to women’s traditional roles in religion. There would be much ferment about various social issues during the 1830s and 1840s, which has been referred to as the First Reform Era. Temperance was another important part of this period. Some 6,000 temperance groups had been established by the 1830s. By 1855, 13 of the 31 states had temperance, or alcohol prohibition, laws. An important influence on suffragists as well was the abolition of property qualifications for white men voters between 1812-1860, a result of the “Jacksonian democracy” of Andrew Jackson’s presidency between 1829 and 1837.

1832   Anti-slavery associations that encourage the full participation of women are organized by abolitionist and journalist William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879). Garrison’s ideas were not welcomed by a majority of other abolitionists, the result of which is a split within the abolitionist movement.

1833  Oberlin College becomes the first coeducational college in the United States. In 1841, Oberlin awards the first academic degrees to three women. Early graduates include Lucy Stone (1818-1893) and Antoinette Brown (1825-1921). Stone becomes prominent in the abolitionist and suffrage moments. Brown will be the first woman to be ordained as a minister in the United States and uses her religious faith in her efforts to expand women’s rights.

1835  Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) begins teaching at age 15 in rural New York State. She discovers her weekly salary is equal to one-fifth that of her male colleagues. When she protests this inequality, she loses her job. Because of “expected behaviors,” women are assumed to make better teachers and thus teaching is one of the first out-of-home jobs for women. One estimate is that one quarter of all native-born New England women were schoolteachers at some point in their lives between 1825 and 1860.

1837   The first Antislavery Convention of American Women meets in New York City on May 9 with approximately 200 women, both black and white participating. The convention is a monumental step for both the women's rights movement and the abolition movement as a whole.

1838 The Grimké sisters become the first women to address a meeting of the Massachusetts state legislature. Sarah (1792-1873) and Angelina (1805-1879) speak about slavery and abolitionism based on their experience with slavery on their family’s South Carolina plantation. As a result of their experiences of abuse and ridicule in response to their public efforts, they became early activists in the women’s rights movement.

1840  The World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 represents a significant development in the history of the women’s suffrage movement.  When Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) and Lucretia Mott travel to London as convention delegates, they along with British women participants, are refused permission to speak at the meeting on account of their gender. Stanton later recalls: "We resolved to hold a convention as soon as we returned home, and form a society to advocate the rights of women."

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1840s -- And Merge

This year, Abby Kelley (1811-1887) becomes the first woman ever elected to a position in the American Anti-Slavery Society. She works closely with William Lloyd Garrison. Because her election angered many abolitionists who did not want women in positions of authority, it resulted in the formation of a new organization, the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Those who remained in the old organization with Garrison widened their reform agenda to include women’s rights. Women were beginning to learn critical fundraising, speaking, and organizational skills while agitating for the abolition of slavery. Many would apply these same skills to their work for women’s rights.

1844  One of the first permanent labor associations for working women in the United States is organized. Female textile workers in Massachusetts organize the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association and demand a 10-hour workday.

1845  Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) publishes Woman in the Nineteenth Century.  It is considered the first major feminist work in the United States. Fuller was an advocate of women's rights and, in particular, women's education and the right to employment. By the time she was in her 30s, Fuller had earned a reputation as the best-read person in New England. Fuller was the first woman allowed to use the library at Harvard College.

1847  What is believed to be the first ever women’s suffrage leaflet is published by the English Quaker Anne Knight (1786-1862). Knight, outraged by the behavior of male leaders at the 1840 London anti-slavery convention, starts a campaign advocating equal rights for women.

1848  “For many years before 1848, American women had manifested considerable discontent with their lot. They wrote and read domestic novels in which a thin veneer of sentiment overlaid a great deal of anger about women’s dependence on undependable men. They attended female academies and formed ladies’ benevolent societies, in which they pursued the widest range of interests and activities they could imagine without calling into question the whole notion of ‘woman’s sphere.’ In such settings, they probed the experiences that united and restrained them -- what one historian has called ‘the bonds of womanhood.’ Yet women’s discontent remained unexamined, implicit, and above all disorganized. Although increasing numbers of women were questioning what it meant to be a woman and were ready to challenge their traditional position, they did not yet know each other. The women’s rights movement crystallized these sentiments into a feminist politics.” (Ellen Carol Dubois, Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America, 1848-1869. Cornell, 1978.)

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Seneca Falls

The first women’s rights convention in the United States, The Seneca Falls Convention, is held at Seneca Falls, New York, July 19-20, 1848. It is the direct result of the 1840 Anti-Slavery Convention in England. While women’s participation in reform efforts was growing along with discontent, the “bonds of womanhood” were fragmented and without leadership. The Seneca meeting would change that. It is considered the moment when the push for women’s suffrage first gained national prominence and initiates the “first-wave feminism.” Thereafter, women’s rights meetings are held on a regular basis and the “sacred right to the elective franchise” become their focus.

The convention was the result of a social meeting a few days earlier between Mott, Stanton, Martha C. Wright, Mary Ann McClintock, and Jane Hunt, all Quakers except Stanton. The women decided to call for a convention “to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” Fresh in their minds was the April passage of the long-deliberated New York Married Woman's Property Rights Act, a significant but far from comprehensive piece of legislation.

To the thirty-two-year old Stanton fell the task of drawing up the Declaration of Sentiments and eleven resolutions that will define the meeting. Taking the Declaration of Independence as her guide, Stanton submitted that: "all men and women had been created equal" and went on to list eighteen "injuries and usurpations" -- the same number of charges leveled against the King of England--"on the part of man toward woman." Stanton made the argument that women had a natural right to equality in all spheres. The ninth resolution held forth the radical assertion that it was the duty of women to secure for themselves the right to vote. Stanton saw clearly that “the power to make the laws was the right through which all other rights could be secured.” 

Not many people had been expected, but a crowd of about three hundred people, including forty men, predominantly Quakers, came from five miles round. Frederick Douglass, then publisher of the anti-slavery North Star, attended. A vigorous discussion sprang up regarding women's right to vote, with many including Mott urging the removal of this concept, but Douglass argued eloquently for its inclusion—that women of all races needed to make strides and obtain their rights together, and the suffrage resolution was retained. One hundred attendees signed the document, 68 women and all 32 men who attended. Many people respected the courage and abilities behind the drafting of the Declaration, but were unwilling to abandon conventional mindsets.

Newspaper editors were so scandalized by the shameless audacity of the Declaration of Sentiments, and particularly of the ninth resolution -- women demanding the vote -- that they attacked the women with all the vitriol they could muster. The backlash began when the women's rights movement was only one day old. An article in the Oneida Whig published soon after the convention described the document as "the most shocking and unnatural event ever recorded in the history of womanity." Many newspapers insisted that the Declaration was drafted at the expense of women's more appropriate duties. At a time when temperance and female property rights were major issues, even many supporters of women's rights believed the Declaration's endorsement of women's suffrage would hinder the nascent women's rights movement, causing it to lose much needed public support.  

But those who attended the meeting agreed to hold an Adjourned Convention two weeks later in Rochester New York, August 2. Abigail Bush (c. 1810-c. 1899) chaired the public meeting, a first for an American woman. By 1851 and the second National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts, the women’s right to vote was no longer at issue -- it had become a central tenet of the women’s rights movement.

This same year, 1848, African-American Benjamin F. Roberts is incensed that his five-year-old daughter Sarah is turned away from five white schools near her Boston home and is forced to attend the poor and densely crowded all black school far away. He files suit: Roberts vs. Boston (1848-1849). This case was of extreme importance because it was the first trial case law against segregated schools in the country. It indirectly related to the 1855 ban of segregated schools in Massachusetts. The case was later cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the “separate but equal” standard. Segregated schools would not be banned nationally until 1954.

1849   Harriet Tubman (c. 1820 or 1821-1913) escapes from slavery in Maryland north into Pennsylvania. Over the next ten years she will lead many slaves to freedom by the Underground Railroad. When the far-reaching United States Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850 that forced law enforcement officials (even in states which had outlawed slavery) to aid in the capture of fugitive slaves, and imposed heavy punishments on those who abetted escape, Tubman helped guide fugitives farther north into Canada. Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), now 29, begins to take part in conventions and gatherings related to the temperance movement, which existed alongside various women’s rights movements.

In 1849, Amelia Bloomer (1818-1894) begins to publish The Lily, initially devoted to the cause of temperance, but later it focuses on women’s rights. In the April 1851 issue, Bloomer advocates that women abandon their unhealthy tight stays, impractical long skirts, and restrictive petticoats for a new mode of dress consisting of a loose tunic and short skirt over Turkish-style pantaloons that came to be known as the bloomer custom. The bloomer received so much attention, and the dress reformers so much ridicule, that the reformers were forced to return to their conventional dress. In The Ladies Wreath, a monthly periodical published from 1846 to 1862, a young lady is represented in dialogue with her “professor.” The girl expresses admiration for the bloomer custom—it gives freedom of motion, is healthy, and attractive. The professor sets her straight. Trousers, he explains, are “only one of the many manifestations of that wild spirit of socialism and agrarian radicalism which is so rife in our land.”

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) becomes the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S.  Women are permitted to practice medicine legally for the first time.

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1850-1860 -- Suffrage Acquires National Stature

The first (1850) and the second (1851) National Women’s Rights Conventions are held in Worcester, Massachusetts. The 1850 convention, attended by more than 1,000 delegates from eleven different states, marks the beginning of the organized movement for women’s rights and call for the total reorganization of “all social, political, industrial interests and institutions.” Its final resolution, which calls for “Equality before the law without distinction of sex or color,” is highly controversial because of its shocking support of equality for black women.

The convention was applauded by a few local and national newspapers, but disparaged by most of them. The issues raised at the convention, however, were heard throughout the world. It became a touchstone for international feminism, inspiring coverage and essays in France, England, and Germany. Significantly, some of the same women and men who addressed such issues as suffrage, education, property rights, and wages at the Worcester Woman’s Rights Conventions went on to petition the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in 1853. The conventions were ended by the American Civil War (1861-1865). Over the objections of Anthony, women put aside suffrage activities to help the war effort.

Another mid-century indicator that times were slowly changing: the establishment in 1850 of the world’s first medical school for women in Philadelphia. It was founded by Quaker businessmen, clergy and physicians at a time when the prevailing notions were that women were too feeble-minded to succeed in such a demanding arena and too delicate to endure its physical requirements.

1851  Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton meet for the first time, on a street corner in Seneca Falls, New York in March. They will be lifelong friends. At the May 28–29 women rights convention in Akron, Ohio, Sojourner Truth (1797?-1883) rises from her seat to silence the hecklers and electrify the whole audience with a speech titled: "Ain't I a Woman?" The point of this speech was to show that fighting for equal rights for women with men was not enough. Other women, including African Americans, faced additional obstacles. Truth wanted the participants to not only dedicate their lives to ending sexism but also to assist all people to achieve equality.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), partly inspired by the autobiography of Josiah Henson, a black slave who had escaped in 1830 from a 3,700-acre tobacco plantation in North Bethesda, Maryland, writes Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly. It first appeared in 41 weekly installments in the National Era, an abolitionist national periodical, where an estimated 50,000 people read it. It was published in book form in March, 1852, selling out its complete print run. The book was translated into all major languages, and eventually became the second best-selling book after the Bible in the 19th century. The book had a profound effect on attitudes toward African Americans and slavery. Its impact was so great that when Abraham Lincoln met Stowe at the start of the Civil War, he reportedly declared: “So this is the little lady who made this big war.”  According to the 1850 census, there were 3,204,313 slaves out of a total population of 23,191,876, almost fourteen percent.

1852  Anthony and Stanton start the Women’s New York State Temperance Society. Anthony had joined the Daughters of Temperance in 1848, but had not been allowed to speak at a temperance rally in Albany because she was a woman. She left that group shortly thereafter. Anthony attended her first woman’s rights convention this year in Syracuse, New York. A pivotal year for the suffrage pioneer, she would incorporate women’s rights with three other reform movements: temperance, labor, and education.

1855  A law is passed in Massachusetts that allows women to keep their property after marriage. In the same year, Massachusetts becomes the first state in the country to permit women to keep their own wages.

This year, in Missouri, in Missouri v. Celia, a black woman is declared to be property without a right to defend herself against a master’s act of rape. Celia, a 19-year old slave woman, who had been raped repeatedly for years by her master since he bought her when she was fourteen, decided to fight him off. She hit him on the head and he died.  Although Missouri law permitted a woman to physically resist being raped, the Missouri courts hold that this slave woman has no right under the law to defend herself against further sexual molestation. Celia is hanged, but her execution is delayed so that she could give birth to yet another child from her master’s sexual assaults.
1857  The Dred Scott v. Sandford decision by the U.S. Supreme Court excludes slaves and their descendants from possessing Constitutional rights and determines that they can never be citizens of the United States.

1860  By the 1860 United States Census, the slave population in the United States was now 3,953,760 out of a population of 32,443,321.

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1861 to 1865 -- The Civil War 

The American Civil War disrupts suffrage activity as women, North and South, divert their energies to "war work."  Women work to manufacture arms, ammunition, uniforms, and other war supplies. (Prior to its destruction, women in the Fayetteville, North Carolina arsenal made some 900,000 rounds of small arms munitions in 1864.)

Both the Union and Confederate armies forbade the enlistment of women, but little known is that there were women soldiers disguised as men. Because they passed for men successfully and secrecy was paramount, it is impossible to know with any certainty how many women served as soldiers in the Civil War. It is estimated, however, that over 400 women served in war on both sides, not counting the thousands who served as nurses. Historical records verify that over 80 women were either wounded or killed in battle. The war served as a "training ground.” Women gained important organizational and occupational skills that they later used in post bellum organizational activity. In 1865, surgeon Dr. Mary Edwards (1832-1919) was the first woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, the U.S.'s highest military award, and only one of eight civilians to receive it. Her medal was later rescinded by the Army, but was restored in 1977.
According to Pulitzer Prize-wining historian Leon Litwack (1929-), as late as the 1940s, many eminent historians of the South depicted slavery as a largely benign system similar to that depicted by Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (1936). Historian Kenneth M. Stampp (1912-2009) helped transform the study of slavery in the United States in his 1956 book, The Peculiar Institution, by exposing plantation owners as practical businessmen, not “magnolia-bloom” romantics defending a noble heritage. 

According to both the Pulitzer Prize-winning historians David Brion Davis (1927-) and Eugene Genovese (1930-) treatment of slaves was both harsh and inhumane. Whether laboring or walking about in public, slaves were regulated by legally authorized violence. Plantations in the Deep South were essentially “ruled by terror.” There were contemporary accounts that revealed “complex and fraught situations” and the abuses of sexuality and power. Mary Boykin Chesnut (1823-1886) from South Carolina began her sophisticated diary in 1861 and ended it in 1865 (it would not be published until 1905). Chesnut portrayed southern society, the mixed roles of men and women, and slavery. Fanny Kemble (1809-1893 was a British actress who married an American, Pierce Butler, grandson of a Founding Father and heir to a large Georgia sea island plantation. She was shocked by the conditions of the slaves and their treatment. Kemble’s diary was published in 1863. Accounts by former slaves all attested to the abuse of women slaves by white men of the owning and overseer class. 

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1862   The New York State legislature repeals many of the gains women had made in 1860. Susan B. Anthony was "sick at heart" but could not convince women activists to hold another convention focusing solely on women's rights. Mary Jane Patterson (1840-1894) is the first African American woman to receive a full baccalaureate degree from Oberlin College.

1863  Stanton, recently moved to New York City, joins with Anthony to send a call out, via the woman's central committee chaired by Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis (1813-1876), to all the "Loyal Women of the Nation" to meet again in convention in May.  Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and others form the Woman’s National Loyal League on May 14, the first national women's political organization. The WLNL objective is to lobby for an amendment to the Constitution to abolish slavery and to end the Civil War. The WLNL claimed some 5,000 members. It organized a Mammoth Petition and collected 400,000 signatures, which significantly assisted in the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.

1865  Abolitionists found The Nation magazine in July 1865.

On December 6, 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is adopted, having been ratified by the legislatures of twenty-seven of the then thirty-six states. It abolishes slavery and authorizes Congress to enforce abolition:

Section 1.  Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2.  Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

1866  With the desire to unite the energies of the anti-slavery and women’s suffrage movements, Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony propose the idea of an equal rights association at an American Anti-Slavery Society meeting in Boston in January. The Eleventh National Women’s Rights Convention is called to order by Stanton on May 10, 1866 in New York City. At this meeting attendees will be stirred by the speech by African-American activist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911). The American Equal Rights Association (AERA), for white and black women and men and dedicated to the goal of universal suffrage, is formed at the end of the convention by Anthony, Stanton and Frederick Douglass (1818-1895).

Tensions between proponents of the dissimilar goals of sexual equality and racial equality caused AERA to split apart in 1869. The brief existence of AERA marks the separation of the women’s and black rights movements after their successful collaboration in abolitionism before and during the Civil War. Suffragists presented petitions bearing 10,000 signatures directly to Congress for an amendment prohibiting disenfranchisement on the basis of sex. 

On October 10 Elizabeth Cady Stanton declares herself a candidate for Congress from the 8th Congressional District of New York. She receives 24 of 22,026 votes cast in November. The National Labor Union, the first national labor federation in the United States is organized. Its priorities were labor reforms that included the eight-hour day. It took a stand for the rights of working women. The NLU boasted 700,000 members at its height but collapsed in 1873.

The Congress proposes the Fourteenth Amendment on June 13.

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1867-1869  Referenda on woman suffrage are held in fifty-six states

1867  Kansas puts a woman suffrage amendment proposal on the ballot, the first time the question goes to a direct vote. It loses. Sojourner Truth, now 80, speaks at its first anniversary meeting of the AERA in May.

1868  Anthony begins to publish a weekly journal entitled The Revolution in Rochester, New York in January. Its motto: “The true republic -- men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.” Stanton is the editor. The main thrust of The Revolution is to promote women’s and African-Americans’ right to suffrage, but it also discusses issues of equal pay for equal work, more liberal divorce laws and the church’s position on women’s issues.

The Fifteenth Amendment passes Congress February 26 giving the vote to black men. It will be ratified in 1870 but not fully realized for almost a century. Women petition to be included but are turned down.

On July 9 the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is adopted after the Civil War as one of the Reconstruction Amendments, having been ratified by the legislatures of 28 of the then 37 states. It defines citizenship as “male” (This is the first use of the word male in the Constitution), prohibits states from interfering with privileges and immunities, requires due process and equal protection, punishes states for denying the vote, and disqualifies Confederate officials and debts. The Fourteenth Amendment overrules the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision of 1857:

Section 1.  All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2.  Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age* in such State.

Section 3.  No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4.  The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave. But all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5.  The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

*The Twenty-Sixth Amendment (1971) standardized the voting age to 18.

The New England Woman Suffrage Association is formed but lasts only a year. In New Jersey, 172 women attempt to vote; their ballots are ignored. In December, the first move toward insuring suffrage for the Negro, and in effect women, by means of another federal amendment is made by Senator S.C. Pomeroy of Kansas. His proposal bases suffrage on citizenship, thus including women. Three other bills are introduced, including one to give the vote to women in the District of Columbia, one to grant it to women in the territories, and later one to give it to the women of Utah.

The National Labor Union, one of the nation’s first organized labor advocacy groups, supports equal pay for equal work. The NLU pushes for a law to end discrimination but is not successful.

1869   While Congress is making ready to submit a 15th amendment, the first suffrage convention is held in Washington in January. A new feature at women's rights conventions is the attendance of several colored men who are given the opportunity to speak freely. All denounce the women for jeopardizing the black man's chances for the vote and “one, standing by the side of that saintly superwoman, Lucretia Mott, presiding officer, declared that ‘God intended the male should dominate the female everywhere.’ ” [Carrie Chapman Catt and Nettie Rogers Shuler. Woman Suffrage and Politics. Charles Scribner’s Sons (1926).]

The Congress proposes the Fifteenth Amendment on February 26, 1869. The Fifteenth Amendment passes Congress in February. It will be ratified the following year, giving the vote to black men. Women petition to be included but are turned down.

In March, a federal women's suffrage amendment is introduced as a Joint Resolution in both Houses of Congress by Rep. George W. Julian of Indiana. Douglass and others concentrate on fighting for black male suffrage. Tensions between proponents of the dissimilar goals and disagreements over the Fourteenth and soon-to-be passed Fifteenth Amendments cause the AERA to split into two factions. The more radical New York-based National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), open to women only, is formed in May by Anthony and Stanton. The NWSA opposes the Fifteenth Amendment unless it includes the vote for women. Stanton is president. The primary goal of the NWSA is to achieve voting rights for women by means of a Congressional amendment to the Constitution. The NWSA also advocates easier divorce and an end to discrimination in employment and pay.

The more conservative Boston-based American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) is formed in November by Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe with Henry Ward Beecher as president. The AWSA is only concerned with obtaining the vote and does not campaign on other issues. It focuses on amending individual state constitutions. 

In England, John Stuart Mill, economist, a pre-eminent 19th century thinker and husband of suffragist Harriet Taylor (1808-1858), publishes On the Subjugation of Women

The first territorial legislation of the Wyoming Territory granted women suffrage in 1869. The Wyoming territory is the first to grant women suffrage since 1807. 

1870 to 1875 -- Go Straight to Jail        Back to top of page

Several women -- including Virginia Louisa Minor, Victoria Woodhull, and Myra Bradwell -- attempt to use the Fourteenth Amendment in the courts to secure the vote (Minor and Woodhull) or the right to practice law (Bradwell). They all are unsuccessful.

1870   Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) is the first woman elected to the American Philosophical Society.

The Woman's Journal debuts on January 8, edited by Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, and Mary Livermore. (Later in 1900 it is adopted as the official paper of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the merged suffrage organizations.) Women in Wyoming become the first to vote following the granting of territorial status.

On February 3, the Fifteenth  Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits each government in the United States from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's “race, color, or previous condition of servitude" (i.e., slavery), is adopted, having been ratified by 28 states:

Section 1.  The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2.  The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The NWSA had refused to work for its ratification, arguing that it be “scrapped” in favor of a Sixteenth Amendment providing universal suffrage. Frederick Douglass broke with Stanton and Anthony over NWSA's position. 

The Utah territory grants woman suffrage in 1870, but Utah women will be disenfranchised by provisions of the federal Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887. Iowa is the first state to admit a woman, Arabella Mansfield, to the Bar. The Grimké sisters, now quite aged, and 42 other women attempt to vote in Massachusetts. Their ballots are cast but ignored.

1871   Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927) addresses the House Judiciary Committee on January 11, arguing the women's right to vote under the 14th Amendment. The Anti-Suffrage Party is founded by wives of prominent men, including many Civil War generals.

1872  On May 10, Woodhull becomes a Presidential candidate of the Equal Rights Party, naming Frederick Douglass (who declines) as her running mate. Although laws prohibited women from voting, there was nothing stopping women from running for office. During the campaign Woodhull called for the "reform of political and social abuses; the emancipation of labor, and the enfranchisement of women." Woodhull also argued in favor of improved civil rights and the abolition of capital punishment. The supporters of President Ulysses Grant attacked her character. As a result of her fighting back, Woodhull was arrested eight times and had to endure several trials for obscenity and libel. She was eventually acquitted but legal bills forced her into bankruptcy.

Susan B. Anthony initiates a campaign to encourage women to register to vote, then vote, using the Fourteenth Amendment as justification. In November, Anthony is arrested and indicted in New York for casting a ballot with 15 other women for having “knowingly voted without having a lawful right to vote.” Her sisters and one other woman are held for $500 bail. Anthony is held for $1,000 bail.

At the same time, Sojourner Truth appears at a polling booth in Battle Creek, Michigan, demanding a ballot; she is turned away. The Republican Party platform includes a reference to woman suffrage.

This year Congress enacts a federal law that grants female federal employees equal pay for equal work. The same right was not extended to the vast majority of female employees who worked for private companies or state and local governments until the adoption of the Equal Pay Act nearly a century later in 1963.

1873  Anthony is tried for having voting illegally in June. She is denied a trial by jury, is convicted, and fined $100 plus the “costs of prosecution,” which she refuses to ever pay. She tells Judge Ward Hunt: "May it please your honor, I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty…'Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.'"

Suffrage demonstrations are held at the Centennial of the Boston Tea Party and at a commemoration of the Battle of Lexington. The call for a Woman’s Congress in September is signed by 150 women who are prominent professionals and reformers. They meet in October to exchange ideas about women’s experience. The Association for the Advancement of Women is formed to promote higher education and professional opportunities for women. Women are barred from becoming lawyers by the U.S. Supreme Court in Bradwell v. Illinois, an early legal challenge to sex discrimination in the United States. The Court rules that the state of Illinois has the right to exclude a woman, Myra Colby Bradwell from practicing law. Three justices sign onto an opinion that says: “The paramount destiny and mission of [women] are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator.”

1874   The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is founded by Annie Wittenmyer (1827-1900). WCTU is the oldest continuing non-sectarian women’s organization worldwide. While temperance was the WCTU’s primary objective at its beginning, it focuses on women’s suffrage at the end of Wittenmyer’s term in 1879. She lobbies for pensions for retired military nurses, which leads to 1892 legislation. With Frances Willard at its head (1876), the WCTU becomes an important force in the fight for woman suffrage. Not surprisingly, one of the most vehement opponents to women's enfranchisement is the liquor lobby, which fears women might use the franchise to prohibit the sale of liquor. In Myner Happerstett vs. the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court decides that being a citizen does not guarantee suffrage.

1875  Michigan and Minnesota give women the "school vote."  Despite the 1875 Civil Rights Act banning discrimination on the basis of race, creed, or color, in theaters, hotels, transports, and other public accommodations, several railroad companies defied this congressional mandate and racially segregated its passengers. In 1875, the Supreme Court ruled women, too, were American citizens but this did not give them the right to vote.”

The Civil Rights Act was introduced to Congress by Charles Sumner and Benjamin Butler in 1870 but did not become law until March 1, 1875. It promised that all persons, regardless of race, color, or previous condition, were entitled to full and equal employment of accommodation in "inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement." In 1883, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the act as unconstitutional and asserted that Congress did not have the power to regulate the conduct and transactions of individuals.

1878-1888 Women's Suffrage Amendment Introduced        Back to top of page

1878  “Before the Civil War it seems to have occurred to no one that suffrage for women might be gained through federal action. Public opinion in all parts of the country was strongly resentful of any unusual assumption of authority by the federal government and no precedent existed upon which to base a theory for such action. The Civil War welded the loosely federated States into an “indissoluble Union,” the word “nation” for the first time found its way into the list of words frequently used as descriptive of the United States of America, and the Acts of Reconstruction represented a degree of centralized authority which before the war would not have been tolerated…hostility to federal legislative supremacy was greatly modified after that period.

After suffragists had made their energetic and heroic struggle to prevent the enfranchisement of the Negro without the inclusion of women in the plan, and when, despite their protests, Negro suffrage was achieved with woman suffrage left out, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments at least furnished precedents for a federal woman suffrage amendment, and this at once became the ultimate aim of the women's campaign. A group, led by Miss Anthony and Mrs. Stanton, wrote the amendment, designated by the suffragists for many years as the Sixteenth, and it was introduced in the Senate by A. A. Sargent of California on January 10, 1878. Owing to the death of the friendly chairman of the Committee on Privileges and Elections, Senator Oliver P. Morton of Indiana, an adverse report was made, but a minority report, accompanied by a lengthy address, was presented:

“In 1878, when the woman suffrage amendment, known as the Anthony Amendment, was introduced, the nation consisted of thirty-eight States and was accordingly represented by 76 United States Senators. The constitutional requirement of a two-thirds vote in the Congress for the submission of an amendment and action by three-fourths of the Legislatures for ratification made the support of fifty-one of these Senators and twenty-eight Legislatures necessary to its adoption. To secure this result the vote of five Senators and the ratification of five Legislatures of secession, or border, States had to be obtained, in addition to the united support of all Northern and Western States…

“The suffragists of 1878 could not believe that the nation would long allow its record of enfranchisement of illiterate men, fresh from slavery, and its denial of the same privilege to intelligent white women to stand unchallenged. They turned to the States, firm in the faith that they would soon furnish a mandate to which popular opinion would yield, and through which the congressional impasse would be broken… But between January 10, 1878 and June 4, 1919, when the amendment was finally passed by the Congress, lie forty years and six months, During that period the amendment was continuously pending, having been introduced in the same form in every succeeding Congress.” – Carrie Chapman Catt.  [Carrie Chapman Catt and Nettie Rogers Shuler. Woman Suffrage and Politics. Charles Scribner’s Sons (1926).]

The wording of the woman suffrage amendment introduced in 1878 will remain unchanged until it becomes law in 1920.

1882  Both houses of Congress appoint Select Committees on Woman Suffrage, and both report the measure favorably.

1884  “This is the sixteenth year that we have come before Congress in person, and the nineteenth by petition,” states Anthony. Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842-1924), who had participated in the forming of the American Woman Suffrage Association in 1869, founds Woman’s Era, the first newspaper written by and for black American women. It calls them to agitate for the rights of their race and their sex.

1887   The first of six volumes of The History of Woman Suffrage, is published. Written primarily by Anthony, Stanton and Matilda Jocelyn Gage (1826-1898), the history is primarily of the suffrage movement in the United States and will be compiled between 1881 and 1922. Women's suffrage activists pointed out that blacks had been granted the franchise and had not been included in the language of the Constitution’s Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments (which gave people equal protection under the law and the right to vote regardless of their race, respectively). This, they contended, had been unjust. 

Utah women who had won the right to vote by the territory in 1870 are disenfranchised by provisions of the federal Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887. The main purpose of the act is to disincorporate the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the grounds that they foster polygamy. The act will be repealed in 1978.

1888  Anthony and Stanton organize the 40-year celebration of the Seneca Falls Convention, with delegates invited from a number of countries. The celebration leads to the founding of The International Council by Anthony, May Wright Sewell (1844-1920) and Frances Willard (1939-1898) among others. The ICW holds its first convention March 25-April 1 with 49 delegates from 9 countries: Canada, the United States, Ireland, Indian, England, Finland, Denmark, France and Norway. The Council’s primary goal was the advancement of women. It does not demand woman suffrage so as not to alienate the more conservative members, but will work to promote health, peace, equality and education.

1890 to the Turn of the Century        Back to top of page

 In the 1880s it becomes clear that it is not a good idea to have two rival groups campaigning for votes for women. After several years of negotiations, the AWSA and the NWSA merge in 1890 to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).  Over the next twenty years a large number of women become involved in the struggle for women's rights. The NAWSA continues the work of both associations by becoming the parent organization of hundreds of smaller local and state groups, and by helping to pass woman suffrage legislation at the state and local level. The NAWSA is the largest and most important suffrage organization in the United States, and is the primary promoter of women's right to vote. Like AWSA and NWSA before it, the NAWSA pushes for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women's voting rights, and was instrumental in winning the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Anthony is the dominant figure in NAWSA from 1890 to 1900, at which time she steps down in favor of Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947). After success in 1920, the NAWSA will be reformed as the League of Women Voters of the United States, which continues the legacy.

This same year, Jane Addams (1860-1935) and Ellen Gates Starr (1859-1940) found Hull House, a settlement house project in Chicago's 19th Ward. Within one year, there are more than a hundred settlement houses -- largely operated by women -- throughout the United States. The settlement house movement and the Progressive campaign of which it is a part propels thousands of college-educated white women and a number of women of color into lifetime careers in social work. It also makes women an important voice to be reckoned with in American politics. The South Dakota campaign for woman suffrage loses. American Federation of Labor declares support for a woman suffrage amendment.

At the end of the 19th Century, Americans are disturbed by the inefficiencies and injustices that have resulted from the industrial revolution and the Gilded Age that runs roughly from 1865 to 1901. There is a concerted attempt in the United States to establish basic reforms in political, economic and social affairs. Reformers campaign against the employment of child workers, slum housing, sweatshops, limited suffrage, unequal distribution of wealth, business monopolies, racial discrimination, unfair tax laws and political corruption.  The Progressive Era, drawing its support from the middle class, will flourish from the 1890s to the 1920s.

1891  Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) is an African American teacher, journalist, newspaper editor, an early leader of the civil rights movement as well as active in the women’s rights and women’s suffrage movements. In 1884 she refused a conductor’s order to give up her seat on a train in 1884 (71 years before Rosa Parks). In 1891 Wells-Barnett becomes the first national crusader against the prevalent practice of lynching despite threats from angry mobs. Between 1882 (when reliable statistics were first collected) and 1968 (when the classic forms of lynching had disappeared), 4,743 persons will die of lynching, 3,446 of them black men and women. In an expression of racism and sexism, apologists claim that lynching protected white women from black rapists, but actually, only one-quarter of lynching victims were accused of rape or attempted rape. Wells-Barnett publicized evidence refuting this rape myth, as did the later Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, a white organization mobilized on a county-by-county basis later throughout 1930s to put an end to mob violence.

1893  In May, the NAWSA sends some lecturers to the World’s Congress of Representative Women in Chicago, held within the World’s Fair. Stone and Anthony speak as do almost 500 women from 27 countries during the week long event that attracts 150,000 attendees. After a vigorous campaign led by Catt, Colorado, which had defeated a referendum in 1877, adopts a constitutional amendment giving women the vote, and is the second state to do so. Gage publishes Woman, Church, and State.  Hannah Greenebaum Solomon (1858-1942) founds the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) after a meeting of the Jewish Women's Congress at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. In 1904 she, along with Anthony will represent the United States at the International Council of Women in Berlin, Germany. New Zealand becomes the first nation to provide women’s suffrage on a national level.
1894  Anthony, Stanton and others tour the state to garner support for state enfranchisement before the New York State Constitutional Convention opens.  The petition with 600,000 signatures is presented to Constitution, but it fails.
1895  In order that suffrage delegates might plead with their representatives in Congress to submit the suffrage amendment, until 1895 all the annual suffrage conventions are held in Washington. After 1895, the conventions are held alternate years in other cities, meeting in Washington during the first session of each Congress only.

Much to the consternation of her long-time colleague Susan B. Anthony and other suffragists, Stanton publishes The Woman’s Bible, a controversial feminist reinterpretation of the Bible. Stanton had long objected to conservative religious teachings on slavery, marriage, divorce, and women's status, and she is determined to promote a more liberating theology that stressed women's self-development rather than their subordination. After its publication, NAWSA moves to distance itself from this venerable suffrage pioneer because many conservative suffragists consider her to be too radical and potentially damaging to the suffrage campaign. From this time, Stanton -- who had resigned as NAWSA president in 1892 -- is no longer invited to sit on the stage at NAWSA conventions.

Women’s clubs and other organizations were formed by black women in the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. In 1895, Josephine Ruffin (1842-1924) issued a call for the First National Conference of Colored Women to take place in Boston. Following that meeting, the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) was organized in 1896, merging two national represented organizations: The Colored Women’s League (1893) and the National Federation of Afro-American Women (1895). It marked the beginning of a new era for African American women and provided a vehicle for action through organized effort that focused on job training, wage equity, childcare, segregated transportation systems and anti-lynching.

1896  Utah joins the Union, granting women full suffrage. Idaho grants woman suffrage. By the end of the nineteenth century, Utah, Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming will have enfranchised women after effort by the suffrage associations at the state level. Women have made significant legal victories, gaining rights in areas such as property and child custody, but the long struggle for the vote continued, even though in 1875, the Supreme Court had ruled women, too, were American citizens.

1900 -- New Century, the Struggle Continues        Back to top of page

1900  Maud Wood Park (1871-1955), age 29, finds herself the youngest delegate to the NAWSA convention. Working with Inez Haynes Gillmore (1873-1970), she works to attract more young members and establishes what will eventually become the national College Equal Suffrage League. Symbolizing the passing of the suffrage torch to a new generation, Anthony steps down as NAWSA president and chooses Catt, recognized for her organizational skill, to succeed her and take over the reins for her first presidential term (1900-1904). Suffragists concede that the NAWSA was in the doldrums at the time. Catt succeeds in the formation of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in 1902.
1903 In a highly symbolic move, the NAWSA Annual Convention in New Orleans features southern women prominently, votes to accept a states' rights structure and permits southern state organizations to exclude black women from their associations. Mary Dreier, Rheta Childe Dorr, Leonora O'Reilly, and others form the Women's Trade Union League of New York, an organization of middle- and working-class women dedicated to unionization for workingwomen and to woman suffrage. The WTUL is a key institution in reforming women's working conditions in the early 20th century. It becomes a nucleus of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU).

1907  The Equality League of Self-Supporting Women is formed by Harriet Stanton Blatch (1856-1940), Elizabeth's daughter. It becomes the Women's Political Union in 1910.  She had become friends with the English political activist and suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1828) through their work in the Women’s Franchise League. Blatch introduces the English suffragists’ more militant tactics of parades, street speakers, and pickets. In 1999, Time Magazine will name Pankhurst as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, who “shaped an idea of women for our time; she took society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back.” One of her most famous speeches, "Freedom or Death" will be delivered in Connecticut in 1913. Blatch’s League enrolls thousands of working women who had never before been sought out by or attracted to suffrage organizations.

1908 - 1915 -- Go, get another State        Back to top of page

“Go, get another State,” Theodore Roosevelt counsels as late as 1908. In 1909 The American Suffragette begins publication. It believes in shaking up what it sees as widespread indifference to issues of public welfare and women’s suffrage in particular. The American Suffragettes, a radical group of New York women formed by Bettina Borrman Wells, in 1908 introduces various means of political agitation into the New York campaign, such as open-air meetings and outdoor parades. The 1909 woman suffrage–connected strike of 20,000 women garment workers and a boycott by the wealthy women who purchase clothing is coordinated by the Women's Trade Union League in New York City. That year the first National Woman's Day is observed with mass meetings across the United States in February (observed until 1913). The NAWSA, primarily focuses on state campaigns, collects 404,000 signatures for a woman's suffrage amendment, which are submitted to Congress in April 1910. President Lincoln had considered 300,000 a sufficient mandate for the Emancipation Proclamation as a war measure.

State suffrage leaders in their seemingly never-ending state-by-state effort were having difficulty holding on to faith and maintaining energy. The movement had become fragmented and sluggish, but around 1912, the same year that Oregon, Arizona, and Kansas granted women suffrage, it begins to reawaken. The revitalization results from a new generation of women who begin to embrace the cause and introduce the new and more aggressive techniques. 

Between 1910 and 1913, five major suffrage parades are held with the dual aim of calling public attention to women's sense of political injustice, as well as their capacity for equal citizenship. Through spectacular displays, striking iconography, and the collective presence of thousands of marching women, arguments for women's right to vote are visually articulated on the streets of New York City and Washington, D.C. Twenty thousand suffrage supporters join a New York City parade in 1912 that have a half-million onlookers. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive (Bull Moose/Republican) Party becomes the first national political party to adopt a woman suffrage plank. The marches and parades between 1913 and 1915 bring the cause back to the center. As it did in England, The Great War (World War I) of 1914-1918 slows down the suffrage campaign as some -- but not all -- suffragists decide to shelve their suffrage activism in favor of "war work." In the long run, however, this decision proves to be a prudent one as it added yet another reason to why women deserve the vote.

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1911  Several state anti-suffrage associations merge creating The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS), which issues its official journal, the Woman’s Protest. The association recruited supporters “[by educating] 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.”  Led by Mrs. Arthur Murray Dodge (Josephine Marshall Jewell), its members include wealthy, influential women and some Catholic clergymen.  [Mrs. Dodge became a New York voter unwillingly at age 62.] Active between 1912 and 1918, the "antis" also draw support from urban political machines, Southern congressmen, and corporate capitalists -- like railroad magnates and meatpackers -- and the liquor industry concerned that the suffragists will promote prohibition.
1912   Alice Paul (1885-1977) whose stay in England had transformed her from “a Reserved Quaker girl" into a militant suffragist, joins the NAWSA in Washington, D.C. with her two friends, Lucy Burns (1879-1966) and Crystal Eastman (1881-1928). Paul is appointed head of its Congressional Committee, a NAWSA auxiliary for the exclusive purpose of securing a federal amendment. Their efforts revive the moribund suffrage issue. 

“The election of 1912 marked the take-off point for two progressive movements -- that for woman suffrage and that of women into politics. The election of 1912 put both on the national agenda. It expanded their ranks and increased public awareness of women's political work…What was different about 1912? Although individual women had been active in political campaigns for many decades, by 1912 there was a critical mass of women eager and willing to work for the presidential candidates of all political parties.” – Jo Freeman [“The Rise of Political Women in the Election of 1912.”]

The New York Herald reports August 11: “With a suddenness and force that have left observers gasping, women have injected themselves into the national campaign this year in a manner never before dreamed of in American politics.”

Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat and leading Progressive intellectual, is elected President. Wilson has a history of lukewarm support for women’s suffrage, although he pays lip service to suffragists’ demands during political campaigns and greets previously peaceful suffrage demonstrators at the White House with decorum. He is also a former teacher at a women’s college and the father of two daughters who considered themselves "suffragettes." During the 1912 presidential campaign against Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson and his opponent agree on many reform measures such as child-labor laws and pro-union legislation. They differ, however, on the subject of women’s suffrage, as Roosevelt is in favor of giving women the vote.

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1913   The Congressional Committee will remain a part of the NAWSA until late 1913, but Paul and Burns found the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage (CUWS) on January 2, semi-autonomous with the NAWSA. With little funding but in true Pankhurst style, Paul and Burns organize a publicity event to gain maximum national attention: an elaborate and massive parade of more than 20 floats and more than 5,000 marchers up Pennsylvania Ave on March 3, one day before Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration. “The scene turned ugly, however, when scores of male onlookers attacked the suffragists, first with insults and obscenities, and then with physical violence”—women were jeered, tripped, grabbed, shoved, and many were subjected to “indecent epithets” and ribald jokes while the police stood by and watched. One hundred marchers had to be taken to the local emergency hospital.

The March 4 New York Evening Journal reports: “Mob Hurts 300 Suffragists at Capital Parade.” Before the afternoon was over, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, responding to a request from the chief of police, authorizes the use of a troop of cavalry from nearby Fort Myer to help control the crowd. In spite of the difficulties, the parade route is completed. At the railway station a few blocks away, president-elect Woodrow Wilson arrives to little fanfare. One of his staff asks, "Where are all the people?" "Watching the suffrage parade," the police tell him. The next day Wilson is driven down the miraculously clear Pennsylvania Avenue, and cheered on by a respectful crowd. The following day, Alice's group of suffragists make headlines across the nation and suffrage becomes a popular topic of discussion among politicians and the general public alike.” The event has upstaged and embarrassed the new president but it is a major attention getter.

The states find the time to ratify the Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and on April 8 the U.S. Congress confirms the senators from the U.S. Senate, two from each state, are to be elected by populate vote instead of by state legislatures.

On May 10, the largest suffrage parade to date marches down Fifth Avenue: 10,000 people, including some 500 men parade past somewhere between 250,000-500,000 onlookers. Some marked success at the state level in 1913: The Territory of Alaska adopts woman suffrage. Illinois is the first state to grant women presidential suffrage by legislative enactment. The Southern States Woman Suffrage Conference is formed. Two significant events take place in late 1913: Pankhurst arrives from England October 18 to undertake a speaking tour. At their annual convention in December, the NAWSA leadership expels the militants, Paul and others.

In December, at their annual convention in Washington, the NAWSA leadership, discomforted by the militant tactics of Paul and the confusion of the Congressional Committee with the NAWSA and unable to come to terms with Paul, expels the militants. Catt admits: “Although the militant movement had divided opinion in that country as in all others, it taught many suffragists the world around that spectacular events carried suffrage message to the masses of the people as suffrage appeals to reason never could, and immediately such features, shorn of militant character, were introduced into State campaigns in America.” The Congressional Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association was a standing committee and thereafter the work went on with renewed energy under a new chairman.

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1914   The Great War (World War I) 1914-1918 intervenes to slow down the suffrage campaign in both Britain and the U.S. as some-- but not all -- suffragists decide to shelve their suffrage activism in favor of "war work." In the long run, however, this decision proves to be a prudent one as it adds yet another reason to why women deserve the vote. By 1914, 11 states and Alaska had approved suffrage for women, but not New York State. It would be three more years before New York, the birthplace of the women's rights movement in the 19th century and home of women's rights icons Stanton and Anthony, would pass legislation for woman's suffrage.  

On March 10, the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, having been introduced in Congress every year since 1878, is finally introduced on the floor of Congress. The Senate defeats it 35 to 34. Grueling and costly suffrage campaigns are lost in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, and once again Ohio. Alice Paul and her militant Congressional Union work against Woodrow Wilson and Democrats during mid-term elections because of their inaction on introducing Susan B. Anthony Amendment. Carrie Chapman Catt disapproves of Paul's tactics, believing such a campaign will only drive Wilson further away from suffragists.

On June 9, a parade is held in Buffalo, New York a city that has 25,000 registered suffragists. Paul’s CUWS now has a membership of 4,500 and has raised more than $50,000 for its campaign (In 1913 the average annual wage was $621). The CUWS also has its own magazine, The Suffragist

Paul and NAWSA president Catt share the goal of universal suffrage, but their political strategies are different and incompatible. NAWSA prefers to concentrate on state campaigns, while Paul wants to focus all energy and funding upon a national amendment. The more conservative NAWSA regards more aggressive and militant tactics as distasteful, preferring the image of reasonable, nice ladies who are not threatening the very fabric of American family life, a safe haven for female and male supporters. NAWSA endorses President Wilson and looks to members of the Democratic Party as allies, while Alice Paul holds Wilson and his party responsible for women's continued disenfranchisement (a tactic of British Suffragettes). 

In 1914, Paul and her followers sever all ties to NAWSA in an acrimonious split and, in 1916, form the “radical” National Woman's Party (NWP). The National Federation of Women's Clubs -- which by this time includes more than two million white women and women of color throughout the United States -- formally endorses the suffrage campaign. In September, a bequest from Miriam Florence Follin Leslie (Mrs. Frank), publisher of Leslie's Weekly, puts some $1,000,000 at the disposal of Carrie Chapman Catt for "the furtherance of the cause of woman suffrage."

The NWP’s first important campaign is the mid-term Congressional elections in 1914. They succeed in ousting approximately twenty Democrats (the party in power) from their seats, some of them, suffrage-friendly.  The NWP has only around 50,000 members compared to the two million claimed by the NAWSA but the NWP proves creative and very effective at commanding attention of both the public, the media and politicians through its relentless agitation, lobbying, creative publicity, acts of nonviolent confrontation and civil disobedience. The NWP influences the more moderate NAWSA toward greater initiatives. Both groups, in addition to other suffrage organizations, will rightly declare victory on August 26, 1920.

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1915  The House of Representatives votes on the federal woman suffrage amendment on January 12 and defeats the measure by a 204 to 174 vote. This year woman suffrage measures are defeated in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts, but 40,000 march in a New York City suffrage parade, the largest parade ever held in that city. 

Alice Duer Miller (1874-1942)m a writer and poet, who had become known as a campaigner for women's suffrage, publishes a brilliant series of satirical poems in the New York Tribune. These are published subsequently as Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times. These words became a catchphrase of the suffrage movement. She follows this collection with Women are People! (1917). 

Between April and December, the CU, despite objections from NAWSA, sends organizers to all states to plan conventions and establish state branches. The NAWSA had become badly divided. Catt is asked to resume leadership for a second term.

CU organizes the first Women Voters Convention attended by 1,000, September 14-16, in San Francisco. Their most daring initiative is to organize an historic cross-country auto trip to promote women’s voting rights following the convention (the first cross-country trip had been made in May of 1903 when there were less than 150 miles of paved roads between coasts). Carrying a 19,000 foot petition for a woman’s suffrage amendment to the Constitution, three women: suffrage envoy Sara Bard Field, her driver Ingeborg Kinstedt and machinist Maria Kindberg, drive from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., a daring and risky trip of almost three months and 5,000 miles. Never before has a group of women driven across the country. Mabel Vernon, also of CU, travels ahead of the convoy by train to organize parades, rallies and receptions for Field’s arrival.  In 1915, cars are still a luxury item that few could afford. Not until the 1920s would the use of the automobile boom.  Most roads are little more than dusty, poorly marked two-lane byways and few are passable during the winter, and gas stations and restaurants are rare. The nation’s highway system will not even be laid out until 1925-1926. Field collects 500,000 signatures along the way during a trip that causes a sensation. She will later say: "The women were the worst opposers."

The three women reach Washington, D.C. on December 6. The courageous group is accompanied by a procession of 2,000 who escort them to the U.S. Capitol to be received by a large delegation of members of Congress on the Capitol steps. The procession of cars then proceeded to The White House. Field and her traveling companions and 300 other invited guests were ushered into the enormous East Room to be greeted by a still suffrage-resistant President Woodrow Wilson who had told the suffragists repeatedly that he felt it was for each state to decide. The war in Europe now in its second year, and the issue of whether the U.S. should enter it is a serious distraction for Wilson.

Jane Addams publishes the suffragist pamphlet: “Why Women Should Vote.” In December, Carrie Chapman Catt, is named president of NAWSA for a second term 1915-1920. Tensions between the more aggressive CU and the conservative NAWSA increase. On Dec. 17, the CU and NAWSA make a last attempt to reconcile but it fails.

1916 - 1920 -- Home Stretch, Running the Gauntlet

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1916  A pivotal year for women suffrage       

The NAWSA is revitalized under the leadership of Catt, and the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage becomes the National Woman’s Party (NWP) led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. Catt immediately sets a goal to have a woman suffrage plank in the platforms of both the Republican and Democratic parties at their conventions in June 1916. At the September NAWSA convention in Atlantic City, Catt presents her address entitled “The Crisis.” She unveils her “Winning Plan” for suffrage victory that requires coordination by a vast cadre of suffrage workers in both state and local associations. The strategies of the NAWSA and the NWP are now compatible: achieving the federal amendment. The styles and tactics, however, are not compatible and the ties between the two organizations remained severed. The militant NWP continues its preference for aggressive pamphlet distribution, demonstrations, parades, mass meetings, picketing, suffrage watch fires and hunger strikes (all duly reported in its weekly Suffragist), civil disobedience tactics with which the more conservative NAWSA are still not comfortable.

Having had a successful campaign in the 1914 mid-term Congressional elections, the NWP follows the latter up with an equally intensive anti-Democratic campaign in 1916 causing President Wilson an embarrassingly small margin of reelection victory. The NWP sends a powerful message that politicians who do not support a federal women’s suffrage amendment are at risk of losing their support and their office. The NWP also opposes WWI, which the U.S. will enter the following year. On December 2, suffragists fly over President Wilson’s yacht and drop suffrage amendment petitions. While the NAWSA did not want to be associated with “radicals” and radical tactics, it was benefiting from their contribution to the rise of the movement in American consciousness. By the same token, the NWP owes much of its success in 1914 and 1916 to NAWSA’s previous state-by-state efforts. By 1914, twelve states had passed women’s suffrage.

In November, Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973) of Montana becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and the first woman elected to a national legislature in any western democracy. She is formally seated April 2, 1917.

Woodrow Wilson is narrowly re-elected in 1916. He bases his campaign around the slogan: “He kept us out of war.” Suffragists retort: “He kept us out of suffrage.” Wilson won reelection on a platform that included a federal suffrage amendment.

1917 Militancy Increases; So Does Violent Reaction        
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Among the major differences between NAWSA and NWP are their attitudes toward World War I, which the U.S. enters April 6, 1917 when it declares war on Germany. NAWSA is against suffrage actions that would be perceived as unpatriotic. Many Americans view the suffrage efforts during the war period as such. But the NWP makes the commitment to carry on their campaign. It is impatient with delegations to the White House, the stonewalling, the tying up of the amendment in various committees, and the lobbying of recalcitrant Congressmen. It decides to increase its militancy. 

For the first time in U.S. history, the White House is picketed when on January 10 the NWP begins picketing the White House gates in an attempt to pressure President Wilson. Silent “Sentinels of Liberty” remain stationed at the gates regardless of weather or violent public response, with hourly changes of shift. More than a thousand women picket every day and night for two and a half years until the 19th Amendment passes both the House and the Senate in June 1919. Picketers are accompanied by a series of purple, white and gold banners that include such statements as: “Mr. President, What Will You Do For Woman Suffrage? “How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?” “Democracy Should Begin at Home.”  The NAWSA chose to participate in patriotic services and efforts that would demonstrate “responsible citizenship” such as the Red Cross and the War Saving Stamps campaign.

In the spring of 1917, when the country enters the war, the anti-protesters turn more abusive and violent. Unlike the Pankhurst approach in England, Paul and Burns do not incorporate violence in their campaigns and react to the “antis” accordingly. At first Wilson ignores the protesters and the police do nothing to protect the protesters when they were assaulted both verbally and physically. But in June, the police begin to arrest picketers, charging them with traffic obstruction, even though they remain on the sidewalks; the arrests, fines and sentences increase over the summer and fall. A total of approximately 500 protesters are arrested of which 168 are imprisoned between June and late November when all the protesters are released.

Arrested protesters were incarcerated at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia. As the suffragists keep protesting, the jail terms grow longer, from three-day sentences in June to six-day sentences in July and some are 60 days. Paul is arrested October 20 and sentenced to seven months and placed in solitary confinement for two weeks with nothing to eat except bread and water. When she becomes weak, she is taken to the prison hospital. In protest of the brutal treatment, Paul begins a hunger strike, to which the response is to take her to a psychiatric ward and threaten her with transference to an insane asylum. They force feed her through a plastic tube with raw eggs mixed with milk. During the imprisonment, the other imprisoned women join Paul in hunger strikes. Under the probable direction of President Wilson, the warden responds with violent forced feedings, worm-infested food, beatings, and a cover up of the harsh punishment. The conditions at the Occoquan Workhouse (now the Lorton Correctional Complex) were shocking. Virginia Bovee, an officer at the Workhouse, stated in an affidavit after her discharge:
"The beans, hominy, rice, corn meal ... and cereal have all had worms in them. Sometimes the worms float to the top of the soup. Often they are found in the corn bread.”

On the night of November 15, which became known as the Night of Terror, the Workhouse superintendent order the nearly forty guards to brutalize the suffragists who are grabbed, beaten, choked, and kicked. They beat Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head then leave her there for the night.

Wilson, who receives criticism for not providing protection for the protesters, alternately ignores, pardons, and cracks down harder on the protesters. Rather than break their spirit as he had hoped, the harsh treatment strengthens the suffragists’ resolve. The public becomes sympathetic to the prisoners as they learn of their brutal treatment -- largely due to Rose Winslow’s accounts of prison conditions that are smuggled out and made public. A cover up of the outrageous treatment of prisoners is no longer possible, and Wilson’s predicament becomes more dire when the imprisoned protesters demand political prisoner status. All the while, new picketers continue to take the place of the arrested ones, and well-to-do, prominent grandmothers are landing in jail. The public outcry of the suffragists inhuman treatment and the jailers’ inability to stop the hunger strikes work to the protestors' benefit.

On November 27, 1917, Alice Paul receives an unusual visitor, David Lawrence, a reporter and close friend of Wilson’s, pays a private visit well after visiting hours -- Lawrence claims to be speaking only for himself, but he states that Paul and the NWP have put the Administration in a bind with their demand for political prisoner status. Lawrence implies that it would be easier for Wilson to support the amendment than grant this status, an amazing declaration. The clear implication is that if the NWP will end the protests, Wilson will promise to put the amendment through both houses of Congress within a year. Within days, all of the suffragist prisoners are released without explanation or conditions. White House protests, while not eliminated, slow to a crawl, with sporadic arrests and minimal, symbolic sentences. The Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals will later overturn all the convictions.

It has been suggested that Wilson was cornered because of a series of court appeals filed on behalf of the imprisoned protesters and because the mood of the country was shifting in favor of suffrage (in October, 20,000 women marched for suffrage in New York City). Wilson risked being embarrassed if the appeals succeeded and being out of step with the national mood. However, the President could not be perceived as caving in to radical NWP pressure.

NAWSA never protested the harsh treatment of the protesters and, in fact, regularly berated them as “the enemy with banners” and “those wild women at the [White House] gates.” Wilson was comfortable with the conservative approach of NAWSA and found opportunities to receive them.

Of note, too, is that back in September, on the 7th, Dudley Field Malone (1882-1950) had resigned from Wilson’s administration in protest of its failure to advocate a Woman’s Suffrage Amendment. In the western states, Malone campaigned to the women on the issue of a federal suffrage amendment. He promised women that if they voted for Wilson, he would see to it, at whatever personal cost, that the current Democratic administration would win all the women of the U.S. a suffrage guarantee in the form of a federal amendment. 

By 1917, women were voting in 12 western states and the tide begins to turn in November when North Dakota, Ohio, Indiana, Rhode Island, Nebraska, New York and Arkansas finally pass statewide woman’s suffrage. By November, the momentum in Congress is sufficient to bring the Susan B. Anthony Amendment up for another vote.

1918  Anti-Suffrage Senators Campaigned Against in Midterms        Back to top of page

President Woodrow Wilson delivers his Fourteen Points speech on January 8, intended to assure the country that the Great War “was being fought for a moral cause and for postwar peace,” to a joint session of a Congress. On the following day, January 9, a Congressional committee releases a public statement that the “President would not force his hand in Congress on the suffrage amendment issue. What he would do was advise anyone who sought his counsel to vote for the amendment on the grounds of democracy and justice.” The President meets privately with 10 members of Congress to encourage their vote for amendment.

Wilson has held for years the position that women’s suffrage was a states’ rights issue, but his 1916 campaign promise “was hanging over his head.”  It has been suggested that not only did Wilson have to accede to the pressure following the public outcry and the scandal against the brutality done to the imprisoned protesters of the previous year but he was trying to build an international reputation for himself and the nation as human rights leaders. It has been suggested also that he saw the mutual benefits of a federal suffrage amendment -- that endorsing the amendment as an emergency measure could work to his advantage by providing a powerful political lobby indebted to him, and get the pickets off his lawn. In five months, he would begin taking an active role by writing Senators directly to influence their votes on the matter.

On January 10, Rep. Jeannette Rankin introduces the suffrage amendment on the floor of the  House. The House of Representatives, voting for the second time on the federal women suffrage amendment, narrowly passes the amendment, voting 274 to 136 (exactly the 2/3 majority needed for a constitutional amendment). The vote is accompanied by intense drama -- four Congressmen with deciding votes are forced to leave sick beds and hospitals to vote for the amendment, one member rushes to House chambers from the death bed of his wife, who makes him promise with her dying breath to vote in favor of suffrage.

Conservative senators, however, stand firm in opposition to the extension of suffrage.  Conservative senators from the South and the industrial northeast now band together to block a vote on the suffrage amendment for a year and a half. The Senate refuses to even debate the issue until October. 

The NWP decides to redouble its efforts to affect the vote in the Senate. In February, the Republican National Committee passes a resolution supporting passage of a federal suffrage amendment. The Democratic National Committee’s Executive Committee endorses the measure. In March, the U.S. federal appeals court declares unconstitutional the arrests and detainment of all White House suffrage pickets.

Between January and June, the NWP initiates an intense lobbying campaign to pass federal woman suffrage amendment in the U.S. Senate. Organizers are dispatched throughout the country to gain supporters and pressure senators at the state level. During August and September, the NWP organizes open-air demonstrations in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Park, protesting Senate inaction. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns and other women are again arrested then released on bail. 

On September 30, 1918 President Wilson finally addresses the Senate, arguing for woman suffrage at the war’s end (World War II ends November 11) When the Senate does vote on the amendment in October, the amendment fails by three votes.

In November, suffragists work during the election to defeat the anti-suffrage senators. Michigan, South Dakota and Oklahoma pass woman’s suffrage on the state level. Texas secures primary suffrage. At this point, no states from the Solid South have passed state referenda for woman’s suffrage. In response, the NWP urges citizens to vote against anti-suffrage Senators up for reelection in the 1918 Midterm elections.

1919  Burning Words: A Watchfire for Freedom       
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The NWP lights and guards an urn directly in line with the White House front door, a “Watchfire for Freedom, in January. The NWP burns in the urn the words of every speech on democracy that President Wilson gives that the NWP considers hypocritical and accompanies the urn with a banner that reads: “President Wilson is Deceiving the World When He Appears as the Prophet of Democracy.” When soldiers and sailors rush the women and overturn the urn, the NWP starts a second watch fire in Lafayette Park. Some 70 Watchfire women are arrested and respond by refusing to pay bail, and threaten hunger strikes before releases in February. On Feb.10, the U.S. Senate defeats federal woman suffrage amendment by one vote, 33 nays to 63 yeas. A different version of the amendment is reintroduced in Senate on Feb. 17 but is never brought to a vote.

Five days later on the 15, the “Prison Special” tour begins when a train named the “Democracy Limited” leaves Union Station in Washington, D.C, and travels across the country. Over the next three weeks, 26 suffragists who had served jail sentences, often dressed in prison costumes, speak at mass meetings about their incarceration and distribute suffragist literature, throwing it from the train between stops. 

NWP members meet President Wilson in Boston on the 24th upon his return from Europe. They carry banners reminding him of his pledge to support suffrage amendment and lobby him to pressure the Senate to pass the amendment before the March 3 recess. Twenty-one demonstrators are arrested and sentenced to the Charles Street jail. These will be the last women imprisoned for suffrage. 

They are not the last women to be brutally attacked in public. Police, soldiers and onlookers attack suffrage demonstrators outside the New York Metropolitan Opera House where Wilson is speaking on March 4. Later that month in St. Louis, on the 24th of March and the 50th anniversary of NAWSA, president Carrie Chapman Catt proposes the formation of a league of women voters to “finish the fight.”

On May 21, The House of Representatives passes the federal woman suffrage amendment, 304 to 89, a margin of 42 votes over the required two-thirds majority. Senate opponents block action in the Senate for another two weeks, delaying ratification as most legislatures have adjourned for the year. On June 4, the Senate passes the 19th Amendment with just two votes to spare, 56 to 25.

From the time the Susan B. Anthony Amendment was introduced in 1878 until June 4, 1919: “lie forty years and six months, During that period the amendment was continuously pending, having been introduced in the same form in every succeeding Congress. In the Senate it was reported with a favorable majority in 1884, 1886, 1889 and 1893, and without recommendation in 1890 and 1896, and with a favorable majority again in 1913, 1914 and 1916. The House Committee gave favorable reports in 1883 and 1890, and adverse reports in 1884, 1886 and 1894, reported without recommendation in 1914, 1916 and 1917, and favorably in 1918, the Senate Committees making six reports only and the House Committees five in the thirty-five years between 1878 and 1913.” – Carrie Chapman Catt

The 19th Amendment, with the same wording as drafted by S. Anthony, reintroduced in Congress every year, is now sent to the states for ratification. The NWP and the NAWSA campaign for ratification. Between July and September, NWP members travel throughout the states. One June 8, the NWP sends a delegation to the Republican National Convention in Chicago to lobby for suffrage in states that did not ratify the 19th Amendment and to encourage insertion of a suffrage plank in the platform. The plank was rejected. NWP members picket as a result but no arrests are made. Republicans decline to take action to help secure ratification in a 36th state.  

On June 22, 25 NWP members meet with presidential candidate Senator Warren G. Harding, who shows some willingness to work for ratification. On June 28, the Democratic National Convention opens in San Francisco. NWP members attend the convention and obtain the Democratic Party’s support for ratification and suffrage plank in their platform. NWP keeps the pressure on in several ways, including informing both presidential nominees of ratification status.

1920  Put the 'Rat' in Ratification!

When thirty-five of the necessary thirty-six states (out of 48) had ratified the amendment, the battle comes to Nashville, Tennessee. Anti-suffrage and pro-suffrage forces from around the nation descend on the town. The final vote is scheduled for August 18. One young legislator, 24-year-old Harry T. Burn of Niota, had voted with the anti-suffrage forces up to that time and plans to vote “Nay.” When Burn sees that the vote was very close and that his anti-suffrage vote would result in a tie: 48 to 48, a letter from his mother urging that he vote for the amendment and suffrage changes his mind. 

Dear Son:
     Hurrah, and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt. I notice some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the “rat” in ratification.
            Your mother –  Phoebe (Febb) Ensminger Burn

And so Tennessee became the 36th and deciding state to ratify the 19th Amendment.

Ratification of the 19th Amendment was completed on August 18, 1920 when the 36th state requirement was met by Tennessee, preceded by:
Illinois (June 10, 1919, reaffirmed on June 17)
Michigan (June 10, 1919) 
Wisconsin (June 10, 1919) 
Kansas (June 16, 1919) 
New York (June 16, 1919) 
Ohio (June 16, 1919) 
Pennsylvania (June 24, 1919) 
Massachusetts (June 25, 1919) 
Texas (June 28, 1919)
Iowa (July 2, 1919) 
Missouri (July 3, 1919) 
Arkansas (July 28, 1919) 
Montana (August 2, 1919) 
Nebraska (August 2, 1919) 
Minnesota (September 8, 1919) 
New Hampshire (September 10, 1919) 
Utah (October 2, 1919) 
California (November 1, 1919) 
Maine (November 5, 1919) 
North Dakota (December 1, 1919) 
South Dakota (December 4, 1919) 
Colorado (December 15, 1919) 
Kentucky (January 6, 1920) 
Rhode Island (January 6, 1920) 
Oregon (January 13, 1920) 
Indiana (January 16, 1920) 
Wyoming (January 27, 1920) 
Nevada (February 7, 1920) 
New Jersey (February 9, 1920) 
Idaho (February 11, 1920) 
Arizona (February 12, 1920) 
New Mexico (February 21, 1920) 
Oklahoma (February 28, 1920) 
West Virginia (March 10, 1920, confirmed on September 21, 1920) 
Washington (March 22, 1920) 
Tennessee (August 18, 1920.)

The amendment was subsequently ratified by:
Connecticut (September 14, 1920, reaffirmed on September 21, 1920) 
Vermont (February 8, 1921) 
Delaware (March 6, 1923, after being rejected on June 2, 1920) 
Maryland (March 29, 1941 after being rejected on February 24, 1920; not certified until February 25, 1958) 
Virginia (February 21, 1952, after being rejected on February 12, 1920) 
Alabama (September 8, 1953, after being rejected on September 22, 1919) 
Florida (May 13, 1969) 
South Carolina (July 1, 1969, after being rejected on January 28, 1920; not certified until August 22, 1973) 
Georgia (February 20, 1970, after being rejected on July 24, 1919) 
Louisiana (June 11, 1970, after being rejected on July 1, 1920) 
North Carolina (May 6, 1971) 
Mississippi (March 22, 1984, after being rejected on March 29, 1920).

Anti-suffragists try to overturn the Tennessee vote, but after six more days of legal maneuvering, the Tennessee governor signs the certificate of ratification and mails it to Washington, D.C. on August 24. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certifies the ratification on August 26. Anti-suffragists continue to mount legal challenges to validity of ratification certificates passed in several states.

On August 26, Catt is received at the White House by President and Mrs. Wilson. During its last meeting, the NAWSA is dissolved, and the nonpartisan political organization The League of Women Voters of the U.S. is founded by Catt. In that same year, Catt runs as the presidential candidate for the Commonwealth Land Party. The Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor is established to gather information about the situation of women at work, and to advocate for needed changes. Many suffragists become actively involved with lobbying for legislation to protect women workers from abuse and unsafe conditions.

On November 2, 1920 women across the entire United States vote for the first time. 

At 7 a.m. in Hannibal, Missouri, Mrs. Marie Ruoff Byrum becomes the 1st woman to vote under the 19th Amendment. 

1921-Present -- A Monument to Unfinished Business     Back to top of page

1921  The group portrait monument known formally as the Portrait Monument to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, women’s suffrage pioneers, is presented to the Capitol as a gift from the women of the United States by the National Women’s Party. The 26,000-pound, three-part monument, sculpted by Adelaide Johnson (1859-1955), is accepted on behalf of Congress on February 15, 1921, the 101st anniversary of the birth of Susan B. Anthony.

Reportedly, the sculpture was “banished” to the large, circular room located under the Rotunda, called the Crypt, within two days. While there may well have been anti-feminist thoughts demonstrated by the location decision, there was also concern about whether the Rotunda floor could safely accommodate the weight of the original three pieces.  

The monument’s original lengthy inscription included: "Woman, first denied a soul, then called mindless, now arisen, declared herself an entity to be reckoned." The inscription engendered such a strong negative reaction that members of Congress had it covered with whitewash. The sculpture remained in the Crypt and basically unseen until the renovation of the underground room in 1963. Organizers of the 75th Anniversary of Suffrage celebration and the Woman Suffrage Statue Campaign worked to have the monument moved to a prominent place in the Capitol Rotunda. After three prior resolutions failed, the monument with its original marble base slabs replaced with lighter structures, was relocated to the Rotunda in May 1997.

1923  Alice Paul drafts an Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution. Such a federal law, it is argued, would ensure that "Men and women have equal rights throughout the United States." A constitutional amendment would apply uniformly, regardless of where a person lived. Representative Daniel Anthony, nephew of Susan B. Anthony introduces the amendment for equal rights in Congress. In 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment will pass Congress, but only 32 states of the 38 needed approve the amendment before the 1982 deadline. Therefore, it has never been ratified and is not part of the Constitution.

The chronology was based on many sources, including but not limited to:

Wikipedia. “American Suffragists.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:American_suffragists   
University of Maryland, Women’s Studies. “75 Suffragists.” Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn.  http://www.mith2.umd.edu/WomensStudies/ReadingRoom/History/Vote/75-suffragists.html
African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850--1920 (Blacks in the Diaspora). Indiana University Press (May 1, 1998).   
National Women’s History Museum. “Rights for Women: The Suffrage Movement and Its Leaders.” 
Women Who Led the Suffrage Movement. http://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/rightsforwomen/listofleaders.html


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