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The campaign launched for women’s legal rights was initiated well before the Civil War. It was during the 1820’s and the 1830’s that all white men earned their legal rights regardless of how much …

The campaign launched for women’s legal rights was initiated well before the Civil War. It was during the 1820’s and the 1830’s that all white men earned their legal rights regardless of how much property they had or money they earned. Alongside this, several other reform groups were also propagating all over America including religious movements, temperance clubs, anti – slavery groups, and moral – reform organizations. And in all of these reform groups, women were actively playing prominent roles.
Women in America were beginning to abrade against the so called ‘Cult of True Womanhood’ which emphasized on the idea that pious and true women were those who submitted themselves solely to motherhood and being a wife by dedicating themselves to their families and homes. All these activities and reform groups collectively began changing the ideology of what it meant to be a woman and a female citizen of the United States of America.

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  • 1. EVOLUTION OF THE 19TH AMENDMENT: The campaign launched for women’s legal rights was initiated well before the Civil War. It was during the 1820’s and the 1830’s that all white men earned their legal rights regardless of how much property they had or money they earned. Alongside this, several other reform groups were also propagating all over America including religious movements, temperance clubs, anti – slavery groups, and moral – reform organizations. And in all of these reform groups, women were actively playing prominent roles. Women in America were beginning to abrade against the so called ‘Cult of True Womanhood’ which emphasized on the idea that pious and true women were those who submitted themselves solely to motherhood and being a wife by dedicating themselves to their families and homes. All these activities and reform groups collectively began changing the ideology of what it meant to be a woman and a female citizen of the United States of America. Some of the earliest female reformers in America were Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. These two reformers were invited to join an abolitionist activist group in 1848 that mostly constituted of women along with some men too. This group then gathered together in Seneca Falls in New York to talk about the issues of women’s rights. Most delegates agreed that women in America should be treated as autonomous individuals that should be given the right to maintain their independent political identities. Later the Declaration of Sentiments agreed that both men and women have been created equally and their creator has awarded them both with inherent rights that include some basics like pursuing happiness, life, and liberty. And following this it was stated that women should be given the right to vote too. It was largely in the 1850’s that the women’s rights groups started gaining some steam but when the Civil War broke out they lost momentum. But soon after the Civil War came to an end, these familiar issues regarding citizenship and suffrage for women were resurfaced in the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. The 14th Amendment that was affirmed in the year 1868 in which the only people considered to be citizens deserving the constitution’s protection were men. Later on when the 15th Amendment was affirmed in the year 1870, black men were recognized as citizens too and were given the absolute right to vote in elections too. When this change was brought along through the 15th Amendment, some great female advocates for woman suffrage looked at this as a great chance to force lawmakers to start considering actual universal suffrage which meant allowing women to vote too. Susan B. Anthony and Stanton were the prominent female advocates to take this bold step. With this motive in mind, these activist women took great steps to oppose the 15th Amendment some including even joining forces with those white Southerners who were against allowing blacks to vote. This is because they believed that by allowing women to vote too, they will be able to offset the votes cast by the blacks in South. Later on these two groups joined forces and formed a new group called the ‘National Woman Suffrage Association’ in 1869 that put all efforts in fighting for adding universal suffrage in the Amendment of the federal Constitution.
  • 2. On the other hand a lot of people were opposing the National woman Suffrage Association by arguing that at this point they are hindering the black enfranchisement by initiating their own. This group of people who were on this view later formed a group of their own after the 15th Amendment was passed by the name ‘American Woman Suffrage Association’ and started focusing their efforts for franchise going from one state to another. After years of animosity between these two groups, by the year 1890 they finally resolved their differences and decided to merge forces by forming one group by the name ‘National American Woman Suffrage Association’. The first female president of this organization was Elizabeth Cady Stanton. By this time the approach adopted by these suffragists had quite changed. They first started out by arguing that women are equal to men and thus deserve to be given the same responsibilities and rights that men enjoy. But later on they changed their argument by now saying that women are actually different from men and they should be given the right to vote so that they have the chance to turn their domestic life into more of a political value. By using their legal rights they will be able to create a more ethical and pure ‘maternal commonwealth’. This latest argument raised by the National American Woman Suffrage Association helped address several political agendas mostly including those of the temperance advocates who wished to see women achieve the rights to vote because they strongly believed that when such a large population of women will start casting their votes including many white women too, it will lead to ultimate and lasting supremacy of the white. It was not until the year 1910 that some states finally decided to allow women to vote in the elections too. Utah and Idaho were the first states to initiate the women suffrage by the end of the 19th century. Even then many well established Eastern and Southern states were resisting giving women this right. Later by the year 1916, the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Carrie Chapman Catt, revealed her plans to start what she called the ‘Winning Plan’ to finally get the right to vote. This campaign started by the president of NAWSA was quite a heavy attack finally activated all local and state suffrage organizations spread across the country. Carrie Chapman Catt ensured that her plan was more strongly put in action particularly in those states that were the most out of control. While the ‘Winning Plan’ by Carrie Chapman Catt was in action, another small group was set up that resorted to more fundamental militant tactics like going on hunger strikes or using pickets of the white house in order to attract more publicity towards their cause and gain more media coverage. Later on when the First World War broke out, the efforts of these suffragists’ campaigns were hindered but they still succeeded in advancing their arguments despite of all the chaos that had broke out in the world. The world war actually helped the campaigns as it gave women the chance to prove to the world just how capable and patriotic. The women of America actively helped their country during the difficult war times in every possible way they could thus proving that they truly deserved to have the citizenship and legal voting rights that men in America enjoy. Finally on August 26th , 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, that gave women the right to vote, was affirmed. In the 19th Amendment, the first president of the National American Woman
  • 3. Suffrage Association assisted Susan B. Anthony in drafting its text. The Senator of California, Aaron A. Sargent was the first person to introduce this proposed amendment called the ‘Anthony Amendment’ in the US Senate colloquial. It is known that Sargent first met Anthony in 1872 in a train ride and was quite impressed by the dedication and argument that she put forward in favor of woman suffrage. This is why Sargent had always been in favor of this and actually had attempted to support it through various unrelated bills. However it was not until January 1878 that he formally brought forward the constitutional amendment. Many other women along with Stanton testified their support for the amendment in front of the Senate. This proposal remained in the committee and was considered by the full senate but unfortunately was rejected later in 1877 as it lost votes from 16 to 34. Later on almost three decades past during which the amendment was given no consideration by the Congress and movements and campaign efforts of women’s suffrage where achieving very little success. This period spread over three decades is famously called ‘the doldrums’. During this time, the women suffragists still continued to press the lawmakers for giving them the rights to vote separately in different territories and states while still having in mind the ultimate goal of gaining federal recognition. In the year 1910 and 1911, the women suffragists received surprise success when a commotion of activity broke out following their accomplishments in the states of California and Washington. The following years several other western states passed the voter referenda or legislation either for partial or full women’s suffrage. The success that women received in these years was strongly linked to the elections held in 1912. In these elections the democratic president Woodrow Wilson won and the Socialist and Progressive parties rose ahead. Finally by the year 1914 the amendment was considered again by the senate but like last time it was once again rejected. On the 2nd of January, 1915, a proposal was brought to the House of Representatives for amending the constitution in favor of women legal rights for voting. Sadly again they lost in voting to 204 by 174. However the women suffragists did not stop fighting for their rights and on the 10th of January, 1918 the proposal was brought to the House again. A night before the elections, the President addressed the House and strongly appealed for the passing of the amendments but unfortunately it again lost by only one vote this time. The vote then moved on into the Senate where President Wilson again made an appeal but on the 30th of September, 1918 the voting fell short again by two votes. Later again the proposal failed by one vote on the 10th of February, 1919. By this time the politicians strongly felt that this proposal by the women suffragists should be made a part of the constitution before the commencement of the elections in 1920. The president then decided to hold a session of Congress in order to allow the proposal to be brought forth to the House once again. On the 21st of May 1919, the proposal finally passed the House but an amazing 42 more votes than it needed. Finally on the 4th of June, 1919, this proposal was brought to the Senate and was debated on for quite a long time after which it finally received favorable response from 56 people and negative response from 25. A few days later the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois affirmed the amendment. With the initiative taken by these states soon later most other states were following in too and finally the amendment was affirmed by 35 of the 36 state legislatures that it had to pass through.
  • 4. On the 18th of August, 1920, the state of Tennessee too affirmed the amendment quite narrowly when only 50 out of 99 members voted yes in Tennessee House of Representatives. With this being done, the amendment finally received the ratification it required to be enacted. But the affirmation of this amendment was not the end of the road for women suffragists. The after effects were there which continued to make it a struggle for women who wanted to make an impact in politics. Several legislatures were afraid that women’s bloc will become more powerful in American politics. Because of this fear they decided to introduce several laws like the ‘Sheppard – Towner Act of 1921’ which aimed towards the expansion of maternity care. However it was not until the year 1950 that the woman’s bloc emerged. In 1922, the validity of this amendment was strongly and collectively supported through the Leser v. Garnett case. In this case a person named Oscar Leser sued two registered women from Baltimore, Maryland to cease their right to vote as he was of the opinion that the Constitution of Maryland limited its suffrage to men only and did not vote in favor of the amendment. It was only two months before this case that the federal government had actually announced the incorporation of the amendment in the constitution on the 26th of August, 1920. Leser’s first argument in this case was that the State autonomy was destroyed by this amendment as it caused Maryland’s electorate to increase without first gaining any consent from the state. But in response to this argument by Leser, the court said that the 19th amendment was just like the previous 15th amendment which spread state electorates without concerning race for a period of 50 years till that time even though six states, including Maryland, rejected it. The second argument put forth by Leser was that some of the states that affirmed the amendment where in fact not even allowed by their legislatures to affirm, according to the state constitutions. Here again the court declined the argument by saying that the state affirmation was a federal level function which protrudes from the Article V of the Constitution and thus is not subjected to any state constitution limitations. Finally the third argument Leser put forth was that since the states of West Virginia and Tennessee were violating their own rules regarding procedure, the 19th amendment could not have been adopted. Here again the court ruled out this argument too by saying that this statement is doubtful as the number of states that ratified the 19th amendment, later including Vermont and Connecticut, made it enough to consider the amendment as adopted regardless of whether West Virginia and Tennessee ratify the amendment or not. Finally after several court hearings the two women of Baltimore, Maryland finally won the case and were given the permission to register themselves in the voting of Baltimore. And this is how the last hindrance in the 19th amendments adaptation was also removed making it official nationwide that women too had the right to cast their votes.

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