How Women Won the Right to Vote


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How Women Won the Right to Vote

  1. 1. BILLOFRIGHTS INACTION CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS FOUNDATION SPRING 2004 VOLUME 20 NUMBER 2How Women Won the Right toVoteIn 1848, a small group of visionaries started a move-ment to secure equal rights for women in the UnitedStates. But it took more than 70 years just to win theright for women to vote.A fter male organizers excluded women from attending an anti-slavery conference, American abolitionistsElizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott decided to callthe “First Woman’s Rights Convention.” Held over severaldays in July 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York, the conven-tion brought together about 300 women and 40 men. In 1913, Alice Paul organized a massive parade through the streets ofAmong them was Charlotte Woodward, a 19 year-old farm Washington, D.C., for women’s suffrage. (Library of Congress)girl who longed to become a printer, a trade then reservedfor males. widely held assumption that women were by nature deli-By the end of the meeting, convention delegates had cate, childlike, emotional, and mentally inferior to men.approved a statement modeled after the Declaration of In the United States and in other democratic countries, theIndependence. The Seneca Falls “Declaration of right to vote (also called the “elective franchise” or “suf-Sentiments” began with these words: “We hold these truths frage”) remained exclusively within the men’s “sphere.”to be self-evident: that all men and women are created The Seneca Falls declaration promoted a radical vision ofequal . . . .” gender equality in all areas of American public life, includ-The declaration then listed “repeated injuries” by men ing women’s suffrage. Women in most states did not gainW against women, claiming that men had imposed “an the right to vote until 1919, after their role in AmericanU absolute tyranny” over women.” These injuries society had dramatically changed. included forcing women to obey laws that they had (Continued on next page)S no voice“civilly dead” in the eyes of making married women in passing. They included the law, without rights to property, earned wages, or the custody of Developments in DemocracyH their children in a divorce. The injuries included This issue of Bill of Rights in Action looks at develop- barring women from most “profitable employ- ments in democracy. Two articles focus on the women’s I ments” and colleges. movement in the United States—the first examines how women achieved the right to vote and the second exploresS The convention also voted on a resolution that said, “it is the duty of the women of this country to secure whether women have achieved equality in our society. The final article looks at four Enlightenment philoso-T to themselves their sacred right” to vote. This reso- phers—Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, CharlesO lution provoked heated debate. It barely passed. Montesquieu, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau—and their views on democracy. In the middle of the 19th century, most Americans,R including most women, accepted the idea of “sepa- U.S. History: How Women Won the Right to Vote rate spheres” for males and females. Men worked Current Issues: Have Women Achieved Equality?Y and ran the government. Women stayed home and World History: Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and cared for the family. This notion was based on the Rousseau on Government© 2004, Constitutional Rights Foundation, Los Angeles. All Constitutional Rights Foundation materials and publications, including Bill of Rights in Action, are protected by copyright. However, we hereby grant toall recipients a license to reproduce all material contained herein for distribution to students, other school site personnel, and district administrators. (ISSN: 1534-9799)
  2. 2. Susan B. Anthony and the Women’s judge at Anthony’s trial ruled that because she was aSuffrage Movement woman, she was incompetent to testify. The jury foundOne of the main leaders of the women’s suffrage move- her guilty, and the judge ordered her to pay a fine ofment was Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906). Brought up $100. Anthony told the judge she would never pay a Quaker family, she was raised to be independent She never did.and think for herself. She joined the abolitionist move- In 1875 in the case of Minor v. Happersett, the U.S.ment to end slavery. Through her abolitionist efforts, Supreme Court decided that women were citizensshe met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851. Anthony had under the 14th Amendment. But the court went on tonot attended the Seneca Falls Convention, but she say that citizenship did not mean women automaticallyquickly joined with Stanton to lead the fight for wom- possessed the right to vote.en’s suffrage in the United States.The Civil War interrupted action to secure the vote for The “Anthony Amendment”women. During the war, however, the role of women in In 1878, the NWSA succeeded in getting a constitu-society began to change. Since many men were fight- tional amendment introduced in Congress. The pro-ing, their wives and daughters often had to run the fam- posed amendment stated, “The right of citizens of theily farm, go to work in factories, or take up other jobs United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged bypreviously done by men. the United States or by any state on account of sex.” This became known as the “Anthony Amendment.”After the war, Anthony, Stanton, and others hoped thatbecause women had contributed to the war economy, While NWSA lobbied Congress for the “Anthonythey along with the ex-slaves would be guaranteed the Amendment,” another advocacy group, the Americanright to vote. But most males disagreed. Woman Suffrage Association, concentrated on cam- paigning for women’s right to vote in states and territo-The Republicans who controlled Congress wrote three ries. Before 1900, only a few of these efforts in thenew amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The 13th western territories succeeded.Amendment abolished slavery. The 14th Amendmentawarded citizenship to all people born within the When the Territory of Wyoming applied for statehoodUnited States and granted every person “the equal pro- in 1889, Congress threatened to deny it admissiontection of the laws.” The 15th Amendment dealt with because its laws allowed women to vote. In response,voting. It stated: “The right of citizens of the United the territorial legislators wrote Congress, “We willStates to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the remain out of the Union a hundred years rather thanUnited States or by any State on account of race, color, come in without the women.” The following year,or previous condition of servitude.” It failed to grant Congress admitted Wyoming as a state, the first onewomen the right to vote. with women’s suffrage. This set the trend for a few oth-In 1869, Anthony and Stanton organized the National er Western states to pass women’s suffrage lawsWoman Suffrage Association (NWSA) to work for a (Colorado, 1893; Utah, 1896; and Idaho, 1896).federal constitutional amendment, guaranteeing all In 1890, the two national women’s suffrage organiza-American women the right to vote. Some activists dis- tions merged to form the National American Womanagreed with this tactic. They believed the best way to Suffrage Association (NAWSA) with Elizabeth Cadyget the vote for women was to persuade the legislatures Stanton as the president. Susan B. Anthony took overof each state to grant women suffrage. in 1892 and remained president until she retired inIronically, the first place to allow American women to was neither the federal government nor a state. In In the late 1800s, the Women’s Christian Temperance1869, the all-male legislature of the Territory of Union (WCTU) was actually the largest national orga-Wyoming passed a law that permitted every adult nization promoting women’s suffrage. The WCTU ledwoman to “cast her vote . . . and hold office.” In the a “Home Protection” movement aimed at prohibitingWest, pioneer women often worked shoulder-to-shoul- “strong drink” because of its damaging effects on mender with men on farms and ranches and thus proved and their families. WCTU leaders realized that tothey were not weak or inferior. increase its influence and affect lawmakers, womenMeanwhile, in Rochester, New York, Anthony con- needed to be able to vote.spired with sympathetic male voting registrars who White and middle-class women dominated the WCTU,allowed her and other women to cast ballots in the 1872 NAWSA, and most other national women’s groups.presidential election. The following year, she was put The groups usually rejected black women for fear ofon trial for illegally voting, a criminal offense. The alienating white supporters in the racially segregated 2
  3. 3. South. In addition, the groups The Final Pushrarely recruited immigrant wom- Western states continued to leaden. The failure to include all wom- way in granting women’s suffrage.en in the movement, while Washington state allowed womenpolitically expedient, undermined the right to vote in 1910. Californiathe cause. followed in 1911. Arizona, Kansas,Toward the turn of the 20th centu- and Oregon passed laws the nextry, Congress dropped its consider- year.ation of the Anthony Amendment, The presidential election of 1912and in the states, most attempts to saw the two major parties, thegrant women the right to vote Republicans and Democrats,failed. Heavy opposition from tra- opposing women’s suffrage. Butditionalists and liquor and brewing the 1912 election featured twointerests contributed to these major independent parties, thedefeats. Progressives (led by former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt) and the Socialists (ledThe “New Woman”The concept of a new American Elizabeth Cady Stanton (seated) and Susan B. by Eugene Debs). Both thewoman emerged after 1900. Anthony were two of the first leaders in the wom- Progressives and Socialists favored en’s suffrage movement. Neither lived longWriters and commentators enough to see the passage of the 19th women’s suffrage. And theydescribed the “New Woman” as Amendment. (Library of Congress) received about one-third of theindependent and well-educated. votes cast.She wore loose-fitting clothing, Alice Paul headed NAWSA’s effortplayed sports, drove an automobile, and even smoked in to lobby Congress to consider again the Anthonypublic. She supported charities and social reforms, Amendment. Brought up as a Quaker, Paulincluding women’s suffrage. She often chose to work (1885–1977) graduated from Swarthmore College andoutside the home in offices, department stores, and pro- received postgraduate degrees in social work. Travelingfessions such as journalism, law, and medicine that to Great Britain, she encountered radical feministswere just opening up to women. The image of the “New demanding the right to vote. She joined them in hungerWoman” also usually made her white, native born, and strikes and demonstrations. On returning to the Unitedmiddle class. States, she joined NAWSA. In 1913, 28-year-old Paul organized a massive parade inBy 1910, “feminist” was another term being used to Washington, D.C. Hostile crowds of men attacked thedescribe the “New Woman.” Feminism referred to a marchers, who had to be protected by the Nationalnew spirit among a few middle-class women to liberate Guard.themselves from the old notion of “separate spheres.” Paul and the president of NAWSA, Carrie ChapmanAn early feminist writer condemned this traditional Catt, disagreed over using public demonstrations to pro-view of the role of women since it prevented their full mote women’s suffrage. Catt (1859–1947) had growndevelopment and robbed the nation of their potential up in the Midwest, graduated from Iowa State College,contribution. and gone on to work as a teacher, high school principal, and superintendent of a school district (one of the firstOf course, working outside the home was nothing new women to hold such a job). She worked tirelessly forfor poor white, immigrant, and black women. They women’s causes, and in 1900 she was elected to succeedtoiled as housekeepers, factory workers, and in other Anthony as president of NAWSA.menial jobs in order to survive. Female factory workersearned only a quarter to a third of what men earned for Catt’s tactics contrasted sharply with Paul’s. She pre- ferred to quietly lobby lawmakers in Congress and thethe same job. There were no sick days or health bene- state legislatures. Paul favored demonstrations. Bothfits. Women were known to have given birth on the leaders, however, were dedicated to equal rights forfloors of factories where they worked. Since they did women.not have the right to vote, they had little opportunity to In the election of 1916, Catt supported Democraticpressure lawmakers to pass laws that would have President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was running on theimproved their wages and working conditions. slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Paul opposed Wilson. (Continued on next page) 3
  4. 4. She parodied his slogan, saying, “Wilson kept us out of August 18, 1920, half the adult population of thesuffrage.” United States won the right to vote.Paul broke with NAWSA and founded the National Women voted nationwide for the first time in the presi-Woman’s Party. Soon afterward, she organized daily dential election of 1920. Among the new voters waspicketing of the White House to pressure President 91-year-old Charlotte Woodward, the only survivingWilson to support the Anthony Amendment. After the member of the Seneca Falls Convention. In her life-United States entered World War I in 1917, Paul kept time, she had witnessed a revolution in the role ofup the picketing. The women demonstrators silently women in American society.carried signs with slogans like “Democracy ShouldBegin at Home” and “Kaiser Wilson.” Onlookers For Discussion and Writingassaulted the White House picketers, calling them 1. In what ways did the role of women in Americantraitors for insulting the wartime president. society change between 1848 and 1920?In June 1917, police began arresting the picketers for 2. Do you think Alice Paul or Carrie Chapman Cattobstructing the sidewalks. About 270 were arrested and had the best strategy for winning the right to votealmost 100 were jailed, including Paul. She and the for women? Why?others in jail went on hunger strikes. Guards force-fedthe women hunger strikers by jamming feeding tubes 3. Why do you think women won the right to vote indown their throats. The force-feeding was reported in 1920 after failing for more than 70 years?all the major newspapers. Embarrassed by the publici-ty, President Wilson pardoned and released them. For Further Reading Matthews, Jean V. The Rise of the New Woman, TheMeanwhile, women replaced men by the thousands in Women’s Movement in America, 1875–1930. Chicago:war industries and many other types of jobs previously Ivan R. Dee, 2003.held by men. By 1920, women made up 25 percent ofthe entire labor force of the country. Schneider, Dorothy and Carl. American Women in thePresident Wilson was disturbed that the push for wom- Progressive Era, 1900–1920. New York: Facts on File,en’s suffrage was causing division during the war. He 1993.was also deeply impressed by Carrie Chapman Catt. InJanuary 1918, he announced his support for theAnthony Amendment. By this time, 17 states as well as A C T I V T YGreat Britain had granted women the right to vote.Wilson’s support helped build momentum for the Petitioning President Wilsonamendment. In the summer of 1919, the House and In this activity, students will petition President WilsonSenate approved the 19th Amendment by a margin well to support the Anthony Amendment.beyond the required two-thirds majority. Then the 1. Form the class into small groups. Each group willamendment had to be ratified by three-fourths of the write a petition to President Wilson, listing argu-states. ments why he should support the AnthonyThose opposed to women’s suffrage, the so-called Amendment.“antis,” assembled all their forces to stop ratification.The liquor and brewing industries, factory owners, rail- 2. Each group should review the article to find argu-roads, banks, and big city political machines all feared ments in favor of the amendment. The groupwomen would vote for progressive reforms. Southern should also list counterarguments against the posi-whites objected to more black voters. Some argued that tions taken by the “antis” who opposed the amend-the 19th Amendment invaded states’ rights. Others ment.claimed that it would undermine family unity. Besides, 3. Each group should only list those arguments on itsthe “antis” said, wives were already represented at the petition that all members of the group agree with.ballot box by their husbands.But state after state ratified the amendment. With one 4. Each group should read its petition to the rest of thelast state needed for ratification, the Tennessee legisla- class.ture voted on the amendment. The outcome depended 5. The class members should then debate what theyon the vote of the youngest man in the Tennessee state believe was the best argument for persuadinglegislature. He voted for ratification, but only after President Wilson to support the “Anthonyreceiving a letter from his mother, urging him to be a Amendment.”“good boy” and support women’s suffrage. Thus, on 4