Constitution Series: The Nineteenth Amendment

Susan B Anthony


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This is the twenty-second of twenty-five weekly articles in The Tennessee Star’s Constitution Series. Students in grades 8 through 12 can sign up here to participate in The Tennessee Star’s Constitution Bee, which will be held on Saturday, April 28.


The Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified and victoriously added to the United States Constitution on August 26, 1920 after nearly one hundred years of painstaking trials, tumult, and disappointment.  Twenty-six million women were enfranchised!

It states:

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.

To understand the long road to political equality for the American woman, we must understand the history and events that transpired during those years.


The U. S. Constitution of 1787 was a gender-neutral document.  The original Constitution referred to “persons,” not male persons, and used the pronoun “he” only in the generic sense.  Not until the addition of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 did the Constitution include the word “male.”   In fact, nothing in the original document prevented women from voting.  Our founders left it to the discretion of the individual states to determine who could vote in elections. (Article I, section 2 and Article II, section 1.)

At the time when the colonies became states, most states decided to tie voting rights to property rights, in much the same way the colonies had under British rule. Ten of the original thirteen states required voters to be freeholders of a certain amount of property and/or a particular level of personal wealth.

Pennsylvania and Georgia required voters to be taxpayers.  Georgia also required certain personal worth as a prerequisite to voting or required that the voter be a mechanic by trade. New Hampshire required only the payment of a poll tax. Voting was restricted to men in all the states except in New Jersey, where widows owning “sufficient property” were for a short time qualified to vote until the legislature limited the franchise to “free, white, male citizens” in 1807.

Property qualifications waned in the early nineteenth century as new states entered the Union without such requirements for their electorates and existing states wrote them out. Tax-paying requirements, however, remained commonplace.

Whereas only three of the thirteen states had constitutional bans on voting for persons of color in 1790, by 1840, twenty of twenty-six state constitutions included such clauses. In the 1840s and 1850s, state constitutions began to address the question of the vote for resident aliens. Three states, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana, adopted provisions for suffrage rights for immigrants who declared their intention to become citizens during this period.

More Midwestern, Southern, and Western states would follow suit in the 1860s and 1870s. Northeastern states, however, typically adopted citizen-only clauses. The political welcoming of alien voters where it existed was short-lived.   By the 1920s, the “alien declarant” provisions were, for the most part, repealed. Exclusion of non-whites from electorates in the North, South, and West, persisted until the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 which specifically guaranteed freed black male citizens the right to vote.

The right-to-vote in federal elections was not the only thing denied to women in the early days of our republic.  Most women in early America had few property rights.  Inheritance laws allowed a widow to remain in her husband’s home, but to receive only one-third of the household goods.  Married women were forbidden from making contracts, yet, in some cases, could take over control of her husband’s business after his death.

Whatever a woman owned upon her marriage, or earned during her marriage, her husband would assume possession and control of it with few exceptions.   In Mississippi, for example, a woman could retain control over her real estate and, in Florida, could keep her earnings.  Single women could, although, own property and keep the money they made.

The greatest inequities in the states were in the realm of divorce from the early republic until the beginning of the 20th century.  Divorce laws were not as stringent in America as they were in Europe, however, in some states, SC for example, divorce was forbidden on any grounds.

In Minnesota, a woman who had committed adultery had to forfeit ownership of her very own real estate, whereas an adulterous man was not as seriously penalized.   Husbands were also favored in custody battles and would most times keep the children.

By 1900, a woman in Pennsylvania still could not enter a business contract without her husband’s approval.  In the early republic and beyond, a woman was most definitely legally subordinate to her husband.


The deck was certainly stacked against women in the fledgling republic especially with respect to education.  The struggle for knowledge, training, and opportunity to realize new goals runs like a bright thread through American history and its earliest expression on behalf of women can be found in the writings of Judith Sargent Murray.  A staunch believer in improved educational opportunities for women, Murray’s essays were vital to the post-Revolutionary notion of “Republican Motherhood.”

Advocates, notably Abigail Adams and Murray, argued that the success of the new nation required intelligent and virtuous citizens and since the education of patriotic sons (future voters) rested with mothers, women should be educated. Murray’s essay “On the Equality of the Sexes,” challenged prevailing notions that the female brain was inherently inferior.  She argued instead that women were stifled not by physical or intellectual limitations but by lack of access to education.

In colonial America, women were expected to become housewives so were primarily educated in “dame schools,” where ladies would teach young children in their homes.  The common opinion among colonists was that girls did not need a formal education considering they were only expected to strictly perform household duties.

Also, young women were not thought of as intellectually equal to men either.  The French philosopher, Rousseau: “The whole education of women ought to be relative to men.  To please them, to be useful to them, to make themselves loved and honored by them . . . to care for them . . . these are the duties of women at all times.”  Rousseau’s opinion of a woman’s role was a typical one among most men at that time.

In their book, Century of Struggle, Eleanor Flexner and Ellen Fitzpatrick wrote, “Free education for girls advanced with grim slowness. Elementary schools were indeed open to them for the basic three Rs.  Admission into secondary and high schools took far longer.”  Only the well-to-do were able to afford private education for their children.

One such early example is Salem College in Winston Salem, NC.  It was originally a girls’ school, The Little Girls’ School, established in 1772 by the Moravians who believed in equal education for men and women.  It began issuing college diplomas in 1890 and officially changed its name in 1907 to Salem Academy and College.

The first public school for girls was opened in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1824.  Not until the 1830s would women’s colleges begin to open.  Mount Holyoke was the first in 1837.

Founders of the first female colleges agreed that higher education for women would be “the panacea to remedy all evils,” as proclaimed in Century of Struggle by Flexner and Fitzpatrick.  Sophia Smith, the benefactor of Smith College, wrote in her will, “It is my belief that by the higher and more thorough Christian education of women, what are called their ‘wrongs’ will be redressed, their wages adjusted, their weight of influence in reforming the evils of society will be greatly increased as teachers, as writers, as mothers, as members of society, their power for good will be incalculably enlarged.”

After the Civil War, from 1865 on, a veritable domestic revolution was underway.  With the development of gas lighting, domestic plumbing, commercial production of ice, improvements of furnaces, stoves and the sewing machine, women had more leisure time to take advantage of other interests including educational opportunities.

Before the war, there were only three private colleges that admitted women which were Antioch College, Hillsdale College, and Oberlin College.  Public universities that accepted women during this time period were the Universities of Iowa, the first of such, and Utah.

There was naturally a decline in male enrollment in universities during the Civil War beginning in 1861, so schools such as Wisconsin began admitting women, followed by Illinois and Ohio State in 1870.

Newly established mid-western land grant colleges, through the Morrill Land Grant Act that gave certain states 30,000 acres on which to build colleges, began to open as coeducational facilities.  There were also funds available to state institutions to offer liberal arts education mostly in the mid-west.  Established schools in the northeast resisted the change. In 1870 only 0.7% of the female population went to college. This percentage rose slowly.  The rate was 2.8% by 1900 and would increase to 7.6% by 1920.


Just as strides were slowly being made to include women, state-by-state, in higher education and in the workforce, women were also beginning to organize and speak out against slavery.  The pioneers were the Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina, who were the daughters of a South Carolina slaveholding family.  They first fought for (and won) a woman’s right to speak in public and paved the way for the long roster of famous women orators in the anti-slavery movement.

Not only did some women abolitionists speak about the ills of slavery, they advocated for greater rights for women in their speeches as well, which, at times, would perturb some abolitionists considering they wanted only to work for freeing the slaves.  Among those speakers were Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth and Susan Brownell Anthony.  The abolition movement had forged a relationship with women’s rights forces.

One of the more outstanding of abolitionists and women’s rights advocates, Lucy Stone, was born in 1818 in Massachusetts on a dairy farm where she was expected to work as hard as any man as well as to perform her household duties.  She was one of the earliest women graduates of Oberlin College where she prepared herself for a career in public speaking.  She lectured against slavery and for women’s rights from New England to Ohio and Wisconsin.

Some of her quotes from her speaking engagements on the anti-slavery circuit include, “I expect to plead not for the slave only, but for suffering humanity everywhere.  Especially do I mean to labor for the elevation of my sex. “(1847), and, “I was a woman before I was an abolitionist. I must speak for the women.”

In 1834, the American Anti-Slavery Society initiated a petition campaign, as did the first National Female Anti- Slavery Society in 1837.  Some Congressmen, mostly from the south, believed that women had no right to petition since they did not have the vote and promptly passed the Pinckney Gag Rule (1834) in the House of Representatives which forbade presentation of anti-slavery petitions.   Despite the Rule, the women trudged forward with their pursuit.

Those women who took part in petitioning were not only engaging in a political act, but they were securing a right, the right to petition, which they would use later in their own interests.  “They were the first detachment in the army of ordinary rank-and-file women who would struggle for more than three quarters of a century for equality,” as told by Flexner and Fitzpatrick in their Century of Struggle.

Today, countless file boxes in the National Archives, full of yellowed, frail, ink-blotted anti-slavery petitions, bear witness to the courageous efforts made by these women, housewives, mothers and daughters, of overstepping “the limits of decorum” to participate in the political process.

In 1863, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Brownell Anthony, who, in that year, were already leading the charge for women’s rights, organized the National Woman’s Loyal League for the purpose of communicating anti-slavery and women’s rights sentiments.  The League also assisted with Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad by raising money for the cause.

They worked for 15 months, sending out letters strengthening their ties with women from Michigan to Wisconsin all the way to California.  They employed the help of two thousand men, women and children to circulate petitions and by 1864, the League had gathered 400,000 signatures petitioning Congress to pass the Thirteenth Amendment.  Congress passed the Amendment in January of 1865 granting emancipation to slaves.


In the first half of the nineteenth century, women worked in more than one hundred industrial occupations as a result of the invention of the spinning jenny and power loom.  Because women were still considered inferior to men, they were frequently barred from training for more skilled professions which also prevented their receiving the same pay as men for similar work.

Women’s wages were one-fourth of men’s wages, ranging from $1 to $3 per week while working 13-14 hours-a-day in a factory setting or mill town.   Room and board were sometimes included for girls and women who worked, yet were uncomfortable and, in some circumstances, six women were to share one room.

The earliest known strike of women factory workers took place in Pawtucket, RI, in 1824 where they joined men in striking against wage cuts and longer hours.  Strikes to improve wages, hours, and living conditions were mostly fruitless.  Women realized that what they needed was organization.

The Lowell Female Labor Reform Association was born out of the Lowell textile mills in PA in 1845 and was led by Sarah Bagley, the first woman trade unionist of note in America.  Bagley expanded her Association to other mill towns in New England.

The Female Labor Association even published in the “Voice of Industry,” a weekly newspaper associated with the New England Workingmen’s Association. Bagley wrote about abuses within the textile industry.

The Grange, a large influential association aimed at helping the farmer recover from the effects of the Civil War as well as sponsoring a wide array of social and educational programs, gave women equal status from its beginning.  As early as 1885, the Grange went on record supporting the legal and political equality of women.

Working women were predominantly unsuccessful in funding and maintaining their own labor unions in the early years and found themselves depending on and joining men’s organizations to achieve their goals, for example, the Knights of Labor.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the numbers of women in the workforce had grown dramatically.  Women were gradually becoming economically independent.  By 1900, the number of gainfully-employed women totaled 5,319,397 in occupations such as domestic jobs and service industries, farm laborers/managers, teachers, sales clerks, and factory workers.

In 1903, The Women’s Trade Union League, founded by Mary Kenney O’Sullivan and Leonora O’Reilly, would be organized for the purpose of helping women workers form new trade-unions for themselves.

Working women were learning that the key to achieving their goals, as did female abolitionists, was organization.  Even though they were becoming economically independent and contributing to society, they still lacked the key to influencing legislative issues important to them – the right to vote.


Women reformers had been concerned with the temperance question, or abstinence from alcohol, since the 1840s.  Alcoholism had become wide-spread in America and the law had placed women at the mercy of their husbands if they became heavy drinkers, considering wives had no legal recourse to keep their own money, property, maintain custody of their children, or obtain a divorce in many states.

Annie Wittenmyer and Frances Willard became the leaders of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, formed in 1874, which would eventually become the largest women’s organization in the country.  Willard was one of the ablest women of the nineteenth century who wanted the organization to be multi-faceted to further not only the temperance movement, to curtail the use of alcohol, but to achieve suffrage.

When Frances Willard became President of the WCTU, she espoused greater rights for women as part of the agenda of the large organization at its convention in 1876.  There were local and state campaigns and petition drives, but as in the Abolition movement, there was push-back from those who did not want woman suffrage injected into the temperance cause.

There were country-wide campaigns by the liquor industry to undermine woman suffrage because it was thought that women, as a voting bloc, would vote for a prohibition amendment and put them out of business.  That was the danger that the suffragists faced when they tried to attach suffrage to another cause or attach another cause to suffrage.

There were, however, exceptions to the rule.  In Oregon, for example, members of the temperance movement played a key role in the 1912 campaign for woman suffrage in Oregon. Temperance workers campaigned for woman suffrage by distributing literature, holding lectures and debates, launching advertising campaigns, and even going door-to-door to get pledges of support.

The activism of these temperance workers mobilized temperance-supporting male constituents to vote for woman suffrage. This work undertaken by those supporting both suffrage and temperance contributed to the final and ultimately successful campaign to achieve woman suffrage in Oregon.

The W.C.T.U. would eventually return to its original purpose of prohibition of alcohol after Miss Willard’s death in 1898.  Despite problems the W.C.T.U. may have raised for the suffrage cause, many clubs which developed in later years benefitted in varying degrees from Frances Willard’s ability of building such a large and many-faceted organization.  Some of those were the Young Women’s Christian Association, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs.



Penelope Barker was a loyal American patriot during the Revolution.  In response to the 1773 Tea Act, Penelope organized the first recorded women’s political demonstration in Edenton, North Carolina, on October 25, 1774.

For the purpose of boycotting British tea, fifty women met at the home of Elizabeth King to drink tea made from local herbs and to pass a Resolution which stated, “We, the aforesaid Ladys will not promote ye wear of any manufacturer from England until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our Native country shall be repealed.”

The Colonial press applauded the “Edenton Tea Party,” while the London press portrayed the women as “bad mothers and women of loose morals!”  I wonder if Ms. Barker knew just how prophetic this act of organizing as a means to affect change would become for women in America.

Another early advocate of women, the insightful Abigail Adams wrote to her husband in 1776, “. . . In the new code of laws which I suppose will be necessary for you to make, I desire that you remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.  Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.  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 by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

Despite her admonition to her husband, Abigail Adams probably could not have anticipated the long fought struggles that lay ahead for the American women who would blaze the trail after her.

In 1840, a World Anti-Slavery Convention was held in London where only men delegates could be seated.  There were women in the American delegation, but they were only allowed in the galleries.  Among those women who became acquainted with each other were Lucretia Mott, a teacher and minister born on Nantucket Island in 1793, and a founder of the first Female Anti-Slavery Society; and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a well-educated woman born in 1815 in Johnstown, New York, the daughter of a judge and wife of an abolitionist leader.

The two lamented about their concerns over the plight of women in the U. S.  They decided to contemplate holding a Woman’s Rights Convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious rights being denied to women in America.

That Convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY, on July 19, 1848, in a little Wesleyan chapel.  Maybe 300 people attended coming from a radius of 50 miles, in wagons drawn by farm horses.  Forty of the attendees were men.

Mrs. Stanton read the Declaration of Sentiments, modeled after the Declaration of Independence, that included 12 resolutions of which the ninth one read, “Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”

Strangely enough, it was the only resolution to not pass unanimously.  Woman suffrage was a cutting edge, radical idea in the early 19th century, nonetheless, a movement had been launched.

From 1850 to 1860, woman’s rights conventions were held every year except 1857 in small and large towns in Ohio, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.  Lucretia Mott was the movement’s moral force, Lucy Stone was its gifted orator, Elizabeth Stanton its philosopher, and Susan Brownell Anthony its incomparable organizer.

Susan Brownell Anthony was born in 1820 in Adams, Massachusetts.  She attended a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia but had to move home after one term since her family lost everything in the Panic of 1837.  She taught at a Quaker boarding school to help her family financially, then, in 1846, became the headmistress of the Female Department at Canajoharie Academy in New York.

When that school closed in 1849, Anthony joined her family who had moved to a farm in Rochester, NY.  She became interested in reform activity after a couple of years and started her first campaign for signatures to a petition to be presented to the NY legislature in 1854.  Anthony chose 60 women, one from each county, to carry out the job.  They were lobbying for legislation to be passed for control by women of their own earnings, guardianship of their children in divorce, and the vote. They collected 6,000 signatures.

The bill did not pass that year, but, in 1860, Elizabeth C. Stanton addressed a joint session of both Houses in Albany after which the Married Women’s Property Act became law granting women in New York property rights, to collect their own wages and to sue in court.  A small victory for women had been achieved!

Women’s Rights Conventions came to a screeching halt with the start of the Civil War in 1861.  Women were suddenly thrust into the workforce doing what their soldier husbands, fathers, and brothers had left to fight for the Union or the Confederacy.  Taking care of the wounded and dying during the war also fell on the women.

It was realized that sanitation and hygiene were lacking so women formed a Sanitary Commission to attempt to improve conditions in make-shift hospitals, provide cleaning supplies, clothing, medicine, nursing and essentials to Union soldiers.  Women were proving their great worth during this time of unmitigated suffering and crisis.

In 1866, after the War had come to an end and Reconstruction in the South had begun, the Fourteenth Amendment was proposed in Congress to protect rights of citizens, including freed black men, and protect the right to vote for all “male citizens” twenty-one years of age and older.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucy Stone all began to wonder if they were actually considered “citizens” of the United States.

A glimmer of hope came when Republican Senator Edgar Cowan of Pennsylvania offered an amendment to strike out the word “male” from the Fourteenth Amendment.  That move prompted the first debate on woman suffrage in the Senate.  The District of Columbia amendment, as it was called, failed miserably, 9 votes for and 37 against.  There was obviously work to be done.

The Fourteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution in 1868.  Six months later, a Fifteenth Amendment was introduced by Republicans to guarantee that the right to vote could not be denied to “citizens” regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  It was ratified in 1870.

With the addition of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, certain suffragists began to imagine that they should work for their own amendment which would prevent states from denying “women citizens” the vote.  Others felt that the movement should continue to concentrate on working within individual states to change their constitutions allowing women to vote in all elections.

Out of these two camps of thought were born two separate organizations.  Mrs. Stanton and Miss Anthony organized the National Woman Suffrage Association based in New York in May of 1869 to work for a vast array of rights for women, including the right to vote, through a Constitutional Amendment.

The American Woman Suffrage Association, formed by Julia Ward Howe, author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and AWSA’s first president, and Lucy Stone, tied itself closely to the Republican Party to concentrate on securing the vote for women state-by-state. Their headquarters was in Boston.

The groups each had a weekly newspaper.  NWSA’s, The Revolution, gave the movement focus and direction.  Its articles blasted discrimination in employment, wages, education; the derogatory concept of women fostered by established religion (as espoused by Mrs. Stanton in her critique of the Old Testament called The Woman’s Bible); the inequities of divorce procedures and, of course, suffrage.  It also happily encouraged hygiene practices and exercise.

The Woman’s Journal was the well-funded publication of the AWSA and featured articles by professional writers on women’s clubs, social changes for women, and suffrage.  The newspaper even covered election expense reports.  It would stay in publication until 1931.

The NWSA was considered a more controversial organization because it promoted ideas such as reproductive rights of women in addition to suffrage, whereas the AWSA limited its focus to women’s suffrage.

The different views on the Fifteenth Amendment furthered the schism between the two groups.  NWSA was infuriated that women still were denied but freed black men could vote while AWSA supported the amendment with exuberance.  Stanton and Anthony of NWSA insisted that the Fifteenth Amendment should be changed to include “sex,” not just “race.”

Lucy Stone of AWSA wrote to her friend and fellow suffragist who was the founder of the New England Woman Suffrage Association, Isabella Beecher Hooker, explaining her support of black male suffrage and the Fifteenth Amendment, saying, “I believe that just so far as we withhold or deny a human right to any human being, we establish a basis for the denial and withholding of our own rights.”

Ultimately, Hooker sided with the Susan B. Anthony/Elizabeth Cady Stanton faction, believing that if black men received the right to vote but women did not, it would set woman suffrage back—but she still worked to unify the two organizations and the movement.

The actual letter written by Lucy Stone to Isabella Beecher Hooker is part of a treasure trove found by Libbie and George Merrow in 2016.  Merrow’s grandfather bought Isabella Hooker’s home in Connecticut and passed down to his family items left behind in the house which included 26 letters written between 1869 and 1880 to Hooker from Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  Isabella Beecher Hooker was the half-sister of Harriett Beecher Stowe.

These letters are currently housed in the special collections section of the library at the University of Rochester along with the John and Isabella Hooker papers and the Susan B. Anthony collection.

Those involved in the suffrage movement contended that they, as “citizens,” should be allowed to vote in all elections. They believed that the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment prevented states from denying them the vote in any and all elections.

In the presidential election of 1868, 172 women decided to cast their ballots in NJ but were not allowed to place their ballots in the box with male voters, but in a separate box.  That demonstration inspired subsequent ones.  One hundred fifty women tried to vote in 10 states and the District of Columbia in 1872 and one of those women was Susan B. Anthony when she led a group of 16 women to vote for Republican candidate Ullyses S. Grant.  They were arrested.  Anthony was fined $100 which she never paid.  Remember Abigail Adams’ warning to her husband that “. . .we (the ladies) will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice”?  Perhaps it was a premonition, not an admonition.

One of those protesters, Virginia Minor, a citizen of Missouri, tried to register to vote in 1872, but was denied.  She filed suit which resulted in the Supreme Court decision of Minor V. Happersett in 1874 that voting was not one of the “privileges and immunities” of citizens of the United States and states unequivocally had the power to ban women from voting.  The effort to win the vote through the courts had gone down in flames.


The distinction of being the first sponsor of an amendment to address full woman suffrage goes to Republican Senator S. C. Pomeroy of Kansas.  He presented his bill in 1868 and Republican Representative George Julian of Indiana offered a Joint Resolution to both Houses in 1869, but not until 1878 did the proposed amendment gain traction.

In early 1878, Republican Senator A. A. Sargent of California, a good friend of Susan Anthony’s, introduced what he named the “Anthony Amendment.”  It was worded verbatim like the Fifteenth Amendment except the word “sex” replaced “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” This amendment would become the Constitution’s Nineteenth Amendment.

Progress was being made.  Both houses of Congress established Select Committees on Woman Suffrage in 1882.  National and State suffrage organizations continuously sent representatives to speak and to present petitions to different Congressional committees.

On March 7, 1884, Susan B. Anthony spoke before the U. S. Senate Select Committee on Woman Suffrage:

“This is the sixteenth year that we have come before Congress in person, and the nineteenth by petitions.  Ever since the war, from the winter of 1865-1866, we have regularly sent up petitions asking for the national protection of the citizen’s right to vote when the citizen happens to be a woman.  We are here again for the same purpose.”

Miss Anthony then spoke on March 8, 1884 to the Judiciary Committee of the U. S. House of Representatives:

“We appear before you this morning . . . to ask that you will, at your earliest convenience, report to the House in favor of the submission of a Sixteenth Amendment to the Legislatures of the several States, that shall prohibit the disfranchisement of citizens of the United States on account of sex.”

The Anthony Amendment was called up for debate on the Senate floor by Republican Sen. Henry W. Blair of New Hampshire in December of 1886.  In his plea, he declared that, “the right to vote is the great primitive right in which all freedom originates and culminates.  It is the right from which all others spring.”

The amendment was defeated in that vote, 16 to 34, with 26 absent.  Southern senators voted solidly in the “no” column.

The Anthony Amendment would continue to be introduced and be voted out of committee until 1896.  However, the sun would set on the chances for the amendment to be re-introduced for a while and it would disappear from the Congressional agenda until 1913.


In addition to the efforts of the NSWA to gain the right to vote through the amendment process, there would continue to be the AWSA’s slow, agonizing push to achieve woman suffrage through the individual state-by-state route of amending state constitutions.

After the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments were added to the Constitution, by 1870, women already had the right to vote in local school and municipal elections in only 2 states, Kentucky and Kansas.  The territories of Wyoming and Utah granted full suffrage to women in 1869 and 1870 respectively.

Between 1870 and 1910, there were 480 campaigns, conducted by state suffrage organizations, in thirty-three states with the goal to hold referendum votes, or a general vote by the electorate on a single political question that has been referred to them for a direct decision, in the states.  A referendum is usually a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision.

Only seventeen of the thirty-three states actually held referendum votes.  All but three, Michigan, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, of the seventeen were west of the Mississippi.  Sparsely populated and thereby inconsequential in the electoral college, Colorado (1893) and Idaho (1896) were the only successful campaigns to pass woman suffrage.  The state-by-state campaigns would prove to be grueling.

By this time in the 1890s, the NWSA and the AWSA had put away their differences and merged as one national organization, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), to work for their lofty goal.  Alice Stone Blackwell, the daughter of Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell, is usually the one credited with that merger.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was named its president, yet, Susan Brownell Anthony predominantly led the group in those years, 1890-1892, as well as during her tenure as president, 1892-1900.

The social makeup of the leadership and membership within the NAWSA and within the state organizations was dramatically changing due to the escalating numbers of women receiving college degrees and the millions joining the workforce.  Younger, educated professional women with organizational skills and economic independence, writers, speakers, and women of more substantial means were taking over leadership roles.

Two of those capable women were Carrie Chapman Catt and Dr. Anna Howard Shaw.  Carrie Lane was born on a Wisconsin farm in 1859.  Her family moved to the unplowed prairie land of Iowa where she graduated from Iowa State College.  She became a teacher, school administrator and a journalist.  Her first husband was Leo Chapman who died of typhoid fever.  She married George Catt in 1890 when she likewise joined the suffrage movement in Iowa.

Catt would triumphantly serve as president of NAWSA from 1900-1904, then again from 1915 through the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Anna Howard Shaw was born in England in 1847.  Her family emigrated to Massachusetts in 1891 then moved to a large plot of land in Michigan where she had to take on arduous frontier work.  She became a teacher, a Methodist minister, then a medical doctor.  Dr. Shaw would lead NAWSA as president and gifted orator from 1904-1915.

Carrie Chapman Catt served as chairman of the Organizing Committee of NAWSA beginning in 1895.  She would brilliantly commandeer the state-by-state campaigns until her presidency in 1900.  Her efforts to organize the campaigns at the precinct or district level would prove to be victorious in Colorado and Idaho and, ultimately, in a bitter referendum contest in New York in 1916.

Mrs. Catt personally made speaking tours in some of the states.  The women had to depend on farmer or labor organizations, their own resources, or wealthy supporters to fund such campaigns and the living conditions were usually less than desirable.  The campaign in South Dakota in 1890 was especially brutal.  Catt toured there in the fall when the weather was freezing cold and had to travel tremendous distances.  After the campaign, which failed two to one, she contracted typhoid fever and nearly died.

The California campaign of 1896 was probably the best organized at the precinct level and featured “a formidable turnout of nationally-known speakers, wide newspaper support, and formal endorsement by the Populist and Republican parties,” as Century of Struggle highlights.  Flexner and Fitzpatrick also emphasized that “defeat came at the hands of the liquor interests.”

By 1911, after an even larger effort by suffragists which included for the first time billboard ads, automobile tours to small towns, electric signs, rallies with speakers, and despite reports of tampering with returns (to which reinforcements were sent to observe the tally), women won the referendum vote in California.

The state campaigns would prove difficult, however, by 1913, women had full suffrage in nine states and were voting on school, tax, or bond issues in 29 additional states.

Alice Paul, a social worker from New Jersey spent time with the more militant suffragettes, the British version of our suffragists, while studying in England.  She and her friend, Lucy Burns, returned home to America and joined the efforts of NAWSA with the intention of getting the Anthony Amendment passed through Congress.

Alice was appointed to chair the Congressional Committee.  Alice and Lucy hit the ground running as they organized large parades, picketing at the White House, bonfires, campaigns against politicians who opposed them, and visits to President Woodrow Wilson, whom some suffragists called “Kaiser Wilson,” to pressure him to support the proposed Nineteenth Amendment.

They reorganized and renamed their committee the Congressional Union, which, ultimately would become the Woman’s Party.  They were not interested in the exhausting state-by-state campaigns and wanted to hold the political party in power, nationally, accountable for not passing the amendment.  Alice Paul and Lucy Burns and the Congressional Union split from NAWSA to proceed with their more radical approach.

Paul and her faction claimed responsibility for the defeat of twenty-three Congressional democrats in 1914 and getting the Senate and House to vote on the amendment again in 1914 and 1915 which resulted in defeat, but not as bad a defeat as had occurred in the past.

In October of 1915, Alice Paul spoke out after the defeat of the suffrage referendum in her home state of New Jersey:

“For more than sixty years women have been trying to win suffrage by the State referendum method, advocated by President Wilson. This has meant the expenditure of an enormous amount of energy, of time, and of money. Women are now beginning to feel that the State referendum campaigns in which the question of women’s political freedom is left in the hands of the most ignorant men voters in the State are too wasteful and indirect to be much longer continued.

They are turning to the national Government, asking enfranchisement by action of the United States Congress. We approach the next session of Congress full of hope that the leverage which the suffrage movement possesses in Congress as a result of the fact that one-fourth of the Senate, one-sixth of the House and one-fifth of the electoral vote for President now comes from suffrage States will mean the passage of the national suffrage amendment, thus doing away with costly and laborious State campaigns such as has just been unsuccessfully waged in New Jersey.”

Key to the final campaign for the vote was a bequest Mrs. Catt received in 1914 of more than $1 million by New York City magazine editor and publisher Miriam Folline Leslie “for the cause of woman suffrage.”  Carrie Chapman Catt resumed the presidency of NAWSA from where she would steer her suffragists to victory with the generous endowment from Mrs. Leslie and her newly-unveiled “Winning Plan.”

The Plan simply consisted of simultaneous efforts of both the continuation of the state-by-state campaigns and the pursuit to add the Anthony Amendment to the Constitution.

The involvement of the United States in WWI certainly changed things for the women’s movement.  Once again, like during the Civil War, women answered the call to shoulder the responsibilities of a nation at war in industrial work and public service between 1917 and 1918.  They manufactured explosives, armaments, machine tools, agricultural implements, electrical apparatus, railway, automobile, and airplane parts and many more courageous and admirable jobs.

Mrs. Catt’s number one job remained woman suffrage yet contributed to the war effort through NAWSA’s financing of an Overseas Hospital in France.  The heroic work and patriotic dedication of the nation’s women during WWI once again elevated their standing as citizens.  They had proven their competence and deserved equal political standing once and for all!

Carrie Chapman Catt spoke to Congress in November of 1917 on adopting the Nineteenth Amendment including this statement on working women being taxed without the right to vote.

“. . .With such a history behind it, how can our nation escape the logic it has never failed to follow, when its last un-enfranchised class calls for the vote? Behold our Uncle Sam floating the banner with one hand, “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” and with the other seizing the billions of dollars paid in taxes by women to whom he refuses “representation. . .”

Under Catt’s leadership, several key states—including the hard-fought one in New York in 1917—approved women’s suffrage. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson finally converted to the cause of suffrage and supported the national constitutional amendment.

After the 1918 midterms, Republicans won control of the U.S. House and Senate.  Even with Wilson’s support, Democrats in Congress were able to defeat the amendment by two votes.  On May 21, 1919, Republican Representative James Mann of Illinois re-introduced the 19th Amendment and it finally passed the House by a vote of 304-89.  Ninety-one percent of Republicans voted for women compared to only 59 percent of Democrats.

On June 4, 1919, it passed the Senate 56-25.  Eighty-two percent of Republicans voted in favor of the amendment while 41 percent of Democrats voted against. It was then sent to the states for ratification.

By August of 1920, 35 states had already ratified the Nineteenth Amendment.  The Tennessee Senate had already passed the amendment 25-4 in July.  Tennessee’s state House vote was to take place on August 18.  The vote was predicted to be deadlocked, 48-48.

Republican Harry Burn, the youngest member of the House at 24, had been against ratifying the amendment until his mother, a staunch suffragist, wrote him a letter which said, “Hurrah!  And vote for suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt . . . Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put ‘Rat’ in Ratification.”

Harry Burn and his colleague, a Democrat, Banks Turner, broke the tie to vote for ratification of the 19th Amendment, 49-47, and Tennessee became the required 36th state to do so.  It became law on August 26, 1920, enfranchising twenty-six million women of voting age in the United States.

Carrie Chapman Catt said this on that day:

“The vote is the emblem of your equality, women of America, the guarantee of your liberty. That vote of yours has cost millions of dollars and the lives of thousands of women. Money to carry on this work has been given usually as a sacrifice, and thousands of women have gone without things they wanted and could have had in order that they might help get the vote for you. Women have suffered agony of soul which you can never comprehend, that you and your daughters might inherit political freedom. That vote has been costly. Prize it!”

Republican Warren G. Harding would get the women’s vote in November.  He carried 37 of the 48 states to be elected President in 1920.

The noble sacrifices of thousands of Americans, women and men, that spanned the better part of a century, had proven triumphant.  Sadly, most of the pioneers who began the movement would not live to see its fulfillment nor exercise its reward.


In addition to the human story of how woman suffrage was won, there were other interesting factors that painted the political picture.

Analysis of those factors that probably contributed to the passage of woman suffrage within individual states was compiled by Dr. Corrine M. McConnaughy in her book, The Woman Suffrage Movement in America: A Reassessment.

Dr. McConnaughy’s analysis include the factors that existed in a state that made it conducive for that state to enfranchise women with partial or full voting rights.  One of the factors for supporting woman suffrage in a political party, McConnaughy found, would be if that particular party needed the votes from a newly enfranchised group or new constituency.  She calls that strategic enfranchisement, or, the granting of voting rights by a party simply to reap the votes of the newly enfranchised group.  If the political party did not need the votes of a new group, why enfranchise them?  It would just mean more people whom they had to appease.

Also, politicians saw as much political diversity in “women” as they saw in “men,” thus making women poor candidates for strategic enfranchisement.  Women were thought of as subservient and would most likely vote the way their husbands or fathers would tell them to.

Therefore, politicians mostly relied on existing voters to endorse the idea of woman suffrage before they felt it necessary to support it.  McConnaughy calls this the politics of programmatic enfranchisement – when politicians act to make themselves accountable to a new group of voters in response to pressure from their current voters.  This situation was the more successful way and more predominant way that woman suffrage was passed in a state.

“Alliances with minor (or third) political parties were an especially effective tool for compelling major party politicians to respond to the woman suffrage cause in the states,” says McConnaughy.

The Prohibitionist Party was the first to endorse woman suffrage in its national platform in 1872.

Third parties in Michigan, for example, the Prohibitionists and Greenbackers, were the only minor parties to add a woman suffrage plank in their state platforms.  Republicans and Democrats did not add planks to their platforms for suffrage until the Progressive Party (originally a reform faction of the Republican party) endorsed it.

Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party, a progressive off-shoot of his former Republican Party, was one that endorsed woman suffrage.

In times and places in which reform party support in the electorate was stronger, and where seats were held by third party politicians, the likelihood of adopting a woman suffrage measure increased.

In Illinois, for example, suffragists had gained labor union support through an alliance with the Women’s Trade Union League. That partnership decayed, however, as middle-class suffragists’ actions made it clear that women’s workplace rights were deemed subordinate to voting rights. So, where unions got involved in helping the suffrage movement, it would not always succeed because to the union, suffrage did not come first.

And in 1913, “Progressive Party pressure was instrumental in making Illinois the first state east of the Mississippi River to allow women to vote in statewide elections when legislators passed a measure that enabled women to vote in presidential (as well as municipal) elections.”

“A strong presence of farmers (in a state) was positive and that of a large labor base was negative. Where agrarian economies thrived, the chances for women’s voting rights also grew; farming interest drove the chances of woman suffrage up by more than 60 percent.”

Ultimately, Grange, the farmer’s union, and Progressive Party influences, which overlapped significantly in Michigan, for example, would help Michigan suffragists carry the day in the legislature and at the polls.

In the industrial north, Professor McConnaughy found, strangely enough, that “where a manufacturing economy drove the state, the chances for suffrage dropped by at least 50 percent.”

McConnaughy found, “Those places in which the women who would be enfranchised were quite likely to be loyal to a single party were states where one party had already established secure dominance, most notably in the Redeemed Democratic South, but also in Northeastern Republican strongholds. Where one party dominated, “women” were not needed as a new voting bloc.”

The backing of suffrage by the Progressives gave Republicans and reformist Democrats a keener interest in woman suffrage.

The Republican national convention delivered the first major party plank on the status of women, which recognized the party’s “obligations to the loyal women of America”

“What mattered most was not the “demand” for woman suffrage within a state as evidenced by the number of women (joining NAWSA or state suffrage organizations), but the organization’s overall development as an attractive coalition partner to other interests.”

The first full voting rights for women, where they could vote in ALL elections, took hold in the 1890s in the states of Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah. By the time of ratification of Amendment XIX in 1920, which prohibited the denial of voting rights on the basis of sex, thirty states had granted women significant access to the polls.

Dr. McConnaughy revealed, “First, early success in the American West is attributed to the changes in gender roles demanded by the frontier experience. Second, changes in women’s levels of education and increases in their participation in both the workplace and the public sphere – what some have termed the “rise of the new woman” – are used to explain the increased success of demands for women’s voting rights in the later years of the movement.”

In addition, scholars studying the Western suffrage successes have ascribed importance to the “unsettled” nature of partisan politics there, seeing in it a tendency toward political experimentation, or breaking new ground, if you will, from which woman suffrage benefited.

McConnaughy studied why Southern states were the least likely states to adopt woman suffrage.  “In states where politics needed to deal with the rights and interests of non-whites – whether by protecting or eliminating their electoral inclusion – expanding the electorate was decidedly less likely.”

Since southern states had large non-white populations, they usually hesitated to extend voting rights that would include additional non-whites.

“The chance of enfranchising women in states with sizable non-white populations was less than half of the chance for those without significant numbers of non-white residents.”

In Louisiana, for example, “Democrats could be sure that most white women would vote for the party’s candidates – but only because the party’s dominance of state politics was nearly perfect, and thus new voters unnecessary.”

“The story of Louisiana thus also revealed some of the institutional difficulties induced by the politics of race. Where whites struggled to keep racial minorities out, electoral rules were defined to limit choice, and thus heighten elite control. Such systems provided diminished opportunity for electoral leverage to deliver women’s voting rights.”

Professor McConnaughy also discovered, “Racial and class politics, in particular, built a set of barriers to effective lobbying for woman suffrage – both by hindering the construction of pro-suffrage coalitions and by increasing the institutional hurdles for enfranchisement.

Where (and when) race and class identities were particularly salient, suffrage organizations begun by middle and upper class women had difficulty forging the sorts of partnerships that were key to programmatic enfranchisement.”

To sum up McConnaughy’s analysis of states least likely to jump on the woman suffrage wagon, she said, “an opponent was significantly more likely to come from a state that was less urban, had less manufacturing and fewer immigrants, and had more racial minorities than a supporter.”

Of the former Confederate States, only Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas ratified the 19th Amendment.  Mississippi never adopted woman suffrage at the state level – and even refused to ratify the national amendment until 1984.

Extraordinary human courage, endurance, and imagination combined with the complex workings of the American political process tells the story of how the struggle for woman suffrage that lasted nearly a century was at last won.

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How to Raise Children Who Believe in America Workshop

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