Women’s Suffrage 101
Being less than a week from the 2016 Presidential Election, it’s difficult to imagine a time when voting was not an option for a large portion of the population. Even so, women’s right to vote has only been around for 96 years.
No matter what side of politics you stand on, this year’s election is historical, demonstrating exactly how far the suffragist movement has come since Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott began the charge in 1848. We’ve compiled a quick overview of the highlights you need to know about women’s suffrage and how it has shaped the community we live in today.
1848 – Seneca Falls Convention
Advertised as a convention to discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of women, the Seneca Falls Convention attracted widespread attention, spurring the movement for other women’s conventions throughout the United States. Members of the Quaker Church organized the meeting alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton as an opportunity to invite women to a presentation by Lucretia Mott (a well known female orator).
The full convention included side sessions and wrapped with the presentation of the Declaration of Sentiments and a list of resolutions for women’s rights. One third of the 300 attendees signed the document.
The Seneca Falls Convention is widely considered the beginning of the women’s rights movement.
1868-1870 – Post Civil War
Following the Civil War, the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution were ratified, bringing Constitutional rights to all citizens while at the same time defining those citizens as male.
This began a split within the suffragist movement that led to the creation of the National Woman Suffrage Association by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Anthony and Stanton refused to endorse the 15th amendment on the basis that the change did not go far enough, specifically by not providing women access to voting rights, and continued to push for more progressive changes for women’s rights at the federal level.
With an opposing view, suffragists Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe believed that once the 14th and 15th amendments were stepping stones toward their ultimate goal of gaining the women’s vote. From that position, Stone and Howe started the American Woman Suffrage Association, petitioning for women’s rights at the state level.
It was nearly 20 years before the groups began to work together again, eventually forming the National American Woman Suffrage Association or NAWSA in 1890.
The suffragist movement split again, this time dividing into a more moderate group seeking progressive reform (NAWSA) and a more militant group defined by picket lines (National Woman’s Party).
The leader of the National Women’s Party, Alice Paul, was originally forced to resign from the NAWSA following her organization of a large-scale women’s rights march during the inauguration of President Wilson. Marchers were harassed and attacked by parade goers.
In 1916 the group was officially formed, and began picketing the White House. This was the first time picket lines had been used to advance a political cause. Leaders Alice Paul and Lucy Burns were later arrested on a charge of blocking traffic. While incarcerated, Paul and others went on hunger strikes and were force-fed. The jailing created public sympathy for their cause and helped gain support for the suffrage movement.
Women involved in the suffrage movement contributed heavily to the war effort, selling bonds, working in factories and serving as nurses. The combined pressure of the NWP’s public demonstrations and the NAWSA lobbying resulted in President Wilson bringing support of the 19th amendment to the Senate floor. Wilson’s speech cited specifically that women’s suffrage was needed to win the war and should be supported as a war measure.
In 1919, the House of Representatives and Senate voted in approval of the 19th Amendment. The Amendment went to the states and required an additional 3/4ths approval from state legislature before its final ratification in 1920.
In recent years the final resting place of one of America’s greatest feminist leaders has been decorated with stickers each symbolizing the votes she fought so hard for in life. Susan B. Anthony passed away in 1906 after spending much of her life battling for a right that many of us have had since birth.
While Anthony was not able to cast a vote, today’s women go to the ballots in her honor. We can hope that that is something she, and all those who stood beside her, would have been excited to have been a part of.
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