Even though those who supported the women's suffrage movement were united in their long-term goals, the pursuit of black voting rights caused a split in the women's suffrage campaign. Some activists wanted women's rights to be included in the 15th Amendment that granted voting rights to black men. Other women's suffrage proponents believed women's voting rights could wait until black men obtained their right to vote.
Women began petitioning for the right to vote in 1848 when they held the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, but the Civil War dampened their efforts. Bloody battles, tensions between neighboring states and political disagreements took main stage as participants in the women's suffrage movement were forced to put their agenda on hold. During the period of reconstruction after the Civil War, political focus shifted to the rights of blacks, once again placing women's voting rights on the back burner. The angry and disenfranchised suffragists believed their rights were being overshadowed by the black fight for civil rights and voting rights.
The split in the women's suffrage campaign occurred when politicians drafted and proposed the 15th Amendment which gave black men the right to vote but didn't include black and white women in the proposed legislation. Some women's suffragists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth opposed the 15th Amendment because they believed they deserved citizenship and the right to vote as much as black men. They advocated universal suffrage. Others, such as Lucy Stone and Frederick Douglass, wanted women to obtain the right to vote but believed the cause could wait until voting rights were granted to black men.
Disgruntled suffragists looked for support from others they trusted to back their cause -- primarily racist Southerners. Some prejudiced southern business owners believed that giving women the right to vote would offset black votes, making it easier to promote policies and labor regulations that served their best interests. In 1869, a faction of the women's suffrage campaign formed the National Woman Suffrage Association that fought for a universal suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Other suffragists felt this group compromised the proposed 15th Amendment and formed their own group -- the American Woman Suffrage Association. They believed the women's suffrage campaign could be won on a state-by-state basis.
The Split Ends
Twenty years after the 15th Amendment was ratified, activists in the women's suffrage movement realized that a united front was the best way to actively seek legislation giving women the right to vote. In 1890, The National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association united and formed the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The group changed its original stance about men and women being created equal to one that focused on women's rights because they were uniquely different from men. In 1910, several Western states gave women the right to vote, and in 1920, the 19th Amendment was enacted as federal legislation, giving all women the right to vote.
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