After more than half a century of hard work and activism, women were granted the right to vote and hold elective office in the United States. Led by several female activists, the women’s suffrage movement was riddled with challenging battles. Issues centered on the redefinition of citizenship, the abolitionist movement and clarification of gender roles. In 1920, the 19th Amendment solidified voting rights for women and is still celebrated August 26 during Women’s Equality Day.
Women’s Rights Convention
In 1848, women gathered at the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, New York to discuss gender equality and address women’s rights. Born out of the abolitionist movement, this was the first Women’s Rights Convention held in the United States. Almost 300 people discussed issues of equality for women, including the right to vote. The result of the convention was the Declaration of Sentiments. This document, with its 11 Resolutions, reinforced equal rights for women and served as a call to action. Within two weeks, a second meeting occurred and a crusade for women’s rights began the process of political change.
Twenty years after the first women’s rights convention, the 14th amendment was ratified. The amendment defined the rights and privileges of U.S citizenship but failed to protect voting rights for women and black men. In 1870, the introduction of the 15th amendment opened the door for black men to vote but excluded voting rights for women. Many women were insulted and became more insistent on change. The National Woman Suffrage Association was formed in 1869 and served as a political machine that mobilized efforts to promote voting rights for women.
Several women played a pivotal role in the quest for women’s voting rights. Susan B. Anthony fought for this cause but would only support an amendment that included voting rights for black men. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Martha Coffin Wright, Jane Hunt and Mary Ann McClintock organized the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. In 1913, Alice Paul led a parade to lobby for a suffrage amendment, and was the original author of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. Paul's 1913 parade was purposely held at the same time as President Wilson’s inauguration since he publicly did not support suffrage. Lucy Stone was a founder of the American Woman Suffrage Association, and in 1871 she co-published a feminist newspaper with Henry Blackwell.
The 19th Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878 and was ratified In 1920. Some activists tried to enact legislation state by state and others held large-scale rallies. In 1917, New York supported woman suffrage, and in 1918 President Wilson changed his mind and voiced his support for voting rights for women. The political environment changed and women were empowered to speak out and become influential in American society. The passing of the 19th Amendment meant more than the right to vote. It paved the way for women to be elected to political office, attend colleges that had never admitted women, and increased opportunities for women in all fields. It also ended the National American Woman Suffrage Association and began the League of Women Voters.
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