The history of the American women’s suffrage movement

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The Catalyst / Seneca Falls Historical Society

A scene from the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the first ever for U.S. women’s rights.

The ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment of the US Constitution, granting American women the right to vote, did not pass until a century ago. The passage of this amendment was the direct result of an eight-year long fight led by advocates of women’s suffrage, who persisted despite extreme public opposition to voting equality.

The battle began in 1840, when women’s rights pioneers Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were prohibited from attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention due to their sex. As a result, they decided to build a Women’s Rights Convention, which eventually came to life in the state of New York 8 years later.

Over time, similar conventions were held in the United States also petitioning for legal equality between men and women. They became breeding grounds for intersectional alliances between feminists fighting for women’s rights and abolitionists fighting for an end to slavery. Some abolitionists consistently in attendance at these conventions were Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and Lucy Stone.

The women’s suffrage movement is a clear historical example of the importance of social justice groups banding together instead of attempting to outshine each other. Feminists and abolitionists lifted, empowered, and aided each other in achieving the individual goals of both groups, which they both successfully did.

In 1866, this intersectionality was furthered by the formation of the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), an organization created by Stanton and fellow suffragette Susan B. Anthony. The goal of the AERA was to achieve suffrage for all American citizens, regardless of sex or race.

An amendment granting women’s suffrage was originally proposed in Congress in 1878, but failed to pass through the Senate. Although women could not vote on a national level, state governments had the power to legalize it. The first state to do so was Wyoming in 1890, which had previously granted women this right while it was still a territory of the US.

The Progressive Era, which lasted from 1890-1925, brought women’s suffrage into major political discussions and achieved national attention. Colorado became the second state to grant women’s suffrage in 1893, three years after Wyoming. More and more state constitutions began ratifying it, with California joining in in 1911.

Shortly before the national ratification of women’s suffrage, Jeannette Rankin, a politician from Montana, became the first woman in the House of Representatives in 1917. At the same time, then-President Woodrow Wilson publicly supported the right for women to vote, and urged the Senate to pass it after the end of World War I. The Nineteenth Amendment was officially ratified on August 26, 1920.

All information used in this article was collected from the National Women’s History Museum/crusadeforthevote.org.

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