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The Womans Suffrage Movement In America History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Voting or suffrage is often thought of as a right of a nation’s citizens. However, not until recent history suffrage was considered a privilege. A privilege which was granted to individuals and many people in the United States had not been granted this privilege. Throughout the history of the United States, people have been denied suffrage based on gender, race, and economic status and this lack of universal suffrage resulted in protests and calls for reform. There had been great resistance to these reforms at every step. Woman’s suffrage came over time through incremental accomplishments.

The phrase “suffrage movement” is mainly associated with the woman’s voting movement but the suffrage movement covered a fight to obtain voting rights for all individuals (Weatherford). This is partly due to the long battle that the woman’s suffrage movement endured. The primary reason for the association of the suffrage movement to women voting was probably that it was a fight for white women to be granted the right to vote. The battle for a woman’s voting rights was a fight that was at one point intertwined with obtaining voting rights for freed slaves (McCulloch).


The Constitution of the United States, when it was ratified, included no provision regarding voter qualification. The power to decide voting qualifications was reserved to the States (McGovney). Most States restricted the right to vote to individuals who owned land or held taxable property. These laws meant that most women could not vote and because of these restrictions only about half of the adult, white men in the United States were eligible to vote (McGovney). A few state constitutions such as New Jersey Constitution did initially allow women to vote. Only unmarried women property owners were able to take advantage of this right to cast their ballots based on New Jersey’s property ownership laws (Women’s). A woman taking an active part in voting was almost unheard of until the middle of the nineteenth century (Porter).

Most women were prohibited from voting or exercising the same rights as men based on the idea that a married woman’s legal existence was incorporated into that of her husband (Porter). Another widespread belief many people held was that a woman’s place was in the home and not in the affairs of the government (Robb). Many people drew parallels between women’s political and social status and that of slaves. The comparison helped to win the support of a greater number of people, especially abolitionists. The slave comparison brought Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott to the suffrage movement (Porter).

Stanton and Mott were active abolitionists before joining the suffrage movement. Angered by having been denied the right to participate in the 1840 World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in England because they were women, Stanton and Mott returned to the United States determined to overcome the legal and social limitations that hindered women of the day (Timeline). Stanton and Mott organized the first woman’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, on 19 July 1848. The convention drew over three hundred people (Timeline, Weatherford). The conference produced the Declaration of Sentiments which was signed by one hundred women and thirty-two men. The document declared that men and women are created equal and outlined several views of the group regarding higher education, property rights, and woman’s suffrage (Woman’s). The Declaration of Sentiments was modeled after the Declaration of Independence.

Susan B. Anthony, a long time activist for abolishing slavery and for temperance, joined the suffrage movement in 1851 after reading a speech given by Lucy Stone at the first National Woman’s Rights Convention. She was invited to speak at the third National Woman’s Rights Convention in 1852 where she gained recognition for her strong advocacy for the movement (Susan B. Anthony). Anthony believed that the rights listed in the Declaration of Sentiments could not be obtained until women had the right to vote. She made national suffrage her goal and recruited many supporters to that movement (Weatherford).

During the Civil War the woman’s suffrage movement slowed to almost a halt. The efforts of the movement’s supporters were focused primarily on the support of the war effort leaving little time to work towards enfranchising women voters (Timeline). Suffragist and abolitionists worked closely during this time and built close bonds.

At the 1866 National Women’s Rights Convention suffrage and abolition groups merged to form the American Equal Rights Association to work towards their common goals including voting rights. This cooperation continued until arguments over the Fifteenth Amendment led to a split in the movement in 1869 (Timeline). Suffragists viewed the Amendment as an insult because it did not even include language to exclude women from the rights it granted (Weatherford). The Fifteenth Amendment provided black men the right to vote.

Within this split the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association were formed. The American Woman’s Suffrage Association was dedicated to state by state reform, while the National Woman’s Suffrage Association, formed by Stanton and Anthony, fought for the adoption of an amendment to the Constitution (Susan B. Anthony). The efforts of these two associations over the following years resulted in woman’s suffrage reforms in several states and territories across America. Susan B. Anthony was the driving force behind a controversial merger between the two groups in 1890 forming the National American Woman Suffrage Association (Susan B. Anthony).

With support for the woman’s voting movement growing there were many people who remained opposed to the idea of woman’s suffrage. Most of these were men. These men argued that that voting rights would compromise characteristics that made women distinctly feminine (Porter). “This separate but equal doctrine of the respective spheres of man and woman was a central part of the sociological argument against woman suffrage, which declared that social peace and the welfare of the human race depended upon woman’s staying home, having children, and keeping out of politics” Other opponents argued women lacked the political experience and competency necessary to vote (Kraditor).

The formation of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1874 provided important support of the suffrage movement. The Union’s close ties with the suffragists, also, produced many opponents. The liquor industry feared that if women were allowed to vote prohibition laws would be passed. The industry successfully defeated measures to grant suffrage to women in Indiana and Nebraska in 1882 (Timeline). Immigrants also opposed woman’s suffrage for the same reason. German and Irish immigrants saw Sunday laws as the destruction of their way because their beer gardens and pubs would be threatened (Weatherford).

Resistance to the movement continued to spread. As women began to focus on issues such as food safety, worker safety, and child labor factory and business owners began fighting against women’s right to vote. They worried that women would vote to pass laws requiring changes in the way their businesses were run and these changes would making it more expensive to operate their businesses.

The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage was formed by Josephine Dodge in New York City during a convention of anti-suffrage groups in 1911. The group was formed to fight the suffrage movement. Dodge believed that “woman suffrage would decrease women’s work in communities and their ability to effect societal reforms (National).” Between 1869 and 1912 so many women had gained voting rights in their states and territories that the anti-suffrage organization was mostly unsuccessful (Timeline). Presidential candidates began to court the female voting block for the first time 1912 (Hossell).

The woman’s suffrage movement was close to victory following World War I due to the efforts of women in support of the war. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson issued a statement supporting a Constitutional Amendment to grant woman suffrage. That statement was a departure from his earlier view supporting state granted suffrage (Hossell). The following day the United States House of Representatives passed the Amendment but Senate tabled the measure until later that year where it failed by three votes. This failure prompted action by the National Woman’s Party (Nineteenth).

A campaign by the National Woman’s Party was mounted to unseat anti-suffrage members of Congress in the 1918 mid-term election. Their efforts led to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in 1919. The Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee approved the Amendment (Nineteenth).


Women had long looked for a voice in the American political process. From Abigail Adams’ urge to her husband John to “remember the ladies” in the laws of the Continental Congress women have used many means to push for their voices to be heard (Timeline). Long roads lie ahead for those who would fight for their voice to be heard at the election polls. Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony believed suffrage was the primary means to bring about the other reforms called for in the Declaration of Sentiments (Weatherford).

The suffrage movement gave women a voice and that voice gave women the power to make a difference at the local, state and federal levels (Kraditor). The movement promoted civic action among women. The voice of women brought reforms to many aspects of America. Women have championed issues such as food and drug safety, child labor laws, worker safety. The woman’s movement has brought about changes in the American the education system and was an important voice in the civil rights movement.

The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment granted women the right to vote. The Amendment gave women the means to accomplish their goal of an opportunity to participate more fully in the public affairs of society through political engagement and civic action (Kraditor).

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