Womans Suffrage Movement In America History Essay

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Voting rights empower a nation’s citizens to influence the government’s priorities and who holds public office. Suffrage may be national, local or limited to particular offices. Because such hierarchies existed, women could only work their way gradually toward full citizenship (Arnaud-Duc, 82).

The right to vote or suffrage is often thought as a right of citizenship. Suffrage, however, is considered a privilege which is granted to individuals and many people in the United States have been denied this privilege. Throughout the history of the United States, people have been denied suffrage based on sex, race, and economic status. The lack of universal suffrage resulted in much debate and protest through the years and calls for reform. There had been great resistance to these reforms at every step, and women’s suffrage came over time with incremental accomplishments.

The term “suffrage movement” is synonymous with the woman’s voting movement but the suffrage movement covered a fight to obtain voting rights for all individuals (Weatherford, 1998). This is most likely due to the long battle that the woman’s suffrage movement endured. The battle for women’s voting rights was a seventy-two year fight that was at one point intertwined with abolition and to obtaining voting rights for freed slaves (McCulloch, 1929).

The suffrage movement gave women a voice and the power to make a difference at the local, state and federal levels (Kraditor, 1965). The movement promoted civic action among women through organizations such as the League of Women Voters, which was a part of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (Adams, 1967). By engaging in projects such as the establishment of community development organizations, women made many important contributions to their communities and to society (Gittell, Ortega-Bustamante, and Steffy, 2000).


The Constitution of the United States when it was ratified in 1788 granted each state the power to decide the voting qualifications of its residents in elections (McGovney, 1949). 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 (Ibid.). A few state constitutions such as the New Jersey state constitution allowed women to vote. While a small number of women took advantage of this right to cast their ballots, in general, women voting was almost unheard until the middle of the nineteenth century (Porter, 136).

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 ideology many of the people held was that the place of women was in the home and not in the affairs of the government (Robb, 1996). At that time, many drew parallels between women’s political and social status and that of slaves. That comparison helped to win the support of greater numbers of women and men. The slave comparison brought Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott to the suffrage movement (Porter, 1969).

Stanton and Mott had been 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 (Harper 1969).

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 (Weatherford 1998;). The conference produced the Declaration of Sentiments 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 women’s suffrage (Wikipedia). The Declaration of Sentiments was modeled after the Declaration of Independence.

Susan B. Anthony, a long time activist for abolishing slavery and temperance, joined the suffrage movement after reading a speech given by Lucy Stone at the National Woman’s Rights Convention (Wikipedia) Anthony made nationwide suffrage a goal and recruited many supporters to that movement (Carter 1996; Weatherford 1998). Anthony believed that the rights listed in the Declaration of Sentiments could not be obtained or that they could not implement social reforms until they had the right to vote.

Despite the close cooperation with abolitionists, arguments over the Fifteenth Amendment led to a split in the movement in 1869 (Graham 1996; Porter 1969; Weatherford 1998). Many Suffragists viewed the Amendment as an insult to women because the Amendment did not even include language to exclude them (Weatherford 1998). Other Abolitionists sought to postpone woman’s suffrage in order to focus efforts on rights for freed blacks. This movement Stanton and Anthony viewed as a betrayal of the ideal of universal suffrage (Graham 1996; Kraditor 1965). The Fifteenth Amendment provided black men the right to vote.

From this split the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association emerged. The former was dedicated to state by state reform, while the latter focused on the adoption of a federal amendment in addition to state reforms. Over the next thirty years, the efforts of both associations resulted in woman’s suffrage reforms in several states and territories across America.

The American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association merged n 1890 to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Headed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the organization marked a new era in the history of woman’s suffrage (Weatherford 1998; Harper 1969).

There were many who stood opposed to the idea of women’s suffrage despite the growing support. Many of those were men who argued that a woman’s place was in the home and that voting rights would compromise characteristics that made women distinctly feminine (Porter 1969; Kraditor 1965). According to Kraditor, “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” (Ibid.). Other opponents argued women lacked the political experience and competency necessary to vote (Kraditor, 1965).

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s close ties with the Suffragists also produced many opponents to the movement. The liquor industry feared that if women voted, prohibition laws would be passed (Hossel 2003). Immigrants also opposed the woman’s suffrage movement for similar reasons. German immigrants saw Sunday laws and the suppression of their beer gardens as a threat to their way of life and Irish immigrants feared that the women’s vote would end their pub habits (Weatherford, 1998).

Others were opposed to woman’s suffrage, additionally. Factory and business owners fought against women’s right to vote because they were worried that women would pass laws requiring changes in procedures and make it more expensive to operate their businesses. Women had become more attentive to issues such as food and drug safety, worker safety, and child labor as the suffrage movement gained momentum (Hossell 2003).

In 1911, anti-suffragists formed the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage which fought the movement until women gained the right to vote in 1920. Nevertheless, by 1912 so many women had gained voting rights within their individual states that Presidential candidates began to court the female vote for the first time (Hossel, 2003).

In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson issued a statement supporting a Constitutional amendment to grant women’s suffrage. That statement departed from his prior view for state granted suffrage (Ibid.). This change was mostly due to the efforts of women in support of the country during World War I.

The woman’s movement rose to victory following the conclusion of World War I. In 1919, the United States House of Representatives and Senate passed the Nineteenth Amendment. The Amendment was ratified in August, 1920, when Tennessee approved the Amendment. The Nineteenth Amendment is, also, known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.


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