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date: 18 June 2018

The Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States

Summary and Keywords

Woman suffragists in the United States engaged in a sustained, difficult, and multigenerational struggle: seventy-two years elapsed between the Seneca Falls convention (1848) and the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment (1920). During these years, activists gained confidence, developed skills, mobilized resources, learned to maneuver through the political process, and built a social movement. This essay describes key turning points and addresses internal tensions as well as external obstacles in the U.S. woman suffrage movement. It identifies important strategic, tactical, and rhetorical approaches that supported women’s claims for the vote and influenced public opinion, and shows how the movement was deeply connected to contemporaneous social, economic, and political contexts.

Keywords: woman suffrage, voting rights, women’s rights, feminism, women’s movements, constitutional amendments

Winning woman suffrage in the United States was a long, arduous process that required the dedication and hard work of several generations of women. Before the Civil War, most activists were radical pioneers frequently involved in the antislavery or other reform movements. Later, educational advances and the growth of the women’s-club movement mobilized large numbers of middle-class women, while wage work and trade-union participation galvanized working-class women. In the early 20th century, woman suffrage became a mass movement that effectively utilized modern publicity and outreach methods. Woman suffrage was never a “gift.” Skillful organization, mobilization, and activism were required to build a powerful social movement and achieve the long-sought goal.

Woman suffrage was a radical idea in the 19th century. Suffrage for non-elite white men was still limited in most countries and became the norm in the United States only in the decades before the Civil War—a time when women and people of color were considered deficient in the rational capacities and independent judgment necessary for responsible citizenship. Woman suffrage challenged the legal principle of coverture, which subsumed a married woman’s political and economic identity into her husband’s; it also challenged dominant gender roles that confined women to the domestic sphere. Additionally, suffragists often associated themselves with other radical or reformist political groups who supported the demand as a basic right, a strategy for enhancing democracy, or a practical way to gain allies.

Women’s Status and Women’s Rights in the New Republic

Prior to the American Revolution, property restrictions limited even white male suffrage. Yet some colonial women voted if they paid taxes, owned property, or functioned as independent heads of households, although this was uncommon. The idea of universal suffrage (i.e., voting rights for all citizens) arose from the democratic ideology of the Enlightenment. Revolutionary rhetoric did not automatically result in equal citizenship rights, but it did provide powerful philosophical arguments that supported future struggles. In 1776, New Jersey enfranchised “all inhabitants” who were worth “fifty pounds” and had resided in the county for a year prior to an election. Coverture still prevented married New Jersey women from voting. But especially after 1797, unmarried women voted with enough frequency to generate complaints about “petticoat electors” who played critical roles in contested elections, and in 1807 New Jersey disenfranchised women altogether as well as African Americans and aliens.1

The American Revolution gave rise to the ideal of the “Republican Mother” who educated her children to become future citizens and exerted beneficial moral influences within her family, an ideal that ultimately held important implications for citizenship and voting. To meet the new country’s need for responsible citizens, many schools were established for women (although they did not meet the standards of comparable men’s schools), while the expansion of public elementary education increased the demand for female teachers. By definition, women farmers, slaves, textile-mill operatives, and indigents could not meet emerging middle-class norms of female domesticity.2

Rapid economic, political, and social change exacerbated prostitution, excessive alcohol consumption, and other problems associated with poverty, particularly in the urbanizing northeast. In response, some urban middle-class women became involved in “moral reform” societies, the most significant of which was the antislavery movement. Both white and African American abolitionist women formed female antislavery societies, but they were criticized when they assumed public roles. Most famously, when Sarah and Angelina Grimké, the transplanted daughters of a slave owner, began to speak before large mixed-race and mixed-sex (“promiscuous”) audiences, they were harshly, even violently, attacked. When the Massachusetts Council of Congregational Ministers issued a pastoral letter in 1837 denouncing their behavior as unwomanly, the sisters responded by defending equality of conscience, emphasizing the importance of female participation in the abolitionist movement, and drawing parallels between slavery and the disadvantaged status of women.3

The Seneca Falls Convention and the Beginnings of an Organized Women’s Movement

Elizabeth Cady was already deeply embedded in various reform networks in upstate New York when she married fellow activist Henry Stanton and accompanied him to London to attend the World Anti-Slavery Conference in 1840. At the meeting, a fierce debate erupted over seating female delegates, and the women were forced to retreat to the gallery, where William Lloyd Garrison, the most prominent and radical of the American abolitionists, joined them in protest. Furious, Stanton discussed this injustice with another attendee, Quaker reformer Lucretia Mott, and the two conceived the idea of holding a women’s-rights convention. For the next few years, Stanton was preoccupied with her growing family, but she and Mott met again in 1848 and decided to organize a women’s-rights convention in the small town of Seneca Falls. They placed an announcement in the local newspaper and were astonished when 300 people showed up (including 40 men, most notably Frederick Douglass, a former slave and the country’s most prominent black abolitionist). Stanton opened the meeting by reading the “Declaration of Sentiments,” a document she had prepared by adapting the Declaration of Independence to address women’s issues. Stanton listed many grievances, including lack of access to education, employment opportunities, and an independent political voice for women. Companion resolutions were all approved unanimously except the demand for woman suffrage, which passed by a small margin after a vigorous discussion. The convention at Seneca Falls is traditionally seen as the beginning of the American women’s-rights movement, as well as launching Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s long career as its premier intellectual force. The enthusiasm generated at Seneca Falls quickly led to more women’s-rights conventions. Beginning in 1850, similar gatherings were held nearly every year of the decade.4

Conventions and new women’s-rights publications, including The Lily (Amelia Bloomer) and The Una (Paulina Wright Davis), helped activists stay in contact, discuss ideas, develop leadership skills, gain publicity, and attract new recruits, including Susan B. Anthony, a Quaker, temperance activist, and abolitionist. Initial efforts focused on convincing state legislatures to rectify married women’s legal disadvantages with regard to property rights, child guardianship, and divorce. In 1854, Anthony traveled throughout New York State, organized a petition drive, planned a women’s-rights convention, and secured a hearing before the legislature that was addressed by Stanton. Thus Anthony and Stanton began their fifty-year partnership.

The Woman Suffrage Movement in the United StatesClick to view larger

1a. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, ca 1891. Their partnership lasted for over 50 years, although neither lived to see the final accomplishment of their goal.

Courtesy Library of Congress, Records of the National Woman's Party.

The Woman Suffrage Movement in the United StatesClick to view larger

1b. “The Apotheosis of Suffrage” (1896). Stanton and Anthony’s founding role in the women rights movements is acknowledged by their elevation to the national pantheon by their NAWSA colleagues.

Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-10862.

Other important early white activists included Lucy Stone, Abby Kelley Foster, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Clarina Howard Nichols, and Frances Gage. Important African American suffragists included Sojourner Truth, Sarah Redmond, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Amelia Shadd, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Harriet Forten Purvis, Charlotte Forten, and Margaretta Forten.5 The early women’s-rights movement included both black and white activists, yet relations sometimes became tense when white women ignored or appropriated African American experiences to suit their own purposes. For example, at a women’s-rights convention in 1851, Sojourner Truth made brief remarks describing the hard work of slave women and citing religious examples to support women’s rights. Some accounts report resistance to allowing Truth to speak and introducing slavery references, but convention president Frances Gage intervened. Gage subsequently edited and reported Truth’s speech in the form of the famous “Ain’t I a Woman” version, which is problematic in its use of dialect and other editorial interventions.6 After the Civil War, connections between race and gender equity became more problematic as racial attitudes hardened. Racial violence escalated during Reconstruction and continued for decades, while legal discrimination became firmly entrenched, legitimated by scientific racialist theories.

Reconstruction, Civil Rights, and Woman Suffrage

Women’s-rights advocates interrupted their efforts during the Civil War to concentrate on war work, but subsequent debates over the Reconstruction Amendments created new opportunities to reintroduce demands for women’s enfranchisement. Woman suffragists objected strenuously when the Fourteenth Amendment defined national citizenship and voting requirements by introducing the word “male” into the Constitution for the first time. The Fifteenth Amendment established the right of freed black men to vote, but failed to extend the vote to any women, creating a controversy that split the suffrage movement. Some suffragists, including Lucy Stone, her husband and fellow reformer Henry Blackwell, and most (but not all) prominent black activists supported the Fifteenth Amendment, arguing that black men needed the vote more urgently than women did, and expressing concerns that woman suffrage might prevent the amendment from passing. Stanton and Anthony vehemently disagreed and publicly opposed the amendment as they continued to demand universal suffrage. The American Equal Rights Association (AERA), organized in 1866 to promote both causes, supported the Reconstruction Amendments, and proposed the submission of a separate woman-suffrage amendment, first introduced as a Senate resolution in December 1868.7

In 1867, the AERA became involved in two Kansas state suffrage referenda relating to woman and African American suffrage amendments. Stone, Blackwell, Stanton, and Anthony all actively participated, but the growing rift among suffragists soon became evident. The AERA tried to link the issues of black and women’s rights, but suffragists were disappointed when the Republican Party publicly opposed the woman-suffrage referendum. Stanton and Anthony’s overtures to dissenting Democrats—especially George Francis Train, an Irish Democrat, controversial financier, and outspoken racist, generated additional controversy. After a bitter struggle, the Kansas referenda for woman and black suffrage both failed. This crucial campaign effectively severed the connection between voting rights for blacks and women.8

Convinced by their Kansas experiences that male political support was unreliable, Stanton and Anthony established the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), an independent women’s-rights organization under female leadership, in 1869. Several months later, Stone, Blackwell, Julia Ward Howe, and others established the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). Initially these two groups pursued different strategies. A federal woman-suffrage amendment seemed unlikely to pass, so the AWSA concentrated on changing state constitutions. The NWSA articulated a broader women’s-rights agenda and sought suffrage at the federal level. The two organizations worked independently until they merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1890. Each group published a women’s-rights journal. With Train’s financial backing, Anthony founded The Revolution early in 1868 and published many articles related to the problems of working women, prostitution, the sexual double standard, discriminatory divorce laws, criticisms of established religion, and denunciations of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The Revolution was very influential but unable to compete with the Woman’s Journal, introduced by the AWSA in 1870. Although the Woman’s Journal was widely read until it ceased publication in 1931, it was only one of many women’s-rights periodicals published during this period.9

As part of its federal strategy, the NWSA also proposed a bold reinterpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, the “New Departure,” arguing that suffrage was a right of national citizenship and since women were citizens they should be able to vote. The Revolution urged women to go to their local polls and use the New Departure argument to try to vote, and a few succeeded. Anthony’s own attempt led to her trial and conviction for violating election laws, but she was not punished (except for a $50 fine, which she refused to pay), eliminating the possibility of legal appeal. In 1875, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the New Departure, reasoning in Minor v. Happersett. A Missouri suffrage leader, Virginia Minor, had sued the state for the right to vote, but the court unanimously held that while Minor was indeed a citizen, the right to vote was not one of the “privileges and immunities” that the Constitution granted to citizens.10

The national woman-suffrage organizations were influential, but there were many independent, often regional, journalists and activists who addressed women’s rights during the postwar period. Few were as colorful or sensational as Victoria Woodhull, who addressed the House Judiciary Committee in 1871—the first woman ever to do so—and made powerful constitutional arguments that persuaded a minority of representatives. Both Woodhull and her sister, Tennessee Claflin, aroused controversy. At various times one or both were journalists, stockbrokers, Spiritualists, and labor activists, but Woodhull’s public advocacy of “free love” generated the most vehement criticism. Her basic position was that the right to divorce, remarry, and bear children should be individual decisions, but most of her contemporaries considered these ideas quite scandalous. Woodhull ran for president in 1872 as the nominee of the Equal Rights party, the first woman to do so. Initially Woodhull received some support from other suffragists, but as her notoriety grew, so did suffragists’ concerns about being compromised by association, and many began to repudiate or distance themselves from her ideas and activities (at least in public).11

Social Change, Women’s Organizations, and Suffrage in the Late 19th Century

Many women became interested in suffrage through their membership in other activities and organizations, especially as a result of the rapid growth of the women’s-club movement. When the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC) was established in 1890, it represented 200 groups and 20,000 women; by 1900, the GFWC claimed 150,000 members. Often initiated for educational or cultural purposes, discussions frequently turned to social issues such as child welfare, temperance, poverty, and public health. Women who became interested in reform soon realized that they had little political influence without the vote. The GFWC did not officially endorse suffrage until 1914, however, because the diversity of its constituent groups made the subject contentious and consensus difficult.

African American clubwomen, barred from membership in white women’s organizations, formed the National Association of Colored Women in 1896. In addition to community work and suffrage agitation, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary Church Terrell, and other prominent black women challenged contemporary negative stereotypes about African Americans and worked to increase public awareness of racial segregation, disfranchisement, and violence.

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2. Ida B. Wells-Barnett (L) and Mary Church Terrell (R). Both women were prominent African American journalists and activists. Both were founding members of the NAACP and active in NAWSA. Among their many achievements, Wells-Barnett established the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago, while Terrell was the first president of the National Association of Colored Women.

Wells-Barnett Portrait: Mary Garrity, c. 1893. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Terrell Portrait: Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-37806.

Many white women were indifferent to these issues, however, and some openly expressed the prejudices of the dominant society in their exclusionary rhetoric and organizational policies.12

The largest of the many new national women’s organizations was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), established in 1874. Under the dynamic leadership of Frances Willard, the WCTU emphasized the impact of alcohol abuse on women and families in its agenda of “home protection,” but quickly adopted a much broader social-welfare program, established alliances with labor and reform groups, and supported woman suffrage as a means to achieve its goals. Liquor-control efforts provoked powerful opposition, leading many woman suffragists to distance themselves publicly from the temperance movement even as they appreciated the dedication of WCTU suffragists.13

The expansion of women’s opportunities for higher education provided another catalyst for suffrage activism. In addition to the many public agricultural and technical colleges established under the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Act, the establishment of a number of private women’s colleges began with Vassar in 1861. Believing that education would be the key to women’s advancement, founders and administrators set high standards and offered curricula very similar to those at men’s institutions. After graduation, many women who found themselves largely excluded from professional training and employment opportunities channeled their skills and energies into civic engagement and social reform, especially with the rapid expansion of the American settlement house movement after the establishment of Hull House in Chicago in 1889. As community centers located in poor neighborhoods, settlement houses offered a variety of classes and services, but when social workers realized that their efforts alone could not eradicate problems related to chronic poverty, many became active in reform politics. In addition, new protective and industrial associations tried to help impoverished working women living alone in the cities. While middle-class moral judgments often alienated their intended beneficiaries, these efforts began to establish ties with working-class constituencies and labor organizations that would eventually gain support for woman suffrage.14

As industrial development, urbanization, and immigration increased, the growing numbers of women in the work force provided new arguments for woman suffrage. Working men understood that few working-class women could depend upon adequate male support, but they were hostile to low-wage female competition because it undermined their own abilities to fulfill the dominant male gender role of family breadwinner. The skilled trades and craft unions discouraged or discriminated against women, although the more progressive Knights of Labor included minorities and women. Urban working-class men were understandably reluctant to grant more power to middle-class women who condemned them as dirty, drunken immigrants and/or violent radicals. Their opposition defeated many state campaigns until working-class suffragists began to characterize the vote as a way to protect female wage earners and to empower the working class as a whole.15

These socioeconomic and political developments would eventually strengthen support for woman suffrage, but suffragists still faced enormous difficulties. Small, poorly funded groups gathered signatures on petitions and lobbied state legislators to authorize public referenda on the right of women to vote. When successful, they faced the daunting challenge of organizing a statewide campaign. Many suffragists were politically inexperienced and criticized for violating prescriptive gender norms, but over time they built organizations, developed management and leadership skills, articulated effective arguments, and learned to maneuver through the political system. They experienced many disappointing defeats in the process: between 1870 and 1910, seventeen states held referenda on woman suffrage, but most failed. By 1911, only twenty-nine states allowed some form of partial woman suffrage: school, tax, bond, municipal, primary, or presidential. Partial suffrage was better than nothing, but it reduced the pressure for full suffrage and did not always motivate women to vote; when women did not turn out to vote, opponents asserted that they were not interested in politics.16

Women Win the Vote in the West

Reviewing the record in 1916, NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt counted 480 state legislative campaigns and forty-one state referenda resulting in only nine state or territorial victories, all in the western United States.17 Indeed, by the end of 1914, almost every western state and territory had enfranchised its female citizens.

The Woman Suffrage Movement in the United StatesClick to view larger

3. “The Awakening” by Henry Mayer (1915). This poster highlights the significance of the western woman suffrage state victories, which enfranchised four million women in the region and established important examples and precedents.

Courtesy Cornell University Library Digital Collections, Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection, PJM_1176_01.jpg.

These western successes stand in profound contrast to the east, where few women voted until after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment (1920), and to the South, where no women could vote and most African American men were effectively disfranchised. Early explanations attributed this unusual history to a putative “frontier” effect (a combination of greater female freedom and respect for women’s contributions to regional development), or western boosterism (efforts to attract settlers), but these reasons are too simplistic.18 Western women gained the right to vote largely due to the unsettled state of regional politics, the complex nature of race relations, broad alliances between suffragists and farmer-labor-progressive reformers, and sophisticated activism by western women. The success of woman suffrage required building a strong movement, but it was inseparable from the larger political environment, and the west provided suffragists with unusual opportunities.19

Initially the territorial status of most western areas gave Congress and tiny territorial legislatures the power to decide who could vote. Every application for statehood required a proposed constitution, and the process always involved debates about voting qualifications. Wyoming Territory surprised the nation by adopting woman suffrage in 1869, although its reasons for doing so remain unclear since there were some dedicated individuals, but no organized movement and little prior discussion. Most likely, the Democratic legislature hoped to embarrass the Republican governor, who signed the bill partly in deference to his wife. In Utah woman suffrage became entangled in the polygamy controversy. Determined to abolish this practice, some Republicans in the U.S. Congress suggested the enfranchisement of Utah women so that they could vote against polygamy. State Democratic Mormon politicians believed correctly that Utah women would vote to support polygamy and authorized woman suffrage in 1870. In 1887, Congress punitively disfranchised all Utah voters until the Mormons repudiated polygamy in 1890, and the church leadership capitulated. The men of Utah were re-enfranchised in 1893, but women had to wait until statehood in 1896. In 1883, the Washington territorial legislature passed a woman suffrage with bipartisan support, as an experiment which could be corrected, if necessary, when Washington became a state. Feeling threatened, vice and liquor interests organized a series of court challenges until the territorial supreme court finally dismissed the law in 1888. Delegates to the 1889 constitutional convention refused to include the provision because they feared rejection by Congress, but the convention authorized separate suffrage and prohibition referenda on the ratification ballot. Organizers had little time to prepare for statewide campaigns, and both measures met firm defeat.20

In the 1890s, the rise of the Populist movement provided the context for the first two successful state referenda in Colorado (1893) and Idaho (1896). Largely characterized as a western agrarian insurgency advocating an anti-monopoly and democratization agenda, Populism arose from predecessor organizations, such as the Grange and the Farmers Alliances, in which women were actively involved. At the state level, Populist suffragists had some success convincing their colleagues, but at the national level Populists sacrificed their more radical demands to gain broader support, especially after they merged with the Democratic Party in 1896. Woman suffrage referenda failed in South Dakota in 1890, and in Kansas and Washington in 1894 despite energetic efforts. NAWSA organizer Carrie Chapman Catt rose to national prominence as a result of her work in the 1893 Colorado campaign, and in 1896, Susan B. Anthony personally took charge in California. During these campaigns, Anthony and other suffragists made strenuous and sometimes successful efforts to gain endorsements from political parties, but they already knew from bitter experience that unless all the parties supported the measure, the issue of woman suffrage succumbed to divisive partisanship.21

Challenges and Opportunities at the Turn of the Century

These disappointments had a chilling effect on the suffrage movement leading to a period sometimes described as “the doldrums.” The older first-generation radicals passed on (Stanton died in 1902, Anthony in 1906), and most of the younger leaders (e.g., Rachel Foster Avery, May Wright Sewall, and Harriet Taylor Upton)—privileged women who shared prevailing notions about proper female behavior and resisted radical public-outreach methods—failed to bring innovative new ideas and strategies to the movement. They also alienated key constituencies by complaining publicly that they could not vote but “inferior” (racial-ethnic, working-class, immigrant) men could. Suffrage leaders used economic arguments focused on the growing population of “self-supporting women,” but they rarely cooperated with working-class women and usually chose avoidance or discrimination over collaboration with African American suffragist colleagues.22

In the 1890s, NASWA turned its attention to the South. Activists in that region’s nascent movement argued that enfranchising white women would provide a gentler way to maintain white supremacy than the harsh measures being implemented to disfranchise African American men. Anti-black sentiments had marred the suffrage movement for many years. Indeed, Southern suffragists like Kate Gordon and Laura Clay protested that the presence of African American women in the suffrage movement undermined their strategy of enfranchising and mobilizing white women to outvote African Americans in order to preserve white hegemony. Personally uncomfortable with these attitudes, Anthony endeavored to keep the race issue separate from woman suffrage, but she did so by reluctantly endorsing “educated suffrage” (i.e., literacy qualifications) and rejecting appeals for help from black suffragists. She even asked her old friend, Frederick Douglass, not to attend the 1895 NAWSA convention in Atlanta for fear of offending southern suffragists. In New Orleans in 1903, the NAWSA convention excluded black suffragists and approved of literacy requirements, though it was already clear that this “southern strategy” was not working. In the 1890s, southern states passed many measures to disfranchise black men but firmly rejected woman suffrage even with literacy and other restrictions attached. NAWSA retreated from blatant racism and from hopeless Southern state campaigns, but continued to tolerate segregationist policies within the organization and blocked efforts to address issues of racial injustice. NAWSA’s racist practices persisted throughout the struggle for a federal woman suffrage amendment and into the ratification process partly due to the difficulty of overcoming the implacable opposition of conservative states’ rights Southern politicians.23

During the 1890s, state anti-suffrage organizations began to form, and the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS) was established in New York in 1911. Suffragists routinely blamed their losses on the “liquor interests” (although political bosses and manufacturers also worried about the consequences of enfranchising reform-minded women) and dismissed women who opposed suffrage as pawns of these interests, but this was not always the case. Some female anti-suffragists supported reform more broadly, belonged to the same clubs as suffragists, and adopted many of the same innovative public-outreach and mass-marketing techniques. Yet many anti-suffragists opposed enfranchisement because they believed that direct female engagement in the dirty business of party politics and voting would deprive women of their claims to moral superiority and nonpartisanship.24

Modern Suffragists and the Progressive Movement

By 1900, a new generation of suffragists was growing impatient with what they perceived as timid leaders and tired, ineffective methods and began to employ more assertive public tactics. It was a period of massive political discontent throughout the entire country as many people felt disoriented by rapid modernization and concerned about its consequences. Ideas that had seemed too radical or regional when articulated by Populists in the 1890s now found mainstream support among middle-class urbanites involved in the Progressive reform movement. In the 1890s, Populism failed as a national political force, but it remained influential locally and regionally and appeared, reincarnated, in western Progressivism.25 Although similar developments were occurring in the east, politically innovative western environments once again contributed to suffrage success. The breakthrough suffrage victories occurred in Washington state (1910) and California (1911), quickly followed by Oregon and Arizona (1912), and Nevada and Montana (1914). In Washington state, NAWSA organizer Emma Smith DeVoe became the leader of the state organization. DeVoe stressed the importance of good publicity and systematic canvassing while insisting upon ladylike decorum. Suffragists attended meetings of churches and ethnic associations and won endorsements from farmer and labor groups, often through the activism of working-class women. Those who rejected DeVoe’s leadership or moderate approach worked independently, often organizing parades and large public meetings. In 1910, the referendum passed in every county and city in Washington state, breathing new life into the movement.26

In California, where a strong progressive political insurgency won the referendum in 1911, suffragists organized a massive public campaign. They held large public rallies, used automobiles to give speeches on street corners and in front of factories, produced a flood of printed material utilizing striking designs and colors, and coordinated professional press work. Working-class women organized their own suffrage group, the Wage Earners Suffrage League, while Chinese, Italian, African American, and Latina suffragists also worked within their communities. The NAWSA provided foreign-language literature generated locally by the members of the College Equal Suffrage League. Members of the WCTU worked vigorously but quietly. On election day, volunteers carefully watched polling places to discourage fraud, then held their breath for two days until they learned that the measure had passed by a mere 3,587 votes. They realized that victory would not have been possible without an impressive increase in urban working-class support since the last failed referendum in 1896.27

These new campaign tactics were quickly adopted by suffragists in other western states, frequently causing tensions between cautious older women and younger activists. In Oregon, for example, the region’s pioneer veteran suffragist, Abigail Scott Duniway, rejected public campaigns, arguing that they alerted and mobilized powerful opponents (mainly the liquor and vice interests). She insisted upon what she called the “still hunt” approach: quiet lobbying and speaking to groups to gain endorsements. Duniway also antagonized WCTU activists by insisting on a strict separation between suffrage and prohibition, especially if both measures were on the same ballot.

In 1902, Oregon was the second state to adopt the initiative, a Progressive reform that allowed reformers to bypass uncooperative legislature and place measures directly on the ballot. Oregon suffragists subsequently utilized this process to place woman suffrage before voters every two years, but it did not pass until 1912 after frustrated younger women finally wrested control of the state organization from Duniway and implemented the modern model.28

By 1915, all western states and territories except New Mexico had adopted woman suffrage. These successes validated the efficacy of dramatic new tactics and created four million new women voters who could be enlisted to support the revived struggle for the federal amendment. In addition, many experienced western suffragists headed east, where similar developments were occurring, most notably in the rise of the National Woman’s Party, but where the opposition was also better organized and funded.

Catalyzed by the Progressive impetus and the excitement surrounding the 1912 presidential campaign, six states held suffrage referenda that year. Three western successes in Oregon, Kansas, and Arizona were counterbalanced by defeats in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan. In Ohio, the “liquor interests” publicly boasted of defeating the measure; failure in Wisconsin was also attributed to the opposition of the state’s important brewing industry. In Michigan, massive electoral irregularities turned initial reports of victory into a loss (by only 760 votes). In 1914, two western states approved woman suffrage (Montana and Nevada), but in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Ohio, hard-fought campaigns resulted in defeat. In 1915, there were referenda in four major eastern states, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. If any of these large, urbanized, industrial states passed the measure, the eastern stalemate would be broken, but all failed in spite of massive efforts. The opposition seemed insurmountable in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, where state laws prohibited immediate resubmission, thus suffragists focused on New York, the most heavily industrialized, urbanized, and populated state, and the one with more representatives in Congress than any of the others.29

The NAWSA Struggles to Keep Up

The still quite frequent assertion that the U.S. suffrage movement was languishing in “the doldrums” during these years rests partly on unquestioned and erroneous assumptions that “the suffrage movement” means events in the east and the activities of the NAWSA. Indeed, the NAWSA leadership seemed to lack the ability to develop more successful strategies and tactics, could not consolidate or focus the energies and innovations of the new generation of suffragists, and were often resistant or openly hostile to their ideas and methods. When Anthony relinquished the NAWSA presidency in 1900, two women emerged as potential successors, Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw. For several years, Catt had urged major administrative changes and systematic campaign plans coordinated by a strong central state organization under national supervision. Shaw was an old friend of Anthony who had overcome an impoverished background to earn divinity and medical degrees. She has often been described as a brilliant orator but a poor administrator, but a recent study has challenged this conclusion (while not completely overturning it) by noting that this judgment reflects biases in the original sources and overlooks the growth and diversification of the NAWSA membership, its increasingly sophisticated organizational structure, improved fund-raising techniques, and other significant developments during the decade of Shaw’s leadership.30 Shaw succeeded Catt as president in 1904 when family health issues forced Catt to “retire,” but she remained actively involved in the international suffrage movement and later reestablished herself on the national scene through her work in New York state.

Transnational connections and influences had been important from the earliest days of the movement. In 1888, American leaders established the International Council of Women (ICW) hoping to promote international suffrage activism, but were disappointed because the organization avoided controversial issues (like suffrage) to focus on moral reform and pacifism. In 1902, Catt and other frustrated suffragists established the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA). The topic of transnational suffrage activism has received significant scholarly attention recently, revealing extensive and dynamic connections among suffragists worldwide from the mid-1800s well into the 20th century.31

By the time Catt returned to the U.S. movement in New York in 1909, she observed many promising developments, especially the growing numbers of women at work and involved in various social-reform activities. Suffragists used affiliations with labor unions and reform groups to form cross-class suffrage coalitions and to appeal to urban working-class voters. They largely abandoned elitist, nativist, and racist rhetoric (at least in public) and emphasized arguments that linked political rights and economic justice for women of all classes. In New York, Harriot Stanton Blatch (Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s daughter) formed the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women in 1907, which included experienced women trade unionists and suffragists like Leonora O’Reilly and Rosa Schneiderman. Blatch, a suffragist with strong labor and socialist sympathies, had previously lived in England and formed close associations with the British suffragettes. American suffragists consciously repudiated British militancy and violence, however, preferring clever, creative, and colorful activities that gained public attention and sympathy, like the annual suffrage parades Blatch began organizing in 1910.

The Woman Suffrage Movement in the United StatesClick to view larger

4. Suffrage parade in New York City, 23 Oct. 1915. In the early 1900s, the struggle for woman suffrage became a mass and public movement. Suffragists organized highly visible and colorful events, such as this pre-referendum parade in which 20,000 women marched in clear order to send a clear message of their determined purpose.

Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-50393.

The basic demand for equal economic justice did not eliminate internal class conflict, however. Late in 1910, the Equality League became the Women’s Political Union (WPU), indicating a shift to elite leadership and increasing British influence. In 1911, O’Reilly left to form a separate Wage Earners’ League for Woman Suffrage.32

In 1909, Catt formed the Woman Suffrage Party (WSP) hoping to channel these energies and coordinate the movement under her direction. She soon controlled the state association and consolidated most of the state suffrage groups (with the notable exception of the WPU). After an intense lobbying effort, the legislature authorized a referendum vote in 1915, and the suffragists mounted a huge campaign over the next ten months. They held thousands of outdoor meetings and events, targeted outreach to crucial constituencies, and flooded the state with literature. Catt’s plans included systematic door-to-door canvassing, which eventually reached over half the state’s voters. On election day, the measure lost by a narrow margin, but within days suffragists raised $100,000 and began the work all over again. After another massive campaign, woman suffrage passed in New York in 1917 by over 100,000 votes. The same year, seven states, including Arkansas, granted some form of partial suffrage. In 1918, woman-suffrage referenda passed in Michigan, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. The eastern blockade was broken, and the South had begun to crack.33

While Catt exercised masterful managerial and strategic skills in New York, the NAWSA was having trouble keeping up, and Shaw came under increasing criticism from her NAWSA colleagues. Prominent suffragists such as Katherine McCormick, Harriet Laidlaw, and Jane Addams attempted to fill the perceived leadership gap, but many believed that Catt was the only one with the organizational skills to rescue what she herself described as a “bankrupt concern.” Catt resumed the NAWSA presidency in 1915 and began implementing her ideas for bureaucratic reorganization, legislative and partisan lobbying, and systematic campaigning. The previous year, Catt had secretly introduced her “Winning Plan,” which included winning a few targeted campaigns in the east and South under national direction, gaining party endorsements, and renewing the struggle for a federal amendment. Women voters were instructed to lobby their legislators; suffragists in states where referenda successes were considered possible were to coordinate their efforts under national direction; and the goal in the South was some form of partial suffrage.34 None of these were new ideas, but Catt brought them together in this master plan, which she eventually implemented with remarkable success, but her hostility to militancy, independent activism, and rival leaders intensified when confronted with a dynamic new force, Alice Paul.

Alice Paul and the Congressional Union

Paul did not single-handedly reinvigorate a moribund U.S. suffrage movement, but she was a brilliant organizer and an inspiring leader who soon attracted a cadre of radical and committed activists frustrated by the apparent conservatism and inefficacy of the NAWSA leadership. Determined to win the federal amendment, they aimed to make life miserable for politicians until they achieved their objective. Paul learned this strategy from the British suffragettes during her involvement with them and transplanted it to the United States. As a Quaker, however, Paul rejected their violent tactics and developed other provocative and militant methods. She had an extraordinary talent for organizing highly public suffrage events. Her spirit was contagious and her goal compelling even for mainstream suffragists opposed to radical tactics.

Early in 1913, Paul and her friend Lucy Burns revived the NAWSA’s quiescent Congressional Committee, initially with that organization’s blessing, but controversy and schism soon followed. Within two months of their arrival in Washington, DC, they had organized a massive suffrage parade, held on March 3, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration. When the marchers were attacked by a mob and the police failed to protect them, the suffrage movement gained massive publicity and considerable sympathy. In April, Paul and Burns formed an independent organization, the Congressional Union (CU), quickly gathered 200,000 signatures on petitions, and started lobbying President Wilson and other prominent politicians. Paul lost her position as chair of the NAWSA Congressional Committee at the 1913 convention because she defied the national leadership’s efforts to tame her, and she rejected all subsequent reconciliatory approaches.35

The split deepened when the CU implemented the British suffragette policy of “holding the party in power responsible” by sending organizers into nine western states to persuade women voters to oppose Democratic candidates during the 1914 election. Although politicians insisted that this effort had no impact on their campaigns, half of them lost, and soon thereafter woman suffrage was reintroduced in Congress for the first time in two decades. The proposed Shafroth-Palmer Amendment was not the “Anthony Amendment,” however, which since 1878 had simply stated that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The Shafroth-Palmer Amendment defined woman suffrage as a “states’ rights” issue, dictated a return to arduous state campaigns (which had largely been unsuccessful), and allowed discrimination against black women. The current NAWSA Congressional Committee chair, Hannah McCormick, endorsed it without consulting the organization’s board, and the proposal received some support from suffragists who saw no alternative to compromise with the Southern states’ rights bloc in Congress. Most suffragists rejected it, however, and continued to demand action at the federal level. After formally organizing the National Woman’s Party (NWP), Paul’s group reprised their attacks on western Democrats in the 1916 election.

The Woman Suffrage Movement in the United StatesClick to view larger

5. “Women of Colorado” (1916). One of the first efforts of the NWP was to “hold the party in power” (i.e., the Democrats) responsible for lack of progress on the woman suffrage amendment. In 1914, their efforts to persuade western women voters to vote against the Democratic party were not very effective, but frightened politicians soon moved the amendment forward in Congress. In 1916, the NWP repeated this operation and posted this billboard.

Courtesy Library of Congress, Records of the National Woman's Party.

This tactic infuriated Catt since it undermined her efforts to lobby politicians to gain their support.36

Suffrage during World War I

When the United States entered the war in April 1917, neither organization abandoned the suffrage struggle. In spite of earlier pacifist activism by Catt and others, the NAWSA urged women to engage in both war work and suffrage agitation, hoping that patriotic efforts would gain additional public support for the cause. The NWP concentrated exclusively on suffrage, continued using militant tactics, and introduced propaganda ridiculing claims that America could fight for democracy while denying women at home the right to vote. Most famously, in January 1917 the NWP began silent picketing outside the White House. Initially tolerated by the Wilson administration, harassment and violence by onlookers escalated, and in June arrests of the picketers began, ultimately affecting 218 women.

The Woman Suffrage Movement in the United StatesClick to view larger

6. Picketing the White House. By August 1917, the Congressional Union (later the NWP) had been silently picketing the White House since January, tensions were running high, and crowd attacks on picketers increased. Arrests had begun in June, followed by months-long prison sentences, for the charge of “obstructing traffic.”

Courtesy Library of Congress, Harris and Ewing Collection, LC-DIG-hec-29758.

At first, charges were dismissed or sentences minimal, but penalties increased over the next few months. Some of the women began hunger strikes to protest the heavy punishment, bad conditions, and brutal treatment in prison; in response, authorities subjected them to forced feeding. Faced with terrible publicity, officials finally released all picketers in late November. That fall, both houses of Congress began to move toward voting on a federal amendment. By this time, all suffragists were focused intently on the federal amendment, but the NWP activists made it clear that they were not going to stop until they got it or died trying.37

Women’s contributions to national war efforts did affect public opinion, but female enfranchisement did not follow immediately or easily. In January 1918, President Wilson endorsed suffrage the day before the House of Representatives would vote again on the federal amendment, but the outcome was highly uncertain. Great efforts were made to guarantee every positive vote: several ailing representatives dragged themselves or were carried in, while another left his wife’s deathbed (at her urging), then returned for her funeral. Three roll calls were necessary to establish that the measure had passed with exactly the required two-thirds majority, supported by a significant number of western congressmen responding to pressure from enfranchised female constituents.

The Final Struggle for the Federal Amendment

Hopes for a quick victory were soon shattered. Wilson was preoccupied with the war, so an impatient NWP resumed militant demonstrations that generated more arrests, jail sentences, and publicity. It took a year and a half for the Senate to vote, and only at the instigation of hostile senators confident that it would lose. On September 30, Wilson took the unusual step of addressing the Senate during the debate, describing enfranchisement as only fair considering all the contributions women had made to the war effort, but states’-rights advocates remained adamantly opposed, and it lost by two votes. By December, even the NAWSA threatened to mobilize against unsympathetic politicians in the 1918 elections, and both suffrage organizations did so. In February 1919, the Senate defeated the amendment again—by one vote—but six more state legislatures had granted women the vote by the time Wilson called Congress into special session in May. This time the measure carried in the House by a wide majority (thanks to the election of over one hundred new pro-suffrage legislators) and passed the Senate on June 4 by a two-vote majority.38

Ratification of the amendment required another long struggle. It came quickly in states where suffrage organizations remained active, but the process dragged on into 1920. Finally only one more state was needed, but most of the holdouts were in the South. The battle came to a head in August in Tennessee, with relentless lobbying by pro- and anti-suffrage forces and reports of threats, bribes, and drunken legislators. The state senate passed the measure easily, but in the house there were numerous delays engineered by the opposition, and suffragists believed that they lacked the last votes needed for passage. When the roll call reached Harry Burn, a young Republican from the eastern mountains, he unexpectedly voted “aye,” later explaining that his mother had written urging him to support the measure.

The Woman Suffrage Movement in the United StatesClick to view larger

7. Alice Paul and NWP members in August 1920 celebrating passage of the Nineteenth Amendment with a toast to the final 36th star on the woman suffrage flag.

Courtesy Library of Congress, Harris and Ewing Collection, LC-DIG-hec-30267 (left); LC-DIG-ds-00180.

Thus the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution squeaked to victory.39

Gaining the right to vote was a huge accomplishment, but it did not automatically guarantee women other political rights (e.g., running for office or serving on juries), nor did it rectify many other discriminatory practices embedded in the law. To address these issues, the NWP introduced the federal Equal Rights Amendment in 1923, but nearly a century later, it remains unratified. To prepare women for their new civic responsibilities, in 1920 Catt converted the NAWSA into the League of Women Voters (LWV), an organization still dedicated to nonpartisan educational activity. Until recently, analyses of the impact of female enfranchisement focused on the national level during the conservative decade of the 1920s and found little to report: women did not form a solid voting bloc, so major parties soon lost interest in cultivating their support, and few women were elected to office. More recent research suggests a more complicated dynamic, especially at the state level. Although technically enfranchised, spurious restrictions and violence prevented African American women and men from voting for decades, especially in the South. Thus winning the vote did not guarantee all American women full equality, but it recognized their fundamental right of self-representation, permanently changed the composition of the polity, and provided the necessary foundation for subsequent achievements.

Discussion of the Literature

There has been relatively little scholarly interest in the U.S. suffrage movement in recent years. Since this topic was the primary focus of attention as the field of women’s history began to develop, perhaps people think it has been thoroughly examined. That assumption is incorrect for at least two reasons. First, more recent research has identified and investigated previously unexplored aspects, resulting in many new insights, while other topics still deserve fuller attention. Second, we still lack an up-to-date synthetic account that incorporates the findings of these studies, although several excellent essay collections are available. Scholars continue to rely upon the monumental work, The History of Woman Suffrage, compiled by NAWSA activists conscious of the need to document their historic struggle, but it is best treated with caution as a collection of primary sources. In 1959, Eleanor Flexner published a now-classic synthesis, Century of Struggle (enlarged by Ellen Fitzpatrick and reprinted in 1996). This book remains the standard account, but it includes discussions of various contributing factors that have since been well studied as separate topics (e.g., women’s access to education and wage work). No one since has taken on the daunting task of producing a comprehensive account of this vitally important movement.

With surprisingly few modifications, the narrative of the U.S. suffrage struggle has remained static: the Seneca Falls convention was the moment the movement began; it split over controversies precipitated by the Reconstruction Amendments, western victories were anomalous, and the “doldrums” of the 20th century were followed by reinvigoration in the 1910s, culminating in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. The many summary essays available online and books for young people may or may not integrate recent findings, but they all repeat this dominant narrative, so it is past time for a new synthesis that amends, refines, and expands our understanding of this long, complicated, and difficult struggle.

Heavily influenced by the publication of Aileen Kraditor’s book, The Ideas of the Woman’s Suffrage Movement (1965), subsequent studies thoroughly disrupted any lingering notions about a coherent suffrage “sisterhood.” Kraditor argued that late 19th-century suffragists stopped emphasizing the “justice” of their cause in favor of “expediency” arguments focused on how the vote could be used to achieve other goals. This argument set up a false dichotomy since suffrage arguments based on rights and justice continued to be frequently and powerfully employed, while the exercise of the vote has always been a commonly accepted means to achieve political objectives. Yet there is no doubt that Kraditor’s work made a huge contribution by revealing a movement deeply affected by the elitism, racism, and nativism of many suffragists. It stimulated extensive investigation into problematic tensions among different groups of suffragists as well as analyses of the negative impacts on their audiences.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the feminist movement revived interest in women’s history and in the suffrage movement. The connections to a contemporaneous women’s-rights struggle led some writers to adopt an excessively heroic interpretation, but it did rescue several major figures from relative obscurity, most notably Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul. Beginning in 1975 with the publication of Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America, 1848–1869, Ellen DuBois produced a series of carefully researched works that have had a major impact on the field. For several decades, many studies appeared that identified various groups of previously unrecognized activists (especially African American women, but also anti-suffragists), produced detailed regional studies, examined the influence of suffrage journalism, traced transnational suffrage connections, and reevaluated the consequences of female enfranchisement. In addition, many other scholars considered suffrage as an important element of other women’s reform initiatives, or examined the vote in the context of larger discussions of citizenship. Suffrage itself has not always fared well in these analyses. Was it a narrow goal that diverted attention and energy away from a larger feminist agenda? Ultimately was it even much of an achievement? These questions have received much attention in recent scholarship, especially those considering the impacts of women voters on political processes.

Regional studies of the South and the west have expanded our knowledge of suffrage activity beyond a narrow, eastern-based, focus on NAWSA, but this information remains inadequately integrated into “national” histories of the movement. Ironically, Southern stumbling blocks and the baneful effects of the “southern strategy” are better understood than the contributions of western victories to ultimate success. Many of the most recent studies examine important but previously overlooked state leaders and organizations, but they remain largely isolated from the national context. Some scholars have explored beyond U.S. borders, examining suffrage movements in other countries, the importance of transnational interconnections from the beginning of the movement, and associations with U.S. imperialism. Suffrage rhetoric, media strategies, advertising, and imagery have also received attention, but many texts present pictures and narrative without much analysis, especially those written for popular audiences.

Historians who study woman suffrage tend to focus on women’s organizations and activities, including efforts to build coalitions and influence politicians. Studies by political scientists have often focused on identifying the situations and processes by which the idea appealed to some groups of men and worked its way through the political system. Early efforts to find correlations between demographic characteristics and voting patterns on other issues found few links (with the exception of support for prohibition, even though the suffragists were aware of how problematic that relationship could be). Corinne McConnaughy’s recent book, The Woman Suffrage Movement in America, analyzed the successes and/or failures of efforts to establish political or reform coalitions and influence legislators, but her study is limited to five states and the U.S. Congress. An extensive body of work of Holly J. McCammon and others has emphasized the “various political and gendered opportunities” that encouraged the mobilization of women, as well as and the ways in which they adapted their tactics to fit specific circumstances and framed their arguments to appeal to particular groups. Thus better interdisciplinary integration would be valuable in future research and essential in any new synthetic account.

Currently, much of the interest in suffrage relates to its impact after the vote was won, with considerable debate over the consequences. Such studies examine female voter turnout, women’s relationships with the major political parties, their success (or lack thereof) in running for office, and the impact of the vote on achieving various reforms. Several recent publications by Kristi Anderson, Melanie Gustafson, and others reveal a great deal of female political involvement in the 1920s, usually at the local, state, or regional levels. Other analysts, including Nancy Cott and Anna Harvey, are more pessimistic in discussing how the national women’s movement split and fizzled out in the 1920s once the common goal had been achieved, racial and class divisions increased, political parties became indifferent, and inexperienced women voters adapted poorly to partisan politics.

In a recent essay, “Getting Right with Women’s Suffrage,” Jean Baker reviewed these various developments and suggested ways to revitalize suffrage studies. These include: better integration into survey courses and related examinations of the American political system, renewed attention to organizational requirements for individual and associational leadership, expanded emphasis on transnational activism, and continued discussion of suffrage in the context of citizenship definitions and nation building. Additional work on specialized aspects will always be welcome, but better integration of our existing knowledge is necessary to provide a firmer foundation for future scholarship in this important field.

Primary Sources

The best collection of primary sources remains the six-volume History of Woman Suffrage, edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper. Keenly aware of the historic significance of their work, suffragists thoroughly documented their efforts and published the first volume in 1887. As a collection of reports, conference proceedings, state histories, and other material, it remains invaluable. Because the authors were themselves activists in the suffrage movement, however, this volume also reveals their biases and rivalries and must be used carefully in conjunction with other sources. It is available in a reprint edition, as a CD, and online (Internet Archive).40 A selection of these materials is available in The Concise History of Woman Suffrage, edited by Mari Jo and Paul Buhle. A more recent book of primary sources is Women’s Suffrage in America, edited by Elizabeth Frost-Knappman and Kathryn Cullen-Dupont, which combines a variety of documents with introductory essays and chronologies.41

Available on microfilm are The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and History of Women Microfilm Collection.42

Major archival repositories include the following: the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Washington, DC, contains the Susan B. Anthony Papers, Blackwell Family Papers, Nannie Helen Burroughs Papers, Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Elizabeth Cady Stanton Papers, Mary Church Terrell Papers, National American Woman Suffrage Association Records, the National Woman’s Party Papers, and the League of Women Voters Collection. The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, holds the Blackwell Family Papers, Carrie Chapman Catt papers, Olympia Brown Papers (microfilm), Elizabeth Boynton Harbert Papers, Harriet Burton Laidlaw Papers, Catharine Waugh McCulloch Papers, Leonora O’Reilly Papers, Anna Howard Shaw Papers, Sue Shelton White Papers, Matilda Joslyn Gage Papers, Maud Wood Park Papers (microfilm), New York Association Opposed to Political Suffrage for Women Papers, and the Women’s Rights Collection. Many of these collections are available on microfilm.

Other major repositories holding specific archival collections, and much additional related material, include the New York Public Library and the Sophia Smith Collection, Women’s History Archives at Smith College, Northampton, MA. A wealth of information can be found all over the country in university collections, and in state and local historical societies and archives.

The Library of Congress, The Seneca Falls Convention.

The Library of Congress, Woman Suffrage Teacher’s Guide.

National Archives: Teaching With Documents: Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment.

National Women’s History Museum, including online exhibits on “Political Culture and Imagery of American Woman Suffrage” and “Votes for Women”.

The History Channel, “History of Woman’s Suffrage in America”.Find this resource:

“The Fight for Woman Suffrage”.

PBS, “Not for Ourselves Alone.”

Alexander Street Press, “‘Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600–2000” (database available through subscription only).

Further Reading

Adams, Katherine H., and Michael L. Keene. Alice Paul and the American Suffrage Campaign. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Anderson, Bonnie. Joyous Greetings: The First International Women’s Movement, 1830–1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Anderson, Kristi. After Suffrage: Women in Partisan and Electoral Politics before the New Deal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Baker, Jean H., ed. Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Baker, Jean H. “Getting Right with Women’s Suffrage.” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 5.1 (January 2006): 7–17.Find this resource:

Beeton, Beverly. Women Vote in the West: The Woman Suffrage Movement, 1869–1896. New York: Garland Press, 1986.Find this resource:

Cott, Nancy F. The Grounding of Modern Feminism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987.Find this resource:

DuBois, Ellen Carol. Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America, 1848–1869. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978.Find this resource:

DuBois, Ellen Carol. Woman Suffrage and Women’s Rights. New York: New York University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Finnegan, Margaret. Selling Suffrage: Consumer Culture and Votes for Women. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Flexner, Eleanor, and Ellen Fitzpatrick. Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States. Revised edition. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1996.Find this resource:

Gordon, Ann D., and Bettye Collier-Thomas, eds. African American Women and the Vote, 1837–1965. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Graham, Sara Hunter. Woman Suffrage and the New Democracy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Green, Elna C. Southern Strategies: Southern Women and the Woman Suffrage Question. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Gustafson, Melanie, Kristie Miller, and Elisabeth Israels Perry, eds. We Have Come to Stay: American Women and Political Parties, 1880–1960. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Harvey, Anna L. Voters without Leverage: Women in American Politics, 1920–1970. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1988.Find this resource:

Kraditor, Aileen S. The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890–1920. New York: W. W. Norton, 1965.Find this resource:

McConnaughy, Corrine M. The Woman Suffrage Movement in America: A Reassessment. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Marilley, Suzanne M. Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the United States, 1820–1920. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Materson, Lisa G. For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877–1932. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Mead, Rebecca J. How the Vote Was Won: Woman Suffrage in the Western United States, 1868–1914. New York: New York University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Scott, Anne F., and Andrew W. Scott. One Half the People: The Fight for Woman Suffrage. New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1975.Find this resource:

Sherr, Lynn. Failure is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words. New York: Random House, 1995.Find this resource:

Sneider, Allison. Suffragists in an Imperial Age: U.S. Expansion and the Woman Question, 1870–1929. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill. New Women of the New South: The Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.Find this resource:

Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill, ed. One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement. Troutdale, OR: New Sage Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Zahniser, J. D., and Amelia Fry. Alice Paul: Claiming Power. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.Find this resource:


(1.) Jan Ellen Lewis, “Rethinking Women’s Suffrage in New Jersey, 1776–1807,” Rutgers Law Review 63.3 (2011): 1017–1035.

(2.) Linda Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998); and Margaret A. Nash, Women’s Education in the United States, 1790–1840 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

(3.) Kathryn Kish Sklar, Women’s Rights Emerges within the Antislavery Movement, 1830–1870: A Brief History with Documents (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2000).

(4.) Many authors have addressed these events and their significance; see, for example, Ellen Carol DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America, 1848–1869 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978), 21–52, and Sally M. McMillen, Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008). In addition to Stanton’s autobiography, there are many biographies, most recently Lori Ginzberg, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life (New York: Hill and Wang, 2009).

(5.) Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle: The Women’s Rights Movement in the United States, rev. ed. (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1975), 82–92; and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 13–35.

(6.) There is no definitive version of the text and no agreement whether Truth was met with approval or resistance when she rose to speak. It took almost 150 years for the historical record to be corrected; see Nell Irvin Painter, “Representing Truth: Sojourner Truth’s Knowing and Becoming Known,” The Journal of American History 81.2 (September 1994): 461–492.

(7.) DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage, 52–78, 162–202; Terborg-Penn, African American Women, 23–35; and Flexner, Century of StruggleI, 145–152.

(8.) DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage, 84–103.

(9.) DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage, 79–161; Flexner, Century of Struggle, 153–156; and Martha M. Solomon, ed., A Voice of Their Own: The Woman Suffrage Press, 1840–1910 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002).

(10.) Ellen Carol DuBois, “Taking the Law into Our Own Hands: Bradwell, Minor, and Suffrage Militance in the 1870s,” in Woman Suffrage and Women’s Rights, ed. Ellen Carol DuBois (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 114–138; and Flexner, Century of Struggle, 156–158;

(11.) For a recent review of several biographies of Woodhull, see Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, “A Victoria Woodhull for the 1990s,” Reviews in American History 27.1 (March 1999): 87–97.

(12.) Karen J. Blair, The Clubwoman as Feminist: True Womanhood Redefined, 1868–1914 (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1980).

(13.) Ruth Bordin, Frances Willard: A Biography (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986).

(14.) Barbara Miller Solomon, In the Company of Educated Women: A History of Women and Higher Education in America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986); Robyn Muncy, Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform: 1890–1935 (New York, Oxford University Press, 1991); and Kathryn Kish Sklar, Florence Kelley and the Nation’s Work: The Rise of Women’s Political Culture, 1830–1900 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

(15.) Flexner, Century of Struggle, 134–144, 197–207, 236–240.

(16.) Flexner, Century of Struggle, 228, 269–270, 300, 319–320.

(17.) NAWSA, Victory: How the Women Won It: A Centennial Symposium (New York: H. W. Wilson, 1940), 53, 72–73.

(18.) Alan P. Grimes, The Puritan Ethic and Woman Suffrage (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967); T. A. Larson produced many articles about woman suffrage in various states that are still factually informative, but the analytical arguments of both these authors are now considered obsolete.

(19.) Rebecca J. Mead, How the Vote Was Won: Woman Suffrage in the Western United States, 1868–1914 (New York: New York University Press, 2004); Holly J. McCammon and Karen E. Campbell, “Winning the Vote in the West: The Political Successes of the Women’s Suffrage Movements, 1866–1919,” Gender and Society 15.1 (February 2001): 55–82; and Beverly Beeton, Women Vote in the West: The Woman Suffrage Movement, 1869–1896 (New York: Garland Press, 1986).

(20.) Mead, How the Vote Was Won; 35–52; and Allison L. Sneider, Suffragists in an Imperial Age: U.S. Expansion and the Woman Question, 1870–1929 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 57–86.

(21.) Mead, How the Vote Was Won, 53–95; Suzanne M. Marilley, Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the United States, 1820–1920 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 124–158; Flexner, Century of Struggle, 228–231; Michael L. Goldberg, An Army of Women: Gender and Politics in Gilded Age Kansas (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997); and Susan Scheiber Edelman, “‘A Red Hot Suffrage Campaign’: The Woman Suffrage Cause in California, 1896,” California Supreme Court Historical Society Yearbook 2 (1995): 51–131.

(22.) Aileen S. Kraditor, The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890–1920 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1965), 123–218.

(23.) Kraditor, The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 213–214; and Terborg-Penn, African American Women, 109–135. The Southern suffrage movement was not monolithic in its goals and methods, but it was dominated by elite women, some more volubly racist or conservative than others. See Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, New Women of the New South: The Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States (New York, Oxford University Press, 1993); and Elna C. Green, Southern Strategies: Southern Women and the Woman Suffrage Question (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).

(24.) Susan E. Marshall, Splintered Sisterhood: Gender and Class in the Campaign against Woman Suffrage (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997); and Susan Goodier, No Votes for Women: The New York State Anti-suffrage Movement (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013).

(25.) The Progressive movement has been studied exhaustively, and there are many studies describing women’s involvement. For a general review of its impact on woman suffrage, see Eileen L. McDonagh and H. Douglas Price, “Woman Suffrage in the Progressive Era: Patterns of Opposition and Support in Referenda Voting, 1910–1918,” American Political Science Review 79.2 (June 1985): 415–435.

(26.) Mead, How the Vote Was Won, 97–118. After winning the vote, DeVoe organized a National Council of Women Voters to focus the power of western women voters on the federal amendment effort, working briefly with the Congressional Union until shifting to support Catt’s Winning Plan; see Jennifer M. Ross-Nazzal, Winning the West for Women: The Life of Suffragist Emma Smith DeVoe (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011).

(27.) Mead, How the Vote Was Won, 119–149; Gayle Anne Gullett, Becoming Citizens: The Emergence and Development of the California Women’s Movement, 1880–1911 (Urbana, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000); and Susan Englander, Class Coalition and Class Conflict in the California Woman Suffrage Movement, 1907–1912: The San Francisco Wage Earners’ Suffrage League (Lewiston, NY: Mellen Research University Press, 1989).

(28.) Mead, How the Vote Was Won, 101–107; see also Ruth Barnes Moynihan, Rebel for Rights: Abigail Scott Duniway (London: Yale University Press, 1983).

(29.) Flexner, Century of Struggle, 269–270, 279–281.

(30.) Trisha Franzen, Anna Howard Shaw: The Work of Woman Suffrage (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014), 1–15.

(31.) See, for example, Bonnie Anderson, Joyous Greetings: The First International Women’s Movement, 1830–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Leila J. Rupp, Worlds of Women: The Making of an International Women’s Movement (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997); and Patricia Greenwood Harrison, Connecting Links: The British and American Woman Suffrage Movements, 1900–1914 (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000).

(32.) Ellen Carol DuBois, Harriot Stanton Blatch and the Winning of Woman Suffrage (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), 88–147; and Annelise Orleck, Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900–1965 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 87–113.

(33.) Flexner, Century of Struggle, 258–263, 281, 300–301. DuBois, Harriot Stanton Blatch, 88–181. Convinced that a second campaign in 1917 would fail, Blatch did not participate.

(34.) Flexner, Century of Struggle, 266–267, 281–285; and Robert Booth Fowler, “Carrie Chapman Catt, Strategist,” in One Woman, One Vote, ed. Wheeler, 295–314. There are several biographies of Catt available; see, for example, Jacqueline Van Voris, Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life (New York: Feminist Press of the City University of New York, 1987).

(35.) J. D. Zahniser and Amelia Fry, Alice Paul: Claiming Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); and Katherine H. Adams and Michael L. Keene, Alice Paul and the American Suffrage Campaign (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008).

(36.) Adams and Keene, Alice Paul, 141–156; Inez Haynes Irwin Gilmore, The Story of the Woman’s Party. Reprint. (New York: Kraus Reprint, 1971); and Linda G. Ford, “Álice Paul and the Triumph of Militancy,” in One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement, ed. Marjorie Spruill Wheeler (Troutdale, OR: New Sage Press: 1995), 277–294.

(37.) Adams and Keene, Alice Paul, 157–241; see also Kimberly Jensen, Mobilizing Minerva: American Women in the First World War (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008).

(38.) Eileen L. McDonagh, “Issues and Constituencies in the Progressive Era: House Roll Call Voting on the Nineteenth Amendment, 1913–1919,” Journal of Politics 51.1 (February 1989): 119–136.

(39.) Flexner, Century of Struggle, 286–303, 317–337.

(40.) Salem, NY: Ayer, 1985; and Louisville, KT: Bank of Wisdom.

(41.) Facts on File Eyewitness History Series (2005).

(42.) The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, eds. Patricia G. Holland and Ann D. Gordon (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, c. 1991); History of Women Microfilm Collection (New Haven, CT, Research Publications, 1976–1979).